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Spengler

Pete Seeger: A Mean-Spirited and Vengeful Recollection

January 29th, 2014 - 7:02 pm

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I first heard Pete Seeger perform when I was five or six, when I was a red-diaper baby and he was blacklisted and drunk. What I recall most about the encounter was that the tip of his needle-nose glowed bright red. He was performing for a children’s group of some sort at a time when his Communist background kept him out of public venues. His records — not just the Weavers albums, but the early Asch 78′s of the Almanac Singers — were daily fare in my home, along with Woody Guthrie’s children’s songs. My parents knew Guthrie casually; my father once organized a concert for him at Brooklyn College, and my mother was Arlo Guthrie’s nursery-school teacher.

I was not just a Pete Seeger fan, but a to-the-hammer-born, born-and-bred cradle fan of Pete Seeger. With those credentials, permit me to take note of his passing with the observation that he was a fraud, a phony, a poseur, an imposter. The notion of folk music he espoused was a put-on from beginning to end.

There is no such thing as an American “folk.” We are a people summoned to these shores by an idea, not common ties of blood and culture. There is folk music in America where pockets of ethnicity resisted assimilation: African-American blues, for example, or the English songs frozen in amber in white Appalachia. That is why the best American popular music always came from black sources, performed either by black musicians or white emulators from George Gershwin on down.

Seeger’s (and Guthrie’s) notion of folk music had less to do with actual American sources than with a Communist-inspired Yankee version of Proletkult. The highly personalized style of a Robert Johnson¬†and other Delta bluesmen didn’t belong in the organizing handbook of the “folk” exponents who grew up in the Communist Party’s failed efforts to control the trade union movement of the 1940s. The music of the American people grew out of their churches. Their instrument was the piano, not the guitar, and their style was harmonized singing of religious texts rather than the nasal wailing that Guthrie made famous. Seeger, the son of an academic musicologist and a classical violinist, was no mountain primitive, but a slick commercializer of “folk” themes with a nasty political agenda. His capacity to apologize for the brutalities of Communist regimes — including their repression of their own “folksingers” — remained undiminished with age, as David Graham reported in the Atlantic.

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Top Rated Comments   
If he had been a Nazi, we wouldn't be talking about him at all; Seeger would have been a pariah, but he was a Commie, so of course he's a "folk music hero" to the left, as the Commie Death Camps were OK with them when it served their purposes.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
A communist with a net worth estimated at $4.2 million. What else needs to be said?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, I am a musician who started to play the day after seeing the Weavers in concert, and began to learn to play by copying the Weavers on their records. I won't write much, but a couple of things stand out. 1. There is a banjo rally in Nashville every year where the best banjo guys gather. Nobody could tolerate Pete Seeger. 2. Seeger was a true troubadour - credit where credit is due --, he could definitely get people singing like nobody else -- which is NOT to say he was a musician; he was not a musician. Banging three chords on an instrument does not a musician make. But he was great at getting people to sing along. 3. His half brother, Mike, was the gifted talented folk musician in the family. Compare any Seeger (or Guthrie) album to a, say, New Lost City Ramblers album, and you will immediately hear where the actual music, as opposed to preaching, was. (By the way, Mike could't stand Pete.) 4. Mr. Goldman wrote: "That is why the best American popular music always came from black sources and performed either by black musicians or white emulators from George Gershwin on down." Nonsense. Real American folk indeed emanated from Appalachia, and southern blues. But don't forget cowboy songs. And don't leave out New Orleans -- authentic -- jazz. Nothing folkier than music from the 1900's streets of the city where everybody played -- black and white, I might add. (See Al Rose' "The Family Album," if you want proof.) But all that notwithstanding, American popular music, like comedy and Hollywood was by and large the creation of Jewish immigrants to New York. -- First an foremost, Irving Berlin, but also pretty much all the pop songs of Tin Pan Alley and every Broadway hit except for George Cohan (How's that for irony? "It was "Cohan" who was not Jewish.) and Eubie Blake. Last, re: politics and music, quoting St. Tom Lehrer (also Jewish), ""though he (Franco) may have won all the Battles, We had all the great songs!)
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (139)
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Love this article, and the comments here, and I know it's not really about music per se, but I'd just like to interrupt for a second to assert that Jazz was invented when a really excellent blues band fell down the stairs.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have seen world class violinists play in blue grass bands from time to time. Their violins become fiddles.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Goldman repeats the canard that the US is a proposition nation, removed from any blood or ethnic ties, as if the US Constitution was handed down from heaven like Moses tablets. The truth is that the Constitution is a product of Caucasian Europeans, particularly English but also Dutch, French and German, with others. Break that ethnic homogeneity and you get what we now have, essentially a fascist political and bureaucratic elite in Washington DC with no regard whatsoever for Constitutional rule. It is also worth noting that Mr. Goldman would welcome the arrival of a 100 million or so from the Indian sub-continent, that would certainly stick it to the Anglos. Of course the Jewish community would be very careful to maintain it's racial purity, as it does now and always has. A divided and fractious host is ideal for a community within a community to dominate and exploit.
Was Pete Seeger Jewish? He certainly had Jewish attitudes.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
What a relief to see an honest article about that fraud Pete Seeger. Nothing personal, Pete, but may your arid soul burn in hell.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
He is now singing a duet with the Swimmer:

This Hell is my Hell
This Hell is your Hell
From Brimstone Mountain
To Gehenna Valley!

This Hell is my Hell
This Hell is your Hell
This Hell was made for you and me!

34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well he did get a lot of the poop out of the Hudson river..... I'll give him that.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Spengler-"There's not a cowboy song whose original isn't sung in pubs in Edinburgh or Cork. Jazz is distinctly American but it's not something "we" do; a skilled handful of us do it."

Are you saying then, that Africans hadn't enough music in their original cultures to bring any to North America? Or that AA's were not influenced by what they heard in Massa's house? Why does Jazz use 8 notes scales instead of the Asian 5 note? Or some other scale that is completely African?

Jazz is largely improvisational. In old Kentucky mountain homes improvisation was just as important, regardless its Scotch-Irish background.

Finally, how does Scotch-Irish speak to Italian Opera or Russian Ballet or German Symphony??

Sorry, while I agree that Seegar was a phony, I still disagree with your take on the reality of 'American" music.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where's the Appalachian Charlie Parker or John Coltrane? Jazz is improvisational but all improvisation isn't jazz. The black jazz pioneers from Scott Joplin to Fats Waller had serious musical chops. If you like Scotch-Irish mountain music, fine, but the comparison is completely wrong.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
You didn't answer the questions. See paragraph two.

To answer your question, mountain and other 'folk' music, was never romanticized by northeastern whites when mass media began...too southern ya know.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pete also trundled along on Henry Wallace's Presidential campaign of 1948, again the sugar coating on his far-left 'progressive' message. Wallace, for God's sake, went to Kolyma as Vice-President and turned a blind eye to the zeks mining by hand for gold in the bitter cold.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, it was in some cases. You might look at Henry Ford's public promotions of trad Scotch-Irish fiddle players as an antidote to cosmopolitanism in the 1920s. And Pete Seeger mostly cashed in on that same mother lode of culture, since that was the majority which he set out to influence with his 'progressive' politics, for which he selected music that would ring a bell of familiarity with them.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
This was an interesting article, but more importantly, it evoked my favorite PJ commentary of all time. For a fan, who enjoys a good tune, it was fun and a learning experience, as well, thank you.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dear Spengler, I love your articles very much,
but for Stalinism there is no sympathy possible,
it was obviously a murder system; it made Hitler possible in Germany;
also these kinds of artists, who told us how to work for communism
in east Germany, they were no way better with their secret bank accounts,
they, espescially Brecht, were nothing but liars
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
You say, "we are a people summoned to these shores by an idea, not common ties of blood and culture." But there is in fact a blood-and-culture American nucleus, well-represented by Carter-Family-type music, and those who don't acknowledge and support this Celtic/Anglo/Viking nucleus as such, as the bearer of the American Spirit, choose not to be members of the "we the people" to which you refer. Jew-haters are indeed vermin, but sometimes they see things that we really ought to notice for ourselves. There is no "people" without a blood-and-culture basis for peoplehood, a fact that we ourselves insist upon where our own peoplehood is concerned (and our manner of accepting converts proves that this is so, for they are imagined as becoming Sons of Abraham, in a literal blood-sense). If America is different in this regard, it is only different in that there are more or less peripheral zones of American peoplehood that are inhabited by non-Northwest-Europeans only so long as these support the center.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are partly right, and partly wrong. The original core of american culture was definitely northern european (with a further wasp core). But the key thing that set america apart was to be part of america you didn't have to be descended form a northern european, you just had to assimilate enough so you acted and thought like one. Unfortunately dem identity politics has destroyed that drive toward assimilation, and is also destroying the core of our national values.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
The same kind of thinking thought we couldn't assimilate the Irish. And as far as the Carter Family stuff goes: that was the losing side in the Civil War -- not exactly exemplary Americans. Note that converts are children of Abraham and Sarah. Who btw are the "Vikings" in this mix?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't exclude from mind that some of the more mountainous parts of the Civil War sent their young men to fight for the Union, some even from Alabama. The plantation mentality wasn't universal, and the highlanders were more independent.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry to interpose as someone outside the Tribe, but I'm on the fence about this. America is a proposition nation at its root, but tribalism and racial identity are now an important part of the American story. It was the internal pressure to assimilate to Anglo- Northern European cultural norms and identity that allowed the US to remain a proposition nation for as long as it did. The Irish for example were only successfully assimilated to the extent they gave up their Irishness. It is after all "asSIMILation" -- the drive to become as similar as possible to your surroundings in your new home -- that is the proper measure of a culture's health. Once that disappeared in the US, the notion of America being about ideas started to look more and more laughable. The cult of "diversity" is essentially a death cult.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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