Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)


Pete Seeger, singer and songwriter: May 3, 1919 - January 27, 2014

"Pete Seeger spent his life in the most honorable way possible -- he tried to teach America about itself. First, he helped teach it about itself through all the music it had forgotten, a darker and infinitely more fascinating place than the America that was selling itself Brylcreem on the TV, an America of murder ballads, and of the pain wrought in music of all its lost promises, and of the hope that the music itself could redeem those lost promises.

 . . . Music is the way America always has talked to itself, even on those occasions on which it was whispering because what it was saying was dangerous to say out loud. Music is the way to say things in this country you might otherwise wish not to be overheard. That was the language Pete Seeger spoke, year after year, demonstration after demonstration, cause after cause, war after war, for most of his 94 years, and that was the language he spoke in 2008, when he shared a stage with Bruce Springsteen and insisted -- with Springsteen's full and enthusiastic approval -- that every verse of "This Land Is Your Land" be sung (see video below) . . . He loved the country and its people and the idea of it that outlasted so many attempts to hijack it for other purposes. Pete Seeger was a great American because he dared to be thought otherwise. Read the rest of this tribute by writer Charlie Pierce here.


"Pete Seeger was one of the key figures of 20th-century music. Not a household name, perhaps, certainly not an iconic superstar charismatically straddling modern pop culture, but a dedicated musician, musicologist and activist whose influence is subtly woven through our times. We all know his songs, whether we realise it or not. And more importantly, we have all been shaped by his attitude to music. It is no exaggeration to say that Seeger helped establish our contemporary conception of folk and blues as music of sophistication and substance, perceptions that, in turn, helped shape the birth of rock and roll and the explosion of serious poetic lyricism that brought adult themes and high artistic aspirations to pop culture.  . . . As Seeger himself once said, “All songwriters are links in a chain.” Today one of those crucial links may have been lost, but the chain remains as strong as ever. " Read the rest of this article by Neil McCormick here.

"“Rulers should be careful about what songs are allowed to be sung.” Pete Seeger . . . liked that quote from Plato. His tunes constantly poked the eyes of America’s rulers. The civil-rights movement marched to his version of “We Shall Overcome”. (He) encouraged audiences to join in. Folk songs were for the people, he maintained; the emphasis on the solo frontman was a commercial invention. In Allan Winkler’s book about Mr Seeger’s music, “To Everything There is a Season”, Tom Paxton recalls: “Pete made “the song the star and the singer merely the presenter.”  Read the rest of this article from The Economist here.

"His life was exemplary. The courage he showed in facing down the House Un-American Activities Committee, his refusal to give names, and his insistence on his right to entertain his own conscience are not common behaviors. Plenty of people gave names. Plenty of people pleaded the Fifth Amendment, but Seeger refused to, because the plea implied a person had something to hide. He chose jail rather than collaboration. At the time, he was a member of the most successful group in show business, the Weavers. He was not surprised when the government threatened night-club owners if they hired the Weavers, and the group’s opportunities withered. In the year before he was to go to jail, he performed as often as he could, in order to make money for his family to live on while he was gone. An appeal kept him out of prison, but he hadn’t expected it to. He was happy to step away from celebrity and the night-club life, which he never liked, and to return to what he always had done: singing folk songs and union songs for children in classrooms and around campfires. There may be a famous person these days who would choose jail over co√∂perating with the government against its citizens, but I can’t think of one." Read the rest of this article from The New Yorker here

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