“In addition to being America's best-loved folksinger and an untiring environmentalist, Pete Seeger is a national treasure. He has been at the forefront of the labor movement, the struggle for Civil Rights, the peace and anti-war movements, and the fight for a clean world. He has been a beacon for hope for millions of people all over the world. Once blacklisted from national television for being unafraid to voice his opinions, he was given the nation's highest artistic honors at the Kennedy Center in December 1994. In January 1996 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although he left Harvard during his second year, in the spring of 1996 he was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal, presented annually to a Harvard graduate who has made an important contribution to the arts. He won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album of 1996 in February 1997 for his Living Music recording "Pete." At the end of April 1999, he traveled to Cuba to accept the Felix Varela Medal, that nation's highest honor for "his humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism." In April 2000, he was named one of America's Living Legends by the Library of Congress.”
But let me try one more time to blog about Pete. Seeing as how I've already come this far by saying I can't.
People like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie have always stuck in the self-satisfied craw of the American Establishment, especially politicians. Proponents of the status quo were never comfortable around the Folk Singers. Peter, Paul and Mary. Joan Baez and Bobby Dylan. Richie Havens. Roger McGuinn. They never seemed to be able to look at injustice and turn away; always had to be in it's face and shining bright lights in America's dirty dark corners.
Civil Rights. Farm workers. The Vietnam War.
Where have all the flowers gone? If I had a hammer. We shall overcome.
And always ending with Woody's song, This Land is Your Land. In your face. Take it back.
Pete wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Pete wrote If I Had a Hammer. Pete wrote the Byrd's "Turn, Turn, Turn" (with a little help from King Solomon.)
Always dragging that old 5-string banjo around. Always singing about injustice. Always in the establishment's face. The ultimate protest singer.
AMY GOODMAN (Democracy Now): And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?
PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?
In 1936, at age 17, Pete joined the YCL (Young Communist League) and in 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party. Although he drifted away from the Party in the 1950s, mostly due to the embarrassment of Stalin's atrocities, he remained always in the fight for the worker, for the common man. The ultimate liberal. A liberal's liberal.
"I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
In 1955 he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Unlike many others before him, he didn't take the Fifth. He claimed protection, instead, under the FIRST Amendment - freedom of association. Freedom to associate with whomever he felt like associating with.
"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."
Pete Seeger turned 90 this past May. There was a big party in Madison Square Garden. And a PBS special on his life this summer. He performed of course, leading the crowd in song, as usual. This time it was Amazing Grace he made them sing. Bruce Springsteen was there. And Roger McGuinn and Joan Baez and Tom Paxton and Arlo Guthrie. True to form, he insisted that the proceeds be donated to the non-profit group working to save and restore the Hudson River. He hasn't slowed down much. The fire still burns inside.
In January, he sang with some friends and the crowd at President Obama's innauguration. You didn't think old Pete was going to miss that, did you?
They sang - of course - Woody's old song, This Land is Your Land.