Voices from Russia

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Protest Songs: Pete Seeger Died

00 Pete Seeger 02. 01.02.14

Click here for the vKontakte Pete Seeger Fan Club

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On 27 January 2014, the great American folksinger Pete Seeger died in a hospital in New York of natural causes at the age of 94-years-old. Seeger was as emblematic of leftist America as Kid Rock and Ted Nugent were symbols of the American right. He sang ballads of life in Appalachia and other folk songs of the common people with guitar and banjo, even though he was flesh-and-blood of an influential WASP family. His father was a composer and folklorist who lost his job at the University of California, Berkeley due to his pacifist convictions, his mother was a violinist, a graduate of the Conservatoire de Paris. He was one of the few musicians who were big names with sincere peer appreciation, being a colleague and friend of Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen. Seeger was an ancestor of the present American folk music scene; he became the most significant singer-songwriter in the country, ending as the moral tuning fork of the nation. In the end, Seeger almost single-handedly taught his country to listen carefully to the music and to the words, never ever being untrue to himself. However, Seeger’s political activity meant no less than his music did, his iconic performance of We Shall Overcome became a symbol of America’s workers, migrant workers, students, poor, downtrodden, ripped-off, and abused. We could continue to praise this departed titan of folk music and poetry, this political activist and peace advocate, with a poetic obituary… instead, why not retell a couple of old stories?

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00 Pete Seeger 03 1942. 01.02.14

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Pete Seeger and Communism

At seventeen years old, Seeger joined a communist group in the USA. He started his career as a musician by playing guitar for a travelling puppet theatre, raising money for the benefit of needy migrants. Seeger’s first group, The Almanac Singers wasn’t so much a group as a “singing newspaper”… living up to their name, they sang topical political songs, focusing on unions, solidarity, workers, and students, and other things that couldn’t help but attract the authorities’ attention. The Weavers were more traditional, they had a more diversified repertoire of folk songs and love ballads, and even appeared in tuxedos, but after 1953, their recordings disappeared from the radio and vanished from the shelves of music stores. Prior to becoming the “moral tuning fork of the nation”, Seeger fell under the shadow of McCarthyism. In 1955, the House Un-American Activities Committee summoned him to testify about his beliefs. Seeger refused to talk to them, but offered to sing for them.

Characteristically, six years earlier Seeger resigned from the Communist Party in protest against the policies of Stalin, but he didn’t really write a commentary on communism until 2007, when he wrote a song about the Soviet leader, Big Joe Blues. “I’m singing about old Joe, cruel Joe. He ruled with an iron hand. He put an end to the dreams of so many in every land”. By the way, Seeger had real links with the USSR, not merely faith in the teachings of Marx and the Workers’ International. In the 60s, he visited the country three times; he was a friend of the Soviet people. According to legend, Seeger wrote the words for one of his most famous songs, the anti-war anthem Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, after being inspired by a lullaby in Sholokhov’s Quietly Flows the Don. Marlene Dietrich, Roy Orbison, U2, and a raft of other artists recorded versions of this song.

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00 Pete Seeger.  01. 28.01.14

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Pete Seeger and Axes

Editor’s Note:

The author is playing on words; as a musician, he knows that the jargon amongst musicians for an electric guitar is an “axe”… a little bit of punnishness, isn’t it?

BMD

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A bit of popular history will help us to understand Seeger’s spirit, even though it doesn’t focus on him. For the first time, on 25 June 1965, a young Bob Dylan took the stage with an electric guitar at Newport in his hands and began to sing Maggie’s Farm. The audience responded with shouts and murmurs of, “You sold out!” To understand the situation’s gravity, you need to know that at twenty, Dylan already enjoyed much fame, and for those more sedate times, such public behaviour was indicative of extreme displeasure. Then, with a twinkle in their eye, witnesses told how, in a moment of catharsis, Seeger was backstage… he flipped out, and chopped off the wires to Dylan’s amplifiers with an axe. For the rest of his set, Dylan had to finish using an acoustic guitar. Then, of course, Seeger excused himself by saying that he didn’t deliberately chop off the wire, he just wanted to chop something (why was there an axe backstage?). In general, it wasn’t that Dylan betrayed pure acoustic sound; it was that an electric guitar is too loud for people to hear the words behind the chords… and the words are much more important. By the way, during the song John Henry, about a mythological black railwayman, Seeger wielded a hammer on stage, and when he sang a song about lumberjacks, he used an axe to chop a huge log, previously rolled out onto the stage. Vladimir Pozner has very fond memories about how they dragged heavy logs into the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall during Seeger’s concert in Moscow.

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00 Seeger Letter. 01.02.14

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The music doesn’t begin until 0:50… be patient

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Pete Seeger and Presidents

In his lifetime, Seeger saw seventeen American Presidents, and, after a while, he was able to address them directly. At Harvard, he was a classmate of John F Kennedy, although they never really got on. There’s an old chestnut about them… Kennedy was the most famous graduate of Harvard… Seeger was the most famous student ever kicked out of it (tied up in social justice, Pete left college two years before graduation). In his youth, the singer was familiar with Eleanor Roosevelt and even performed at the White House in a concert organised by the First Lady in support of American soldiers in 1941. He dedicated the famous song, Dear Mr President to President Eisenhower, Woody Guthrie wrote it, but Seeger popularised it. In 1966, Seeger released an album of incredibly caustic anti-war songs Dangerous Songs!?, dedicating it to President Johnson. Perhaps, the first president who recognised him as if not a nice guy, at least not an enemy of the country, was Bill Clinton. He called him a public figure and “unusual artist who dared to sing things as what he saw them”. Seeger spoke at President Obama‘s inauguration, who said the following words of respect after Seeger’s death, “He reminded us of where we came from and showed us the way forward. For this, we should always be grateful to Pete Seeger”.

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00 The Dream Hasn't Died... Pete Seeger. 09.12

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Pete Seeger and Mass Protests

Until the last years of his life, Seeger continued to take part in civic activities. He was an early anti-Vietnam War activist, and later opposed the Iraq War, opposed the Franco régime in Spain, fiercely fought for civil rights, and championed environmentalism… he founded the environmental organisation Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, to clean up the Hudson River. Seeger never relinquished an opportunity to support protesters, if he felt them to be moral and ethically correct. Three years ago, the Occupy Wall Street people got Seeger’s backing… the 90-year-old singer took part in a march of solidarity with Occupy members. However, the most incredible event in recent years didn’t focus on Pete himself, rather, it involved one of his songs, in a place far beyond the limits of the American continent. Imagine… the most famous mass murderer in the modern history of Norway sits in a prison in a Oslo suburb. Despite the carnage caused by Anders Breivik, the court found him sane, and sentenced him to an unprecedented long term in a Norwegian prison. The window of his cell overlooks the square in front of the prison. What exactly goes on there, Breivik can’t see, but he can hear what goes on. One time, thousands of people gathered to sing Rainbow Race by Pete Seeger… a song that the killer hated and derided as an example of “Marxist propaganda”. I don’t know how Breivik felt at that moment, but those thousands of people sure overcame the anxiety in my heart {do you see how the author returns to the theme of We Shall Overcome? Now, that’s a neat trick: editor}.

31 January 2014

Gleb Gavrish

Disgusting Men/Отвратительные мужики

http://disgustingmen.com/pesni-protesta-umer-pit-siger/

Editor’s Note:

On one side, you have Pete Seeger… on the other, you have Wet Willy Romney, Franklin GrahamSlobberin’ Ronnie, Sarah PalinRod Dreher, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, Glenn BeckAnn Coulter, and all the other shitbirds like them… somehow, all the Righties lumped together can’t equal one Pete Seeger. We’re all the richer for having such a chelovek amongst us.

Вечная ему память… this land WAS made for you and me…

BMD

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