Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pete Seeger Passes But the Songs Hammer On

Yes, the Super Bowl is this afternoon and the State of the Union speech was Tuesday, which will be fine, if the Broncos see their shadow and the Seahawks win, but the big news this past week was the passing of folk singer Pete Seeger at age 94.

Some call him America's Favorite Communist and he had the Contempt of Congress conviction to prove it, albeit overturned on appeal, back when having contempt for Congress was considered a bad thing.

Pete had contempt for Presidents too, and his song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy calling Lyndon Johnson a big fool may have put the final nail in the coffin of LBJ's reelection chances.

He hammered that nail on the February 25, 1968 airing of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The Smothers Brothers were cancelled by CBS a year later.

I remember Pete Seeger as the singer whose albums hung for the 1970s in my parents' stereo cabinet, along with all the Johnny Cash albums, and the soundtrack for Paint Your Wagon. What can I say, my parents are Republicans who weren't fans of LBJ either, and those albums are still there in their stereo cabinet today.

There's more to the Pete Seeger John Cash connection than you might think:

Pete Seeger would have been famous for We Shall Overcome, even if his fellow travelers later claimed the song was theirs and his only contribution was changing the word "Will" to "Shall":

I imagine the old communist made some money too. Peter, Paul, and Mary picked up and made a hit out of a Seeger tune, borrowed from an old cossack folk song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

The Byrds certainly gave Seeger a good turn covering his song Turn, Turn, Turn (be careful, that's my favorite book in the Bible you're using that spinning wheel to brainwash people with):

Pete Seeger was a great friend of Woody Guthrie, and here he performs This Land Is Your Land with Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial:

If Saint Peter has a sign at the pearly gates saying "No Atheist Communists" he'd better have had it printed it on both sides or Pete Seeger is going to get in on a technicality:
"I feel most spiritual when I'm out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it's all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I'm not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes."
If Pete Seeger will be remembered for one thing it will be for the hammer song he wrote with Lee Hayes. And it's not just that he sang it but that everybody sang it. If you didn't know it, Pete was ready to teach it to you.

When I say everybody, I mean everybody:

And then there are the everybodys you haven't heard of:

Some renditions go a bit over the top, as did the last one and this next one from the 2008 campaign:

That's a lot of hammering, so just one more, that you'll appreciate if you got this far:

In that regard, I looked in vain for a cover by Joan Baez, but couldn't find one. She reportedly hates the hammer song, and refused to so it even as a special request from Michelle Obama at a 2010 tribute to the civil rights movement. There are other haters to keep Joan Baez company.

Here is a song written as a sort of tribute by neighbor Dar Williams in Beacon, New York:

The last tribute goes to Pete Seeger's old group, the Weavers, singing the Leadbelly classic, Goodnight, Irene.

Goodnight, Pete. I'll be hearing Pete Seeger hammer on in my dreams.

1 comment:

Left Bank of the Charles said...

From my father: The collage of Pete Seeger memorabilia represents in the author of the "West" Bank of the Charles the best of heterosis. I introduced the Kingston Trio at Grinnell and heard the Weavers in person at U of Michigan."