‘Ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser’ Pete Seeger dies


seeger

I was away from the swamp, stealing potatoes at the local Super Fridge, when I heard about Pete Seeger. This will be a rough day, I thought. Swamp Rabbit is an old leftie with a soft spot for New Deal-influenced folksingers, and Seeger, 94, was the last of that breed. Sure enough, the pesky rodent was weeping next to the wood stove when I got back to the shack. He drank Wild Turkey while I put the taters on the fire. Then we surfed for obits and skimmed old books.

The Associated Press used the phrase “ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser” and found a non-musical way to sum up the difference between Seeger and the only other folksinger, pre-Bob Dylan, who would have as big an influence on popular music:

On the skin of Seeger’s banjo was the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” — a nod to his old pal [Woody] Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with “This machine kills fascists.”

The record will show that Seeger was as brave and well-respected as he was peace-loving. Dylan alluded to this in his memoir Chronicles: Volume One, while describing the day he was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond:

Recently [Hammond] had brought Pete Seeger to the label. He didn’t discover Pete, though. Pete had been around for years. He’d been in the popular folk group The Weavers, but had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era and had a hard time, but he never stopped working. Hammond was defiant when he spoke about Seeger, that Pete’s ancestors had come over on the Mayflower, that his relatives had fought the Battle of Bunker Hill, for Christsake. “Can you imagine those sons of bitches blacklisting him? They should be tarred and feathered.”

Seeger had been blacklisted after testifying before the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee. He had politely told the honorables to fuck off:

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.

Then we read that Seeger “lost his cool” in 1965 because Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival and the noise drowned out Dylan’s words. It was a familiar story, gossiped about many times.

“I forgave him for that,” I said. “Dylan’s show must have been a shock to a guy who was born more than 30 years before rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Well now, Pete’s ghost must be sighin’ with relief,” the rabbit replied. “Who gives a shit who you forgive?”

We read about Seeger’s inspiring appearance at Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and wondered whether Barack Obama would mention in his State of the Union address that Seeger’s life and art were exactly in sync with the social democratic policies that boosted the quality of life in mid-20th century America. Policies that have been under constant attack since Ronald Reagan took office.

“Oh sure,” the rabbit said. “Then the Democrats and Republicans is gonna hold hands and sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Hold the taters, you twit. Just pass me another bottle.”

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7 Responses to ‘Ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser’ Pete Seeger dies

  1. Re: the ’65 Newport festival, we saw a Seeger interview from 2004 on “Democracy Now” last night, where he says he did become enraged and demanded that the crew “fix” the mix so Dylan’s words could be heard, the “response being, “They want it this way!” He said if he’d had an axe he’d have chopped the cables, but that in fact he didn’t do anything about it.

  2. robinhood63 says:

    94. That’s about 13 in rabbit years.
    I remember singing his songs in music class in elementary school in the early 60’s. I don’t know if his songs would be allowed in public schools anymore without some group getting upset for one reason or another.
    That is if you can find a music class any more in public schools.

    • oddmanout215 says:

      Public schools can’t afford music teachers anymore. Pretty soon they won’t be able to afford math and English teachers either. I’ll bet Seeger, when he thought of the future back in the 1960s, never dreamed of the the privatization racket.

      • robinhood63 says:

        Now they are finding out charter schools, like the privatization of prisons isn’t such a good thing. Except for those running them. Here in Ohio our governor (Kasich-R) has stripped almost all public funding from schools while giving huge tax breaks to big business and corps. Money for cities, counties and infrastructure have also disappeared. He says that they have to figure out how to get things done but doesn’t say how. I agree on your Seeger thought. Wonder what he would have thought about the Super Bowl Coke ad “outrage”?

      • Perhaps Seeger was somewhat prescient: in the two interviews we saw on Democracy Now, including his very last, he made a very strong point of how the future of this world depends on “the children,” and that we must focus on education and the support of our teachers. We were struck by how he came back to this point again and again.

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