Pete Seeger: the road goes on for ever

From The Guardian UK:

The folk singer believed in handing on the traditions he had done so much to save, so that others could carry them forward. It was his greatest achievement

The Guardian, Tuesday 28 January 2014

You didn’t have to listen to Pete Seeger‘s music to feel his effect on the popular music of the last 70 years. It was his influence that set the moral compass of many great singers and songwriters, ensuring that even in the times when the music industry threatened to be washed away by the tide of its own most bloated, celebrity-worshipping, money-grubbing excess, the voice of a social conscience could still be heard.

Along with Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, he brought the music of the dirt farms, the sweat shops and the lonesome highways into America’s – and later the world’s – living room. By refusing to allow traditional forms of musical expression to die, by “sowing the music of the people”, as he put it, he ensured its availability for infusion into later developments, serving to keep a sense of moral purpose alive even when that seemingly fragile element appeared to have been asphyxiated.

He was not a crusader on behalf of some academic notion of authenticity; he knew that music had to evolve, but he preferred it to retain a core of accessibility and potential relevance to a mass audience. Yet although his own style of performance – lively but dignified, informal but literal, paying no heed to the devices of showbiz stagecraft – may have been rendered obsolete by the discoveries of those who owed him a great deal, nevertheless everyone knew the lanky, unstylish figure and what he stood for, and that was more than enough.

When Bruce Springsteen and Ry Cooder released albums during the run-up to the 2012 US presidential election, using their songs to make strong and unequivocal statements on behalf of those weakened and dispossessed by the activities of the super-rich, they were following the example of Bob Dylan, whose early protest anthems, such as Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are a Changin’, emerged from the scene that Seeger had done much to nurture.

The unknown Dylan had benefited from Seeger’s patronage, and all acknowledged his crucial role. When Springsteen recognised the need to drag himself out of a becalmed period at the start of the new millennium, it was to Seeger’s music that he turned for inspiration. The Seeger Sessions, with their joyful singalong versions of We Shall Overcome and Jacob’s Ladder, would be the catalyst for his artistic regeneration.

It was the perfect of example of Seeger’s belief in the folk process, the invisible but enduring mechanism by which source material survives being handed on and transformed at the hands of successive eras. Speaking to Alec Wilkinson of the New Yorker, Springsteen remarked that Seeger “had a real sense of the musician as historical entity – of being a link in the thread of people who sing in others’ voices and carry the tradition forward … and a sense that songs were tools, and, without sounding too pretentious, righteous implements when connected to historical consciousness”.

Continue reading at:

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Pete Seeger: the road goes on for ever
%d bloggers like this: