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Saturday, February 8, 2014

The words in the music


I've read little in blogland on the passing of Pete Seeger late last month. I did read the complete transcript of his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was certainly as relentless as his questioners.

Pete Seeger was my gateway to both folk music and activism. I stumbled into the music easily enough, in the first weeks of my freshman year at college. Soon there was a group of us, sitting around a big record player, listening to each other’s records.

The group was so diverse; Ernesto, whose family escaped Hungary just before their revolution. He had incredible Italian and Hungarian albums. Mim, an English girl, with Weavers albums. Two German fellows, Hans (red hair!), and the other an American, Alan. Me, Irish. And more, listening to the music, analyzing, criticizing.

I've mentioned once or twice, I’m tone deaf. Cannot carry any tune. If I sing in the car, my sister turns on the radio.  So little appreciation! Even I know, belting out a song, alone in my car, I am an awful singer. But, it’s the words that matter.

The words were about ideas, issues, history. I didn't learn Irish history from The Clancy Brothers, but I learned concepts, events, times to look up. I didn't learn activism from Pete Seeger or Woody Gutherie, I learned where to look in the library for the history of the labor movement and social activism. Young Bob Dylan carried Woody Guthrie’s torch for us; remember Deportees, together with Joan Baez? Wow.

I didn't get on a bus to protest, but I marched to protest the bombing of Cambodia. I didn't go to the March on Washington, but I did stand with locked arms in front of bulldozers intending to demolish a street of trees to widen a boulevard in Cleveland. Almost fifty years ago, and trees still line the old boulevard.

It took a Pete Seeger and his magnificent voice to help the country to integration. Deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome some day, his voice soaring to the heavens to lift the movement along. Hollering to us to join in.

The generation moved along into their thirties; we got responsibilities. The war and the urgency ended, save for the new environmental activists like Pete Seeger and the Hudson River he set out to save, single handedly if need be.

I got tickets round for some friends when Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie were in Cleveland. Old friends, but newer than my college days. They were up for a night out. Pete warmed us up a bit, then demanded to know how many were drug there! Laughter. He demanded a show of hands, and a sea of hands went up. Another round of laughter. “You having a good time?” A resounding “Yes!”

I almost met him once, at a folk festival. He was talking to my sister, behind me. I heard him say, “This has been nice. Now I need to find Mother.”

“Who was that,” I asked when I could turn around. “I think his name is Pete Seeger,” my sister replied.



LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS/LANDOV

Click on the picture, make it big, read the banjo head:

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

Woody Guthrie's banjo surrounded fascism, to force it to surrender.

Leadbelly's 12 string guitar didn't say anything, but spoke just as loud.

22 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Fabulous memories used to honour a great. Bravo. YAM xx

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  2. Fascinating reminiscences.

    The public radio station I listen to did a good job memorializing Pete Seeger. For almost a week every programmer had a tribute. Each show only lasts two or three hours, so that was a lot of Pete!

    The shows are archived online for two weeks. If you'd like to listen to one(from February 2) that concentrated on Pete Seeger and his contemporaries, go to http://kdhx.org/play/radio-shows/no-time-to-tarry-here.

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    1. Our PRI carried a lot of Pete, too. Good listening.

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  3. The music spoke so much of "our" times. I often wonder what happened to all of those young people who hoped to change the world for the better. I do think our generation did make big strides into equality, but a woman still makes only $.77 for every dollar a man makes and minorities are still discriminated against. Progress is slow, but I still have hope that this next generation will do better.

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    1. I think the next change will not be activism, it is "being." My grandson will be an engineer; so will his sister be an engineer. When feet being on a broader path, the horizon expands, too.

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  4. Very nice tribute... to a man and a time

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  5. His music will live on in all of our hearts. He was a tremendous talent. "I think his name is Pete Seeger." Did you smack her? Your sister?

    Reminds me of a story - my ex-husband's sister was working as a waitress in an Irish bar in Ontario and she told her brother, a few months later, that she waited on some guy named Van Morrison.

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    Replies
    1. Only ten years younger, but an entire generation!

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  6. The beer fairy has a few Pete Seeger records and I have a few Bob Dylan records sometimes we play them and drift back into the past.
    Merle.............

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  7. I remember those college days of us all sitting around listening to the newest albums except our's were mostly Stones, Doors, The Band, but they all had great meaningful lyrics. And coffee houses before Starbucks. And the Washington march. Very different days from today.

    I am curious what you mean by today is more about being than activism and would like to hear more from you on that idea. It sounds intriguing.

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  8. You're not tone deaf, and I do not dislike Pete Seeger.

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  9. A wonderful man who stood up for what he believed all his life. I respect him far more than other contemporary heroes like Bob Dylan.

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  10. Great tribute to him. I don't remember the actual quote but in an interview he said you can get away with saying things in a song that you can't in other ways. I think that was true then but it seems FB and other social sites lets people be as extreme as they like today. Maybe what I'm trying to say is he was right for his time and promoted many good causes.

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  11. I'm tone deaf too, married to a musician; go figure.

    I wasn't too much into Pete Seeger, but did enjoy a lot of Bob Dylan's songs. Funny to see Bob Dylan on a commercial during Super Bowl.

    betty

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  12. "...listening to the music, analyzing, criticizing."
    I've never done that. I listen and enjoy, sometimes get up and dance around the room.
    Music has never inspired me to search libraries for histories or other meanings.

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  13. Pete Seeger was a treasure to Duchess County. We lived there for over twenty three years and people saw him cleaning the streets of Beacon.
    Music is one art I cannot do without. I listen to music, lyrics and notes and all. Love it. Indian or American.

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  14. I liked Peter Paul and Mary, too. Remember their music?

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  15. I'm about 10 years behind you, like your sister, and never knew much of this music - interesting piece! I was more into rock and roll :) And I'm like River, above - never inspired to research music, just dance to it!

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  16. Pete Seeger was one of my all time heros. I have wonderful memories of him, Arlo Guthrie, Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul and Mary. They were so significant in helping me to develop my social conscience when times 'they were a changin' '!

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  17. I'm from the same era as you and appreciate the music that went hand in hand with our broadening thoughts during that tumultuous time. It was like pulling a cork on a bottle of champagne -- ideas of change were spewing everywhere. Some folks liked this -- some not. What happened to those fresh ideas -- did the "some not" tamper us down? -- barbara

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