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Spengler

Pete Seeger: A Mean-Spirited and Vengeful Recollection

January 29th, 2014 - 7:02 pm

I’m willing to forgive Seeger his Stalinism. Some of my most-admired artists were Stalinists, for example, Bertolt Brecht, whose rendition of his own “Song of the Unattainability of Human Striving” from The Threepenny Opera is the funniest performance of the funniest song of the 20th century. I can’t forgive him his musical fraud: the mind-deadening, saccharine, sentimental appeal to the lowest common denominator of taste in his signature songs — “I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” and so forth. Bob Dylan (of whom I’m not much of a fan) rescued himself from the bathos by poisoning the well of sentimentality with irony. His inheritance is less Dylan than the odious Peter, Paul and Mary.

One of Seeger’s great selling points is that during the great leveling of the 1960s, any idiot who could play three chords on a guitar could plunk and howl through most of his repertoire. Try to play like Robert Johnson. There’s a great gulf fixed. Johnson may have been self-taught, but his music sought to rise above adversity and sorrow with craft and invention. The folkies aimed lower. Tom Lehrer got it exactly right half a century ago. I know how mean-spirited and vengeful this sounds, but after suffering through this pap through my childhood, I feel entitled. Everyone  deserves a few free passes at petty rancour, and I am going to use one of mine on Pete Seeger.

Related: For more thoughts about Seeger, don’t miss Ed Driscoll on “Pete Seeger’s Totalitarian Trifecta,” and Rick Moran, who asks, “Is It Possible to Love the Artist, but Hate His Politics?”

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

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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.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
A communist with a net worth estimated at $4.2 million. What else needs to be said?
52 weeks ago
52 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!)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (138)
All Comments   (138)
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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.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have seen world class violinists play in blue grass bands from time to time. Their violins become fiddles.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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!

51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well he did get a lot of the poop out of the Hudson river..... I'll give him that.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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.
51 weeks ago
51 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
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not a fan--there's too much horsepoop around the kernels of poetry. But the kernels surely are there. The first verse of "Highway 61 Revisited" must be the funniest piece of light verse written by an American (the rest of the song is filler). Note that the Honky-Tonk setting is deliberately ironical. The irony is what distinguishes Dylan from a yutz like Seeger.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
A bunch of guys that work this genre well:

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/silver-jews-mn0000755496
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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