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Arts and Culture

Richard Flacks on Pete Seeger

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Posted on Aug 7, 2009

By Richard Flacks

(Page 3)

Seeger’s most promising mainstream venture was the effort by the Almanacs’ successor group, the Weavers, to work commercial venues. The quartet was born out of the People’s Artists/Henry Wallace cultural left, but was discovered and signed by Gordon Jenkins of Decca Records (one of the largest record labels of the ’40s and ’50s). Jenkins produced a series of Weavers hits (several of these among the biggest-selling singles of the era), and the group was booked into many of the leading clubs and concert venues. The Weavers themselves were uncomfortable with their handlers’ demands that they steer clear of the causes and organizations they had been accustomed to working for, but it wasn’t long before right-wing entrepreneurs of the emerging Red hunt went after them, largely based on Seeger’s long association with “communist” politics. Some two years after they had burst on the scene, the Weavers’ big-time commercial-recording and live-performance career was over.

Seeger may have been disappointed that the Weavers’ successful popularization of folk music was so quickly aborted, but, with Toshi Seeger’s managerial efforts, he quickly embarked on a perpetual tour of America’s college campuses, summer camps and auditoriums, where he honed a solo performance style and repertory that defined who he was as a musician, and in the process brought into being a ragtag army of young fans. He was reviving for urban audiences not only the musical roots of the country but the ancient role of the troubadour, bringing the news through song.

 

book cover

 

“To Everything There is a Season”: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song

 

By Allan M. Winkler

 

Oxford University Press, 256 pages

 

Buy the book

book cover

 

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger

 

By Alec Wilkinson

 

Knopf, 176 pages

 

Buy the book

 

book cover

 

How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger

 

By David King Dunaway

 

Villard, 544 pages

 

Buy the book


Seeger’s commitment to his project was embodied in a particular performance style. The key for him was not the display of his own talent and skill, or to thrill or entice an audience. It was instead to bring songs to people so that they could make them their own. Every Seeger performance was centered on group singing. Simply getting a mass audience to join in requires skill, but he aimed further—to teach new songs, and to foster singing in harmony. He particularly relished teaching South African songs, in their original language, that involved two or three competing melodic lines (most famously “Wimoweh”).

Seeger has not to my knowledge laid out a full-fledged theory to explain his emphasis on mass singing. Such a theory, however, is implicit in his performances: There is an empowering effect in the very sound of a singing assembly; there is a persuasive effect that can come when audience members sing lyrics expressing a political perspective or commitment; there is a sense of mutual validation when people in a crowd sing together in an attitude of resistance. And once you sing a song there is a good chance that you will be able to reproduce it by and for yourself. By working as a song leader and teacher, Pete Seeger was achieving his father’s wish for a mode of musical performance that had an ability to “aid in the welding of the people into more independent, capable, and democratic action.”

The blacklisting of Pete Seeger by network TV lasted at least 15 years. Still, his cultural impact steadily increased during that time. The Weavers reunited in a historic Carnegie Hall Christmas season concert in 1955 and thereby defied the blacklist; the recording of this event on the upstart Vanguard label hit the charts, and the group continued to tour and record for several more years (although Seeger separated from it). Seeger drew ever larger concert crowds, including many of the young who heard him first at summer camps or on college campuses. He made, in that period, dozens of albums for Folkways.

Meanwhile, a pop-centered folk song revival became commercially huge. Weavers imitators, led by the Kingston Trio and later Peter, Paul and Mary, sold millions of records. Seeger and the Weavers had shown that folk music could sell, but the resulting commodification inevitably cheapened, denatured and contradicted Seeger’s project. His support of the Newport Folk Festivals helped provide alternative, more authentic access to rooted music and performers. By the early ’60s, a musical rebellion against pop folk was in the works as a band of young troubadours, consciously following in Woody and Pete’s footsteps, started singing. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Odetta and many others performed in newly started folk clubs, recorded on upstart labels, appeared at civil rights and ban-the-bomb rallies, and dominated the college tours. Network TV shows featured many of these troubadours alongside the slick bands—but because Seeger was deliberately excluded from these shows, many of the young troubadours boycotted them (even though he personally encouraged some of them to seize the opportunity to get exposure).

The folk music revival was a political as well as cultural phenomenon. The festivals, concerts and clubs where folk fans congregated were among the prime social spaces for shaping awareness and engagement with the Southern civil rights movement and the new left. The early ’60s student activists saw Dylan, Ochs, Baez et al. as “ours” (much as Red diaper babies in the early ’50s claimed Seeger).

Pete Seeger’s belief in the power of song derived in large part from history—the fact that a number of great social movements were fueled by music. There is a tradition of labor song in America, dating from the 19th century, and a number of songs from that tradition continue to this day to help define the identities of labor organizers and raise spirits on the picket line. The Almanacs and People’s Songs were experiments designed to make the U.S. labor movement of the ’30s and ’40s a singing movement—but the results were mixed. Seeger’s dream of a singing mass movement was much more fully realized in the civil rights struggle of the ’60s.


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By Inherit The Wind, August 10, 2009 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

On a sad note for Pete and his fans:  I just read today that Pete’s younger brother, Mike, passed away on Friday.

Mike Seeger, was a talented folk musician, dedicated to the research, history and preservation of Southern music. As a pure musician, I’m sure Pete would agree that Mike was superior—in fact, Pete once described not being able to play something on banjo “and along came my brother Mike and showed me how to do it…”. Despite the 11 years between them, Pete was always close to Mike and sister Peggy.  I hate how they always call them his “half-brother” and “half-sister”.  Clearly they were more than half to each other.  I have a treasured video tape of Pete, Mike and Peggy playing children’s folk songs for bunch of kids at Pete’s home in Beacon. It’s just so much fun!

To all of Mike Seeger’s family, my deepest condolences.

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By Susie V Kaufman, August 10, 2009 at 2:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dr. Flacks:

It’s folks such as you who make me wish I could afford to move up to Santa Barbara.  [I live in Santa Clarita, where seemingly nobody gives a bloody damn about anything.]

Thank you from the bottom of my once-red-diapered tush for this delightful piece on someone with whom I grew up, thanks to my own communist parents.

May you and Mickey continue having wonderful experiences!

Thank you.

Susie

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By ardee, August 9, 2009 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind, August 8 at 11:59 pm #

Kudos for an eloquent, and more importantly, accurate, description of the life of one of my heroes, Pete Seegar.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 8, 2009 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment

The idea of Pete Seeger, in his extreme old age, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is both crazy and sane at the same time.  There may be a more deserving person in the world, but I cannot imagine who it might be.

Pete has given his life to the idea that nations at war is insane and criminal. He sings in many languages, to teach that ALL of us are human beings and brothers and sisters to each other, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to each other.

This Mayflower Brahman, who cast away ALL of his “breeding” other than his total fervent patriotism for America, and his Puritan ascetism, whose wife is Japanese-American, whose grandson is half-hispanic, part European, part Japanese, is as American as apple pie.

I cannot IMAGINE an American who loves his country more than Pete, who put his life and career and reputation on the line for it time and time again.

He is both as ordinary a man as can be (as he wants to be) and as extraordinary as a man can be.  He’s just like you and me, yet he is TOTALLY unique, one of a kind.

When Pete’s time is finally over, and at 90 he is, sadly in the twilight, I will weep as I did for my own father.  And I will laugh too, for all the joy and wisdom he brought to the world. 

Pete Seeger is the most successful man I have ever come across in all my life.  I put him with George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King (a close friend of Pete’s), Nelson Mandela, and King Juan Carlos (the man given absolute dictatorship and used it to build a democracy).  I’ve met Pete a few times, though I’m sure he’d never remember me.

He is a hero.

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By ardee, August 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm Link to this comment

Poco, August 8 at 9:34 am #

Ah, so you want to make yourselves feel good but want me to pay for it. I understand more than you might think.  When the reward for my labor is given to others all I may have in the end is “a great feeling,an human feeling”. When it is all boiled down to meat and potatos that may be all either of us have.
And who is being ignorant here? Only fools believe that in this world there are no, and can be no, winners or losers. Utopia has been tried and has been found wanting.

What you reveal with this intemperate rant is a complete failure to understand the meaning of ‘citizenship’ and your responsibility to your nation and your fellow citizens. You are very,very typical of the right wing, selfish to an extreme.

Communism is a failure because of human frailty and weakness. Someone always rises to the top and fights to stay there. In the capitalist system it is just more organized.
I, personally, like living in a country where anyone can work as hard or as little as they want and receive the appropriate reward for that. You may see it as taking advantage of those with less education or who find themselves in bad economic situations. I maintain that, other than people with physical or mental limitations, your situation is the result of choices you have made throughout your life time. You make bad choices, don’t study in school, dabble in drugs, your may ruin your life. You want a system where everybody is a winner. That can’t work and I believe you probably know that.

You pompously prattle a vision of Capitalism found in middel school texts and not anywhere in the real world. I would even grant that you actually believe this tripe with which you soil the forum.

In light of the last eight years of the worst administration in American history, with the regulatory agencies stripped of power, the cronyism that resulted in a huge deficit while enriching the personal wealth of a few dozen republican fat cats. With the numerous constitutional violations, torture galore and the increasingly strident and unreal rants from the right I find your position untenable and one that can be held only by the most rabidly partisan, least sincere or least knowledgeable among us. Which, I wonder, are you?

If the truth was probably known Mr. Seeger probably has a stash of cash somewhere that he is living off of. Do you suppose he is living off of the labor of others? People get pretty tired of that fairly soon.
By the way, I believe Mr. Seeger was paid for performing quite often. Who was that given to? You people have a tendency to do that sort of thing. You usually want to keep what is yours and use mine for altruistic purposes.

This stupidity warrants no reply, but the one you already received from ITW is far more than it deserved. You are, I am afraid, nothing more and nothing less than a caricature.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

Poco,

I’m paying for your guy’s GIANT tax cut of 2001, his multiple wars, his conversion of a federal surplus to a deficit, the resultant credit crunch, the resultant bank failures and the resultant phonied-up TARP—that went to save AIG so Paulsen’s Goldman wouldn’t fail, but NOT to Goldman’s arch-rival, Lehman Bros.

We were trillions in debt UNNECESSARILY before Obama came to office and it’s all due to YOUR guys taking MY money and giving it to their rich pals.

If the government is going to take my money and give it to someone, I DAMN sure prefer it going to someone poor who will be able to eat and pay rent, and programs from them, and not to someone buying a castle in Germany, because he needs a place to dock his yacht!  (As George Bush described his base: “The Haves, and the Have Mores!”)

As for Pete’s stash of money—he’s been around the music scene for 30 years longer than Paul McCartney, 40 years longer than Michael Jackson. He’s made more records than either of them put together, was ALWAYS uninterested in conspicuous consumption, unlike MOST performers, and has far, FAR less money by orders of magnitude than Sir Paul, MJ, or even The Boss.

His personal “fortune”, if you could call it that, was depleted by all the years of fighting unjust criminal charges against him.  He spent what he had on his defense lawyers, and he lost YEARS of opportunities to make Big Bucks.  In the end ALL the charges against him were thrown out.  He didn’t cave in and name names like Burl Ives or Lee J. Cobb.  He didn’t take the 5th, but rather took the FIRST Amendment.

And he won, but it left him broke.  And he had to make it back, little concert by little concert.

See how Seeger lives, and see how other performers live, and try again to tell us he’s a phony with a big stash of cash!  Seeger has ALWAYS walked the walk, not just talked the talk.

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By johannes, August 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

Dear mister POCO,

Take a good look in the mirror, wath you see their is an swollen frog, who thinks he is a prince, well no you are just waiting for the big bird with the name realety, who will eat you, sorry but that is the end of stupidety, not by me but by Voltaire.

Solutation.

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By Poco, August 8, 2009 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

Rontruth,
you are doing a very poor job of reading my intentions or my mind. I agree with you on the question of giving banking corporations a bail out. They should sink or swim on their own merits. They got where they are, however, with the help of people like Chris Dodd and Barney Frank.
It all started back in the Carter administration as you probably know. Legislation was introduced enabling the government to be in bed with Fanny Mae & Freddy Mac. Starting in the early 1990s, Rep. Frank and Dodd stood in the way of efforts by regulators, Congress and the White House to get the runaway housing market under control. In 2002, Frank nixed reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and in 2003, led by Frank, Democrats stood as a bloc against any changes that President Bush proposed making to Fannie and Freddie. I would relate further how these organizations were bundling loans and dealing them but, given your prior diatribe, I doubt you would understand.
These are the guys that are costing you, me, my grandchildren and others so dearly now and in the future. They said their motives were the same as those that you seem to espouse. And look where it got us. These men should be tarred and feathered but people like you keep reelecting them to office where they can do more and more damage. The working poor helped put those people in office and if the working poor want to help themselves out they should vote them out. Do your mental leg work, man. Quit being so weak minded.
So, to answer your question, NO, I do not see the trillions being given away as altruistic. It is more like extortion. Any time property is forceably taken from one person, as are taxes today, and given to those who have no claim on that property, as is welfare, that, sir, is extortion. So you see? I am not your enemy. I believe in letting you have what is yours as long as you keep your hands off of mine. I give to several charities, probably more than your net worth, but I want to be able to decide to whom I give and for my own reasons.
I don’t care how altruistic your motives are, you, sir, have no justifiable claim to what is mine. If you want to give your labor or fortune away to gain a place in heaven, by all means be my guest. Just leave your hands off of mine. I will deal with God or the devil when the time comes.

Oh, and I agree with you. Obama definitely has fascist tendencies. He sure seems to lust for power. Say, is that a sin in your book? Maybe you should drop him a line and let him know how you feel.
Now don’t you feel foolish?

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By Rontruth, August 8, 2009 at 7:19 am Link to this comment

Poco,
You write about people using what is yours, or what belongs to others being used by yet others “for altruistic purposes. I would ask you a simple question: Do you see the now nearly $1 Trillion of taxpayers’ money being given, with NO strings attached, to the Wall Street houses and major banking firms as “altruistic?”

I call it fascism. Pure and simple. Your government and mine, that we both pay taxes to, has guaranteed the survival of those who “made bad decisions with other peoples’ money.” (to paraphrase what you said in your post).

If throwing good money after bad (those wealthy who received their hundreds of $billions in welfare payments and stuck it offshore into tax-exempt foreign bank accounts after paying off politicians with relatively small campaign donations, and were paid back with the “bailout” money is good, then giving the working poor a decent handout should be no problem to you.

As was indicated in some of Pete Seeger’s futuristic songs, there is a judgement coming, whether you like it or not. Who is doing God’s will and keeping all of the Law and the Prophets, defended by Christ, Himself, including the Ten Commandments, they will be the ones who will live forever. The selfish already have their puny little reward, and for such a relatively short time.

I remember former Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, one of the most virulent racists while Governor in American history. Just a couple of years before he died, sitting in his wheelchair after Nixon’s CIA henchmen tried to assassinate him, he asked an African-American man to please accept his tearful request for forgiveness for all the hate and violence he had caused. He was, while Governor, defending the “economic interests of white folk.”

But, he really didn’t mean it??!? The bigger of the two men, the African-American man, forgave the former racist-turned-Christian.

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By Poco, August 8, 2009 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

Ah, so you want to make yourselves feel good but want me to pay for it. I understand more than you might think.  When the reward for my labor is given to others all I may have in the end is “a great feeling,an human feeling”. When it is all boiled down to meat and potatos that may be all either of us have.
And who is being ignorant here? Only fools believe that in this world there are no, and can be no, winners or losers. Utopia has been tried and has been found wanting.
Communism is a failure because of human frailty and weakness. Someone always rises to the top and fights to stay there. In the capitalist system it is just more organized.
I, personally, like living in a country where anyone can work as hard or as little as they want and receive the appropriate reward for that. You may see it as taking advantage of those with less education or who find themselves in bad economic situations. I maintain that, other than people with physical or mental limitations, your situation is the result of choices you have made throughout your life time. You make bad choices, don’t study in school, dabble in drugs, your may ruin your life. You want a system where everybody is a winner. That can’t work and I believe you probably know that.
If the truth was probably known Mr. Seeger probably has a stash of cash somewhere that he is living off of. Do you suppose he is living off of the labor of others? People get pretty tired of that fairly soon.
By the way, I believe Mr. Seeger was paid for performing quite often. Who was that given to? You people have a tendency to do that sort of thing. You usually want to keep what is yours and use mine for altruistic purposes.

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By ardee, August 8, 2009 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

Poco, August 8 at 1:40 am #

You do yourself an injustice with such posting.

Mr. Seegar, like so many in America, was sympathetic to an emerging political system that showed great promise in the teens, twenties and thirties. Once the truth about the elitism, the injustices and the distortions of the intent of Marx and Engles was disclosed the movement took other turns and loyalty to the Communism of Russia dissolved.

But perhaps you already know this, as so many do, and your motive is not to display ignorance but to distort to push a partisan agenda.

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By johannes, August 8, 2009 at 2:34 am Link to this comment

Dear mister POCO, you are never to old to learn, try some books, maby das Kapital from Karl Marx’s will help you, Humanist Communist is the closed thing to good human social behavior, and to give some to other people can give you a great feeling,an human feeling, to partage the good things in live is what we all must do.

Salutation

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By Poco, August 7, 2009 at 10:40 pm Link to this comment

Which brand of Communism did Mr. Seeger prefer? I forgot. Was it Stalin’s? Lenin’s? Pol Pot’s? Well, whatever, we should all line up and give what some of what we have earned through our labor to someone who will not work. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. Seeger’s message.

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By Rontruth, August 7, 2009 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment

The interesting thing about Pete Seeger, and others who used their musical talents and song-writing skills for “social causes,” is that his, like the later folksinging “acts” is that he never lost sight of his ultimate goal: to unite average people behind some basic ideals, such as worker’s rights, better pay, citizen involvement in issues of national importance, since so many such issues actually do affect peoples’ lives, and peace.

He believed, and STILL DOES, that if given knowledge and a courage of their convictions, people can make a real difference. Even in the face of hardships placed on them by those who multiply their own personal profits at the expense of working people and their families and children.

It was almost like Pete Seeger’s songs, as sung by himself and other even more popular folksinging groups and performers, that when President Kennedy came along, the two separate political/ideological forces came together quite by accident.

It was at that juncture that the evil within the minds of the wealthy and powerful how hated Kennedy for his stands in favor of the little guy over the powerful, came together and hid behind the little guy who, in real point of fact was a double agent for both the CIA and FBI (a dangerous position to be in), and set him up and did the dirty deed in Dealey Plaza.

America has never been the same since. Absolute proof that it was not the left wing forces within the US that hired the killers of Dealey Plaza. Kennedy actually favored policies on many fronts that the “left” liked. It was the sanctimonious, including religious “right” that did it.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm Link to this comment

Pete Seeger has been a personal hero since I was a little boy, at a Guardian picnic, seeing this tall, skinny guy, 40 years old, in a flannel shirt who seemed just like everybody else, and yet like nobody I’ve ever seen or met since.  I have a memory of him walking around with the banjo draped over one shoulder, just talking to one or two people, maybe getting a bite to eat from the picnic barbecue—not sure.  I had NO idea who he was, being only 4 or 5, but he looked like an interesting guy.

Yeah.  And maybe the greatest hero of my life since then.  But never to be idealized or idolized—just respected and learned from, ‘cuz that’s what Pete always wanted.

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By ardee, August 7, 2009 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment

eileen fleming, August 7 at 8:14 am #

Just a note to say that I look forward to your every post.

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By johannes, August 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

Real nice human and kind person, as my father wash, humanist communist of the best kind, Mister Peete Seegers please go on long as you live, and I thank you of the bottem of my hart, for every moment you have given me with your music and person, thank you, Johannes

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LostHills's avatar

By LostHills, August 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

Pete had a hammer,
And he hammered in the morning.
He found a bell,
And he rang it all over this land.
He wrote a song
And he gave it to the millions
To sing together
As they go marching to the promised land.

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By thebeerdoctor, August 7, 2009 at 11:07 am Link to this comment

re: Rontruth

Good historical analysis.

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By Rontruth, August 7, 2009 at 8:54 am Link to this comment

I think one has to realize that when Pete Seeger was young, there was a growing attitude on the part of the FBI’s J. Edgar (that “twisted faced little fruit”-JFK), that anything that smacked of protest was left, and anything left was, or was being used by the Communist Party of the United States to benefit international communism.

Hoover was blacklisting musicians, actors, authors, etc. who protested the capitalist economic/political machine and the feeling on the part of American young people that they had no real control over what direction they, or their country were headed in.

But, Seeger’s songs, once groups of singers such as the Weavers in the 1950’s, and Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960’s, modified some of Seeger’s songs, the meaning of the lyrics of those protest songs, went mass media. That is when mainstream politicians, like John F. Kennedy started listening to young people. Young people loved those Seeger songs, put to the gutsy-voiced voices of Johnny Rivers, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and others.

When JFK began listening to young people who were listening to Seeger’s now popularized songs, he began, as did a lot of other politicians, to get the idea that these young people would soon become tomorrow’s voters. The, things really did begin to change. The civil rights movement took on a real political status that had to be listened to.

The rightwing extremists called the young people who listened to these songs of social justice, human rights, and peace, called those same young people, “the counter-culture.” Remember that?
On the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, rightwing thug-types threw empty beer bottles at Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary, calling them communists. These groups sang for Martin Luther King, Jr’s civil rights marches. That somehow made King, and his supporters, “communists.”

President Kennedy had to listen to their voices, and did so. He ordered the pullout from Vietnam. He ordered an end to the CIA’s plots to kill Fidel Castro in Cuba. His deal to end the Cuban missile crisis, leaving Castro in power in Cuba, was the CIA’s last straw where Kennedy was concerned. And, the end of peaceful intentions happened on that November day in 1963.

Kennedy died an American hero. Seeger is an American hero. Just look at the rights that we all have today, especially racial and ethnic minorities, that would not be here today without the music of Pete Seeger.

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By thebeerdoctor, August 7, 2009 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

re: radson, eileen fleming, ardee,

Please excuse me, I do not know the actual details of the infamous Newport Folk event. I too have always admired Mr. Seeger. But the reason the whole split off from the folk movement has taken center stage, is mainly because of the emphasis placed upon it in the documentary “No Direction Home” and later given fictional emphasis in Todd Haynes mockudrama “I’m Not There”. But the accounts of Dylan being called a traitor and Judas to the folk music movement are well documented.

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By radson, August 7, 2009 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

The reason that Pete un-plugged Dylan at the time was because Pete had difficulies in hearing Dylan’s
lyrics due to the distortion from the electric guitar
Pete never meant to have any ill intent towards Bob.

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By eileen fleming, August 7, 2009 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

It is unimaginable for an artist to “obey critical commands” as artists express their minds/hearts and they are inspired to create by muses.

Now, “entertainers” can be easily cowered to “obey critical commands” and there in lies one major difference between a performer and an artist.

Speaking of the man with fire in his throat and “the Blood of the Lamb in his voice”* artists also inspire other artists to create-and Dylan is the namesake for Bob, the blue eyed cat in CATS and COMPASSION, which I posted here:

http://www.wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1342&Itemid=222

Before I took off for a ZZ Top/Aerosmith concert.


Because, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.”-Emma Goldman

The legendary man who “threw fire” Satchel Paige, knew: “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

*Lyric from “I FEEL A CHANGE COMIN’ ON” from Bob’s 2009 release TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE- and Bob like fine wine just gets better with time.


Eileen Fleming,Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org
Author of “Keep Hope Alive” and “Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory”
Producer “30 Minutes with Vanunu” and “13 Minutes with Vanunu”

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By ardee, August 7, 2009 at 3:27 am Link to this comment

Pete Seeger has always been one of my personal heroes, and I’ve damn few of them. His quiet manner and steadfast holding to his vision for this nation runs a bit counter to beerdoctor’s narrative, about which I am unfamiliar. I do know there was an uproar about Dylan going electric but am unaware of Seegar’s participation and attempting to cut the power is so counter to Seegar’s personality and methodology as to be a puzzle. I would appreciate a link to said event. Seegar has never participated in any destructive demonstration to my knowledge, preferring to speak softly and let each person decide for themselves.

Seegar’s politics was the reason for his anonymity but, ironically, he was far from a traditional communist, and those who followed that path were not yet exposed to the excesses and deviation from true Marxism in the Russian govt. He is one of those truly rare people, and each time I sang along with him I was renewed.

“We Shall Overcome”, of that I have no doubt.

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By thebeerdoctor, August 7, 2009 at 3:04 am Link to this comment

Reading this piece I was reminded of that (apocryphal?) story of Pete Seeger wanting to cut the power cable at the Newport Folk Festival, when Bob Dylan “went electric”.
Which also is a reminder that so-called folk music could be co-opted for some kind of rigid social agenda, no matter how noble, which eventually leads to repression of free creative energy.
The early protest songs of Bob Dylan fitted in nicely with that whole folksy scene. But woe betide Mr. Zimmerman when he chose to compose songs of a more personal vision, much more subtle and open than the “If I Had A Hammer” type of thing employed at the social justice Hootenannies of the time.
Protest songs are great, but what Bob Dylan came up with when he was being called a Judas and traitor to the folk movement, was and is for me, far more profound.
It should also be noted that fellow Columbia records artist Miles Davis received similar treatment from the jazz community when he chose to go in a new direction. But the public and the critics want their artists defined. The “public” wanted Dylan to be a humdinger folk singer and nothing else. Miles once said:“Man you want me to be up on a stage in suit taking a solo, that’s just too corny.”
When I think that if Dylan and Miles Davis had obeyed their critics commands, there would be no Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde On Blonde, nor Bitches Brew or On The Corner.
What a loss that would have been.

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