Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger dies

I suppose it is a tribute to his efforts that the death of folk-singer Pete Seeger yesterday feels viscerally personal, as if a family dog of many years and many adventures and many licks on the cheek had taken its quiet leave. A soft and insistent sorrow greets the news and yet finding a purchase point in that sorrow -- specific whys and wherefores -- is utterly elusive. The sadness is not devastating, but it is all over me like rain.

Seeger was a fighter. That he used music as a means of putting up his dukes was as crafty as it was subtly effective: No one can defend against music that makes you want to tap your toe. And mixed into my sadness is a kind of protective resentment that after so many bumps and bruises at the hands of a greedy and war-prone establishment, no doubt that establishment as well will praise him in his passing. (Anyone want to bet on whether President Barack Obama will mention Seeger in his State of the Union address tonight? I've got a couple of bucks that say he will.)

I grew up with the Almanac Singers, with "Talking Union" and "Which Side are You On?" Later it would be a collection of banned songs from the Spanish Civil War including "Viva la Quince Brigada." Seeger's detractors would label him a socialist and a communist and various other sorts of 'unpatriotic' pond scum ... and now the same establishment will embrace him as a puppy dog giant among folk singers instead of someone who knew where the blood was spilled and what things cost. He was a pretty good-natured man, but he fought and didn't give up fighting.

I guess I resent the idea that I must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with mourners whose fingernails are manicured and whose policies create the patriotic hogwash that kills and maims and deprives others ... mourners who mourn as a means of raising their own stock. But that is the nature of music, I suppose: It touches all comers and there is no single way of loving it any more than there is one single way of mourning the death of Pete Seeger....

... A Johnny Appleseed of the good fight, planting his musical seeds here, there, and everywhere. Sometimes they sprouted. Sometimes not.

I am sad in his passing and glad in his being.


  1. Me too.
    My first glimpse of him was on ar TV show of the 50's and 60's called ' Sunday Night At The London Palladium.' Incongruously , given the nature of his music , it was it was a kind of variety show, and his simple integrity stood out from the general show biz tone of the show.
    A couple of years later a friend played me an album by The Weavers, I was in a band at that time ( blush ) and their influence on later bands and groups was obvious.
    A long and distinguished life.

    Peter B.

  2. My favorite quote from Pete was part of his testimony to HUAC in 1955: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

    We need more Pete Seegers.

  3. For those too young to remember, HUAC was the House Unamerican Activities Committee -- a group not to be confused with Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose anti-communist witch hunts were frighteningly unamerican and probably helped to further inspire HUAC activities but evolved in the Senate, not the House of Representatives.