Wednesday, 5 February 2014

So Long, Pete Seeger

It has taken me a while to get my head around the passing of Pete Seeger. Whilst he has been universally acknowledged as the father of the American folk revival, and without him undoubtedly the wonderfully lyrical and heartfelt folk- protest songs of Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, later Billy Bragg and others would have been stifled, (as well as the acid folk of particularly Joan Baez, and all of that generation of sitar- wielding psychedelic visionaries, prophets, singers and bands), I can’t help thinking I just didn’t like his music. It bores me, as if Ned Flanders had been intravenously injected with Sherbet powder and told his salvation depended on him fighting off the zombie apocalypse with a tambourine & harmonica in the cacophonous armour of an ill fitting one- man- band getup. Really, it’s that bad. I wish it was different.

Obviously, I agree with the sentiment of his protest songs. And no doubt being at a Pete Seeger concert live would have me sinuously singing along like a willowy girl clutching my ashen tear- streaked cheeks, and wailing like a star struck banshee waving a lighter and sobbing with ineffable love for my fellow human beings. I do however think it would be hypocritical of me to say what a great musician he was. I heard a Radio program about him, and apparently his mother, who was a concert musician, tried to encourage him to pick up music early on. But he refused it as a career option, having been showed just how demanding it was, in terms of practise and effort by his mother. Nevertheless he eventually went his own way, and by his own admission, picked up simple protests songs on guitar because they were relatively easy to play.

I think he was a much more profound influence as a social activist, and a galvanising force for the peace and socialist cause than he was a musician. So instead of posting a trite and insincere “If I had a Hammer” clip, I instead post some quotes from (and of) the great man, in tribute to his achievements.

"I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail."

"Don't let schoolin' get in the way of your education."

"Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life." – Seeger, October 17, 2009, at community concert in Beacon, New York

He was one of the few people who invoked the First Amendment in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). Everyone else had said the Fifth Amendment, the right against self-incrimination, and then they were dismissed. What Pete did, and what some other very powerful people who had the guts and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the committee and say, "I'm gonna invoke the First Amendment, the right of freedom of association...."
...I was actually in law school when I read the case of United States v. Seeger, and it really changed my life, because I saw the courage of what he had done and what some other people had done by invoking the First Amendment, saying, "We're all Americans. We can associate with whoever we want to, and it doesn't matter who we associate with." That's what the founding fathers set up democracy to be. So I just really feel it's an important part of history that people need to remember."

Quote by Jim Musselman (founder of Appleseed Recordings), longtime friend and record producer for Pete Seeger

By South Utsire

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