Break out the Seegers (This life is for Squirrels)

29 January, 2014 at 4:21 pm (music, new hampshire)

Pete Seeger has died, and the New York Times article about his legacy is really quite amazing. I don’t have any particular relationship with the man or his music, but as an avid follower of the late-90s folk/pop revival, I’m a conceptual fan of the ’60s folk revival and therefore a transitive fan of the Guthrie/Seeger revival axis that made that possible twenty to thirty years beforehand.

blog_1401_pogo_seegerWhile I was duly impressed with the accounting of the songs he tweaked and rewrote and influenced that have become so much the foundation of the current American songbook, I was even more interested in how much the obituary leaned on the affect that his Communism (or communism, as he is oft-quoted as saying he was a “communist with a small ‘c.'”) affected his career. The Times spoke of it, to my ear, matter-of-factly and without judgement, which is what I’d hope for in what I consider to be a post-ideologue age. However, I’m aware that while my perspective on the perceived threat of Communism is a young man’s viewpoint — I take the view of Bob Hillman and Dan Bern — people who were alive and feel that labored under the scarlet shadow of the Red Menace feel very differently about it.

In fact, in 2001 when a plaque to memorialize the New Hampshire members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was to be installed in the State House, a wave of anti-Communist protesters spun and chittered their way out of the woodwork to prevent anything that might impugn the name of proper soldiers by dint of association or proximity. I was shocked that people cared so much, that they still needed to make sure anyone with Communist leanings would receive no proper American recognition.

With this startling impression lingering in my mind, I was therefore further surprised to just read so many mentions of Communism — or even communism — in Seeger’s obit without any accompanying outcry about his having performed in the “We Are One” inaugural celebration for President Obama. It seems like such obvious fodder for the NObama crowd: that the Socialist president had a card-carrying member of the Communist party — a man who was called before HUAC and held in contempt of Congress — play at his inauguration. I’m surprised some of the usual suspects over at You Are Dumb or The Colbert Report didn’t mouth off about how indicative of a booking that really was. (When Colbert had Seeger on as a guest I thought there would be some more talk about his Communist past, but the interview rambled on a different way. And Colbert is enough of a gentleman in real life that despite having tried to amp up the competition when he and Seeger were both nominated for the same Grammy, the post-mortem gloating or character assassination will likely be minimal.)

So did it not happen? Did I not notice? Or, being that it’s not the sort of content with which I populate my newsfeed, I simply wouldn’t have encountered it myself, I’d only have read about it via third-party commentary, and there wasn’t any of sufficient prominence. A brief search later, I found a small number of examples, and they seem both harmless and petulant. Which is, in it’s way, pleasing.

Related Links:
+ The post title is a reference to Lines Upon A Tranquil Brow from Songs of the Pogo
+ Download “Children of the Cold War” by Dan Bern at

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