Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger Has Died at Age 94

Pete Seeger: the intellectual folksinger and preserver of songs of dissent, who had much to say about music and society, died yesterday at age 94.

From his "The Incompleat Folksinger":

"Attention songwriters. We need new songs so funny that even people who disagree will find themselves doubled up with laughter. Songs so strong that even cowards will stop fleeing and turn with a breath of courage." (p. 232)

"I used to make the mistake of trying to give long introductions to songs, hoping to help everyone understand all the facets of meaning. But more often than not it killed the song. Nowadays I'm more likely just to shoot out a batch of tunes." (p. 216)

"When will American TV networks allow the singing of the dozens of songs floating around which tell how Americans really feel about the war in Vietnam?" (p. 149)

"The editors of Sing Out are always trying to goad the readers into action. Or at least into alarm. Walter [Lowenfels], would you advise 'Give me Shakespeare or give me a blank sheet of paper?'" (p. 215)

"For great songs to be written we must have an outpouring of topical songs [songs about issues or news items]. What does it matter that most will be sung once and forgotten?" (p. 215)

"The people I learned banjo from were mostly old farmers, miners, or working people of one trade or another, who had played the instrument during their courting days, and later kept it hanging on the wall to pass away the time of an evening." (p. 374)

"The guitar has proven itself the most adaptable of accompanying instruments. Every nation has developed its own style of playing. It's ancestor is the Persion tar; one of its illustrious cousins is the Indian sitar. The guitar itself, it is believed, was brought to Europe in the 12th century by gypsies." (p. 367)


Amazon reviewer Theta states re: The Incompleat Folksinger:

This is an amiable gloss, much of it compiled from articles the author contributed to his "Sing Out" "folk music" magazine, but its self-conscious folksiness and superficiality become cloying and smarmy eventually.

The author refers to himself as "a professional performer of amateur music" with a certain irony, but none of the contradictions inherent in his conception of the form are really addressed.

The author makes it clear he wants the form and a doctrinaire politics intimately and inextricably associated but offers no substantial defense for this posture.

In an early eighties interview in Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan relates how he attended a performance of someone billed as a folk singer and complained to his companion, "That's not a folk singer, a folk singer sings folk songs, not songs he made up himself."

His companion answered, "Well, you started that, didn't you?"

"Yes, I suppose," Dylan said, "but I would never have done it if I hadn't sung the folk songs first."

Pete Seeger in the introduction to an early nineties edition of this book voices a similar complaint, that nowadays by "folk singer" we often mean someone who sings pop songs and accompanies himself on an acoustic guitar.

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