Sunday, 2 February 2014

R.I.P. Pete Seeger

 As I'm sure you already know legendary Folk singer Pete Seeger died recently aged 94. He lived to a ripe old age and had a major impact on music and public opinion in America and abroad. I've listened to his protest songs more then a few times and if I were to have a top ten list I'm sure he'd be on it.

I'm also pleased to have seen that he received eulogies and tributes from a lot of media outlets in America. However I wasn't happy to see them try to retroactively claim him as there own.  The Young Turks did a video on him were despite acknowledging Seeger's support for the Communist Party claimed he was a Liberal. Which is odd since they're usually the first to complain that a Liberal and Communist is not the same thing. Oh and despite congratulating him on his work for Civil Rights they completely failed to mention his most active and important area of Activism, the Labour Movement.

Like Woody Guthrie his friend and collaborator Pete Seeger was very active singing songs for and about Unions and workers struggles. In fact for a time he was part of a band called the Almanac Singers along with Woody Guthrie that concerned themselves almost exclusively with Union songs. It then branched out to include other topics including the fight against Fascism, which led to some very strange "protest" songs like "Dear Mr President" a song dripping with praise for a pro war FDR, oh and the Almanac Singers where an official part of the American "Popular Front" a CPUSA ran Soviet sponsored front group designed to build an alliance between the Communists and other "Progressive" forces.

Over all the best biography of Seeger I've seen is from the Real News Network, though they don't acknowledge the Communist links at all, and its only mention is part of a dismissive comment about right wing smears.

I guess "Radical" has become the safety word for Liberals to praise Communists without giving credit to another group. Still over all its a good recap and introduction to the guy, even gives a (limited) taste of his music.

I'm not really surprised to see this much dishonesty from self described Liberals, though I was a little surprised to see it appear here, because Seeger's links to the Communist Party are actually very well known since they lasted many years, but also because it should be an easy target to attack him. He's support went beyond voting for the Presidential Candidate or reading the Daily Worker, he actively  participated in its initiatives like the Popular Front and the American International Brigade. He also sang songs and spoke out in favour of the USSR and Stalin.

But in the 1980's he changed his opinion on Stalin and the Soviet Union, in 1982 he took part in a benefit gig for Solidarnosc Polish Union that resisted the Soviet Union and its Warsaw government. He also began to criticise violence and say that he had been wrong in interviews and offered to apologies.

At any rate, today I'll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was merely a "hard driver" and not a "supremely cruel misleader." I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. ought to apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern White Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.
And in 2007 he wrote one of his last songs called "Big Joe Blues" which was a song about the brutality of the Stalin years and his disillusionment with him.

 "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. / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race. / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place. / I got the Big Joe Blues. / Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast. / I got the Big Joe Blues. / Do this job, no questions asked. / I got the Big Joe Blues."

So you could quote mine the guy to make it appear that he was disillusioned with Communism, even though he maintain that he was still a supporter of Communism.

 "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it."

But enough words now the man should be remembered most for his music, so here's a selection of them.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

which side are you on 


Solidarity Forever

Banks of Marble

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