January 28, 2014
Folk musician Pete Seeger died yesterday:
Pete Seeger, the man considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary folk music who inspired legions of activist singer-songwriters, died Monday.
He was 94.
Seeger’s best known songs include “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” and “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song).”
But his influence extended far beyond individual hits.
He inspired an article last July Fourth, which featured a video where he and some other musicians sang Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land“, including the more subversive verses that most people don’t get to hear. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that his passing inspired another one. Of the videos people have passed along to remember him by, this is the one I like best:
Can you guess why? Well, that, and many of the most important people in my life are women. They deserve the same breaks I got, if not more. Plus, anyone who has read what I’ve written about the economy in the last few years ought to know I appreciate the sad irony of the song’s author being hired because she would do the job for less than a man would. I think that one of the reasons, as that CNN article says, Seeger’s influence went far beyond his hit songs is that his humanity made him feel that way, too.
So long, Pete, we’ll miss ya.
Afterword/UPDATE: Maybe the most “influential” thing Pete Seeger ever did was to refuse to testify about his relationship (if any) to the Communist Party during the bad old days of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC):
MR. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.
Those words took real courage to speak, the kind where he had to decide who he was and defend what he believed in, despite the very real risk of prison, or worse. He was sentenced to as much as ten years for refusing to answer questions that shouldn’t have been asked of him in the first place (see the article link for details of the sentence). The only good thing he knew would result from his testifying is that he had a better chance of looking himself in the mirror. Contrast that with faux progressives who whine about how tough it all is or billionaires who express fear that protesting their wealth will lead to fascism, and you realize that our public discourse, bad as it could be back then, has devolved even further since.