Fun_People Archive
16 Dec
Isn't This a Time?

Date: Fri, 16 Dec 94 14:55:29 PST
To: Fun_People
Subject: Isn't This a Time?

Forwarded-by: "Dan ``Sparky'' Tenenbaum" <>

Unsigned editorial in _The Nation_ of December 26, 1994:

Isn't This A Time?

     You know the cold war is over when Pete Seeger can get a medal from
the White House. Ironically, the December 28 telecast of this year's
Kennedy Center Honors, with Seeger among the honorees, will be carried
by CBS. Back in 1968, CBS pulled the plug on Seeger's performance of
"Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a Vietnam War protest song, on The
Smothers Brothers show.  Fifteen years earlier, the same network led
the broadcasting industry in rapid capitulation to the McCarthy-era
blacklist. Seeger weathered the blacklist with dignity, earning a
contempt cita- tion from the House Un-American Activities Committee for
standing on the First Amendment rather than the Fifth. (This year's
Kennedy Center tribute included another key figure in witch-hunt
hagiography: Kirk Douglas, who insisted that banned screenwriter Dalton
Trumbo be credited for Spartacus.)
   At the Kennedy Center, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn and Arlo Guthrie
performed a few of Seeger's hits. But his endur- ing legacy lies in less
visible cultural activism on behalf of old songs, new songwriters and
neglected instruments. Consider Seeger's campaign since the 1930s-waged
through books, articles and field recordings of old-time players as well
as his own performances-for recognition of the five-string moun- tain
banjo as a distinctly American [??-drt] instrument of musical
sophistication and emotional breadth. In his 70s, Seeger con- tinues
his banjo evangelism with an instructional video for a new generation
of players. Behind this seemingly parochial de- votion lies his
conviction that music carries the unofficial na- tional memory. A bar
of traditional banjo playing can be just three strokes-a melody string,
a downward brush, a ringing syncopated drone-but as that pattern
resonates it joins Africa to Appalachia, the Middle Passage to the Great
      As something of a left icon, Seeger has always been an easy
target.  But motivating his half-century of records and perform-
ances is a vision of radical transformation through the commu- nal
experience of song; of socialism grounded in the rhythms of the
workplace, neighborhood and church rather than the insular discourse of
the academy. If such optimism is hard to imagine today, all the more
reason to contemplate it.

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []