Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger: redux.

The death of Pete Seeger produced the usual surge of posts on Facebook, with everything from quotes of his lyrics to personal remembrances to old photos of him.  I quite disdain the predictable outpourings that occur at times like these.  Perhaps it's the anti-social in me, but I tend to think some words are truly better left unspoken, and not every thought is an interesting thought, nor is it likely to be an original one. 

Nevertheless, for some reason, Seeger rose beyond my "silence is preferred" barrier, and I didn't resist my own temptation to join the chorus of lamentors sharing their lamentations. 

Why?  Two reasons ostensibly.

First, Seeger played an important role in my parents' generation, associated as he was with American folk music, with the political Left, with the labor movement, with the civil rights movement, and subsequently with the anti-war movement.  He sang some of the great songs from the American songbook such as "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" and he added many more by his own pen: "We Shall Overcome", "Where Have All The Flowers Gone", "Turn, Turn, Turn".  The list goes on. 

Second, he was very important to my generation.  As I thought back on him and his music, I realized that I had grown up with it all around me.  It was part of the fabric of the noise back then, as much a part of being a child in the 1970s as anything else was.  In that way, it became a part of the fabric of my noise.  There must be a deep resonance for every human being from what they heard growing up, the songs that were "on the radio" then, that shape them in innumerable and incalculable ways.

So it was with me, and plenty a summertime evening was spent around a campfire, singing along to one of his ballads.  In the communal ethos of the time, it was back to the land as banjo pickers with bow ties played songs of loss and songs of hope in front of broad-beamed raftered barns.

"This machine kills Fascists" is what Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar, and Pete Seeger's did too.  American originals, both.

It is meaningful to see Seeger alone on the stage with instrument in hand singing something provocative and political or tunefully resonant -- a refreshing change from today's world where we are bombarded with constant media crap of little to no nutritional value.  Even if the audiences back in 1963 were all white:

A coda to my remembrance: Seeger is very much in the tradition of Whitman and Thoreau, wandering American troubadours in a sense.  Seeger was also a contemporary of JFK and a Harvard classmate of his, an odd and slightly ironic twist in the tale.  Here's a little more on that thought, from an earlier blog post: