So Long, Pete, It’s Been Good to Know Ya

Pete Seeger blog

“Some may find them [songs] merely diverting melodies. Others may find them incitements to Red revolution. And who will say if either or both is wrong? Not I.”

I really have played a little guitar in my time, long before I had to hock my axe at a particularly bad financial period.  Never one for picking, I’d rather strum chords and sing along, and so I was attracted primarily to folk songs with simplified chord structures.  Not surprisingly, as I scoured the library looking for song books I could copy out or photocopy, I came across Pete Seeger’s The Incompleat Folksinger, writings by him and others on the history and basis of folk and the early consciousness protesters.

Pete was a man who wasn’t afraid to speak what was on his mind and call a spade a spade.  Witness his troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee, starting in 1955 and lasting until 1962, when he refused to name names or answer any questions about his past political affiliations, based on his First Amendment rights.  That conviction to do what was right, not what was easy, never wavered in Seeger; he protested war, pollution, discrimination and violence with his music wherever he found it.  On the head of his banjo, his preferred instrument, he usually wrote the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,” in imitation of his friend Woody Guthrie’s guitar, which was emblazoned with “This machine kills fascists!”

Many of us didn’t see this, probably.  We were attracted first of all by the music; traditional songs, original songs, funny and serious and heartbreaking songs; they made us laugh, and cry, and — most of all — think about things.  Pete always encouraged his audience to sing along with him, and they would, knowing almost all of his repertoire as well as he did.  In recent years, as Pete’s high tenor started fading due to age, the audience would help fill in the music, and everyone — especially Pete, I’d wager — was happy.  It wasn’t a pure Forties or Fifties hootenanny — not when you had to buy a ticket to get in — but it came fairly close.  I’d be willing to bet that, if Pete’s fetched up beside the Apostles after dying yesterday, he’s got that old five-string banjo in his hands, and a twelve-string guitar sitting in a stand nearby, ready to use, and he’s started leading the singalongs.  Blessings be upon you, Mr. Seeger.

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Posted January 28, 2014 by Harper Ganesvoort in Arts, Music, People

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