Pete Seeger, Communist propagandist, turns 90: Musicians pay tribute; reporters gush
Posted by danishova on May 4, 2009
The Cold War generation was raised on songs like “If I Had a Hammer”, and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” – sweetly melodic songs we heard beginning as young children, songs which later lulled many into embracing Marxist ideology (either wittingly or unwittingly). On the occasion of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday, NPR croons:
Pete Seeger firmly believes that song can bring us together and make our lives better. He sang for and with workers in the 1940s. His beliefs in their rights — and his refusal to testify about those beliefs before Congress — got him blacklisted.
But Seeger kept singing. He sang for civil rights in the ’50s and ’60s. He sang out against the Vietnam War — and all of the others since. He continues to encourage all of us to sing: You can’t leave one of his concerts without singing along.
Yep, these songs are downright addictive. For some reason, NPR never actually uses the C word as they romanticize Seeger’s background as a Communist who used his considerable talent as a singer/songwriter (and position as a Harvard-educated child of privilege) to spread his Soviet-sympathizing message to the gullible masses.
The Los Angeles Times does use the C word and gives a fair account of his “left-wing” songwriting exploits. Without irony, they quote Useful Idiot millionaire John Mellencamp, who performed with other millionaires at a birthday tribute to Seeger at Madison Square Garden (which included the obligatory mocking of George W. Bush):
“Can you imagine life at 90 years and still going strong?” said Mellencamp, who helped kick off the concert, a fundraiser for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., the environmental group that Seeger launched to help clean up the river. “Think about all he’s accomplished. He wrote that song [“If I Had a Hammer”] back in 1949, when we were all afraid of the Reds.”
That’s right, Johnny! Thanks to talented people like Seeger (and you, with songs like “Little Pink Houses”, a song dismissive of the American dream) we are no longer afraid of “the Reds”; it’s mainstream now (and some would argue that they’ve taken over the White House). And naturally millionaire Bruce Springsteen was singing for the cause:
…Billy Bragg got an ovation when he sang “The Internationale,” the 19th century rallying song of the socialist and labor movements. Springsteen, appearing with guitarist Tom Morello, sang a powerful version of his “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
But the Communist Party USA may be the best source for a Seeger retrospective. In their People’s Weekly World we find “Pete Seeger: 90 years of song and struggle” which lovingly celebrate’s Seeger’s influence as a songwriting propagandist. There we discover that Seeger learned the “revolutionary potential of traditional song” from his wealthy father, and:
…The mission was clear: American workers needed to hear accessible music with radical content; he never looked back and clearly neither did Pete. In the 1930s, Daily Worker arts columnist Mike Gold wrote of the need for “a Communist Joe Hill”, to offer musical organizing on the front lines…
Hey, did you know that banjos represent oppression?
The product of a left-wing composer father and a concert violinist mother, Pete almost singlehandedly resurrected, of all things, the 5-string banjo introduced its application as a fiercely American instrument, one derived from African origins and developed by the sweat and blood of the oppressed. In his wake, the banjo – or at least his banjo – became a symbol of the power of song and an icon of more than one “folk revival”.
Unsurprisingly, Seeger performed at Obama’s inauguration, and as the P.W.W. recounts :
… [Seeger] happily led the crowd on some of Guthrie’s lesser-known, revolutionary verses including the one about that damned symbol of the high wall tagged “Private Property”.
Yes! Unlike our revolutionary Founding Fathers who laid this country’s foundations with the concept of “life, liberty and property” (otherwise known as “the pursuit of happiness”) if you’re a leftist, private property is a damnable evil. Indeed, judging from their history, the pursuit of misery is the goal, but I digress.
P.W.W. ends its tribute with this:
Pete’s songs are truly the story of ‘the folk’, and so they tell the people’s story. Long before Howard Zinn wrote his ‘A People’s History of the United States’, Pete Seeger sang it. He stands then and now as the very model of the cultural worker. Taking the distant advice of Joe Hill, he recognized long ago that more can be said in one topical song than in a hundred pamphlets. But, even in silence, Pete’s philosophy can be understood by anyone who gets close enough to read what he long ago adorned on his banjo head: ‘This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It To Surrender’.
For some fawn-free writing on Seeger’s influence, I refer you to Howard Husock 2005’s work for City Journal, America’s Most Successful Communist:
The Popular Front sought to enlist Western artists and intellectuals, some of them not party members but “fellow travelers,” to use art, literature, and music to insinuate the Marxist worldview into the broader culture…[snip]
…The politicization of American pop dates from the 1960s, but it grew out of a patient leftist political strategy that began in the mid-1930s with the Communist Party’s “Popular Front” effort to use popular culture to advance its cause.
One figure stands out in this enterprise: the now-86-year-old singer, songwriter, “folk music legend,” and onetime party stalwart, Pete Seeger. Given his decisive influence on the political direction of popular music, Seeger may have been the most effective American communist ever. [snip]
Lest we are inclined to diminish his influence on the American psyche, Husock writes:
It’s tempting to dismiss the politicization of popular music as of limited consequence. But as the Popular Front keenly grasped, culture matters—and music matters perhaps most of all. Allan Bloom, glossing Plato, wrote that “to take the spiritual temperature of an individual or society, one must ‘mark the music.’ ” In America, popular music provides a soundtrack for growing up. And the lyrics of that music too often deliver the message that our leaders are “idiots,” that our politics are corrupt, that bourgeois life is purposeless, that this country is no freer than any other—and probably less so. How can we find ourselves surprised, then, by the cool indifference that typifies many kids raised in times of affluence, freedom, and peace?
Call me a curmudgeon, but I prefer not to celebrate Seeger’s birthday. I’ll save my celebrations for the 4th of July, when Americans cherish a different group of revolutionaries – the men who made it possible for Seeger to grow up as a child of privilege in the greatest country in human history, yet who chose to spend his life disparaging the very blessings with which he was endowed.
1. How sweet. The anti-war anthem, Where Have All the Flowers Gone is available at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services “kids pages” website.
2. The N.I.H. claims that music is ‘good for your health’ which must be why our tax dollars are being used for this endeavor. In the interest of our kids health some bureaucrat links to propagandist songs, and calls “This Land is Your Land” is a “patriotic” tune. This verse doesn’t make me feel very patriotic. How about you?:
In the squares of the city
In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office
I see my people
And some are grumblin’
And some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.
3. Dang. I missed this quote from millionaire Bruce Springsteen when I first posted this story: “At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”
4. Tonight (5/5) O’Reilly picked up on Springsteen’s sermonizing about “our country’s illusions about itself” and correctly upbraided him for being an ungrateful Leftist, but didn’t make the connection to Seeger being a Communist propagandist.