Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Knew The Day To Re-Run This Post Would Come. Sigh.

Original Blogpost Airdate, January 20th, 2010

If your musical taste has never gone beyond the modern music machine that gives us American Idol and Lady Gaga, you're probably not a fan of folk music, and you may never have heard of Pete Seeger, which would be a shame for you. Pete is  was simultaneously the greatest  voice and last echo of the working man's folk music of the Great Depression, a last reminder of the time when This Land Is Your Land had all its verses.

"What are you talking about Drugmonkey? This Land Is Your Land? I've heard that song a million times"

But you probably haven't heard all of it. You've heard the sanitized version. The homogenized remnant that has been processed into mindless rah rah pap to be played on Disneyland's Main Street USA as Mickey Mouse™ walks by. The original was in your face political. A song of the working man who wasn't going to take being exploited by this country's self appointed economic elete much longer:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

That's how Woody Guthrie wrote it, and that's how Pete Seeger sings it to this day. sang it. An unapologetic leftist, he was blacklisted at the height of his group's popularity and dragged in front of Congress to testify before the House Un-American Activities committee, where he was asked about his past ties to Communists and pressured to name names of fellow travelers. Here's what Pete said:

"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

With those words Pete Seeger's music career had the knees knocked out from under it, and he was indicted for contempt of Congress. I'll leave it to you to decide which side was Un-American that day.

Pete spent the better part of the next decade in the wilderness, his ability to earn a living crippled while fighting a legal battle that at one point resulted in a sentence, later overturned, of 10 years in a federal prison.

It took The Smothers Brothers to reintroduce Pete to a mass audience.

Yes. Those Smothers Brothers. They had a variety show during the 60's and fought a tooth and nail battle with CBS to have Pete on. While the existence of testicles on The Smothers Brothers may come as a surprise to those who see them today, there is no doubt Pete has an iron pair. At a time when it had not yet become fashionable to protest the Vietnam War, Pete got on national television after an exile imposed by the United States Congress and sang this to Mr. and Mrs. America.

"We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy/When the big fool said to push on..." Kick-ass. Not to mention depressingly familiar.

Oh, and along the way, Pete Seeger formed Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an organization that convinced people the Hudson River was crazy polluted and should be cleaned up.

I saw Pete Seeger not long ago. When I heard he was coming close I knew I would have crawled through mud and ice and snow and rain on my knees for miles for the chance to see him. Fortunately all I had to do was buy a ticket. He's 90 years old now, and he held that arena in the absolute palm of his hand. I wanted to wrap myself around him and make him stay forever, as I fear they just don't make his kind anymore. The fact I couldn't made me want to cry a little, along with the continued power of the songs I heard that day.

Pete won't be with us much longer. is no longer with us. If he comes  came to your town I recommend crawling on your hands and knees to see him if you have to. and you were lucky enough to see him, I know you won't forget it.

And don't ever forget the lost verses. We won't see his kind again.


Tricia said...

I was very sad too hear of his passing, the influence he had on my life directly, and his influence on so many other musicians I listen to just can't be measured. He led an impressive life.

Eli said...

Big loss