Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pete Seeger


If you get the chance, check out a great show on PBS, American Masters Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. It was a well put-together program following his whole life and career with many appearances by artists influenced by him including: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, the Byrds, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, etc. Seeger is, perhaps, our country's most important folk music artist and he truly is the father of the modern politicaly active musician. There is a very obvious progression from the likes of Seeger and Woody Guthrie to Dylan and Baez to Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam.

Springsteen honored the influence Seeger had on him in an album and tour.

Read some excerpted lyrics from a couple of songs by Seeger about the Vietnam war and tell me they don't have relevance today:

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
by Pete Seeger 1963, planned for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967 but CBS objected to the blacklisted Seeger making obvious references to the "big fool" in the White House, finally sung by Seeger on the Comedy Hour in 1968 as the finale in a medley of anti-war songs

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on ...

"We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy ... And the big fool said to push on." -- We certainly are neck deep in Iraq. The "big fool" then was LBJ. Take your pick today. Certainly Bush and McCain fit the role.

Bring 'Em Home

If you love your Uncle Sam,
Support our boys in Vietnam ...
Bring them home, bring them home.

It'll make our generals sad, I know ...
They want to tangle with the foe ...
They want to test their weaponry ...
But here is their big fallacy ...

I may be right, I may be wrong ...
But I got a right to sing this song ...

There's one thing I must confess ...
I'm not really a pacifist ...
If an army invaded this land of mine ...
You'd find me out on the firing line ...

Show those generals their fallacy ...
They don't have the right weaponry ...
For defense you need common sense ...
They don't have the right armaments ...
The world needs teachers, books and schools ...
And learning a few universal rules ...

So if you love your Uncle Sam,
Bring them home, bring them home.
Support our boys in Vietnam,
Bring them home, bring them home.

This song is an answer to those who try to frame patriotism as being blind jingoistic support of an unjustified war.

from Wikipedia: On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he refused to name personal and political associations stating it would violate his First Amendment rights... "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."

It's obvious that the government censors us, but we seem to do a pretty good job of censoring ourselves. Seeger was blacklisted for two decades for refusing to kiss the ass of McCarthyites. He cited the First Amendment, the freedom of association, instead of hiding behind the Fifth Amendment like a lot of others did.

As dangerous as the world we live in is, it seems that the things that people and governments are most afraid of are words and ideas. Pete Seeger showed that songs can be a lot more powerful than guns.


You may think we've came a long way since the day of the blacklists, but modern artists like Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, Rage Against the Machine, etc. still catch heat for their political views. TV networks, radio stations, newspapers feel more obligation to their corporate bosses and Washington connections than they do to the truth.

It's refreshing when you find artists who truly don't sell-out. Seeger never did. He could have made it easier on himself. He could have went commercial and made a lot of money. You don't find many artists ... or people for that matter ... now days that don't compromise their ideals for that house in the 'burbs, that new car, that vacation home. Our souls shouldn't be for sale.

"Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches. Songs are sneaky things; they can slip across borders." -- Pete Seeger

1 comment:

wunelle said...

An excellent post.

I'm amazed at the power of a well-turned lyric. Seeger seems like a national treasure.