Apr 27, 2018
This Land Is Our Land: Goodbye Pete Seeger, 1919-2014
Pete Seeger died last night in New York at the age of 94. Let’s take a few minutes for some songs and a good cry, and one more look at this beautiful portrait by Michael D’Antuono. Musically, there aren’t any bad places to start, so let’s begin with “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” the song that CBS censored out of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. The network eventually relented and let him play it in January 1968, and here it is, still able to make us angry at the big fool who says we have to push on:
Seeger later wrote of “Big Muddy,”
Did the song do any good? No one can prove a damned thing. It took tens of millions of people speaking out, before the Vietnam War was over. A defeat for the Pentagon, but a victory for the American people.
Of course, a song is not a speech, you know. It reflects new meanings as one’s life’s experiences shine new light upon it. (This song does not mention Vietnam or President Johnson by name.) Often a song will reappear several different times in history or in one’s life as there seems to be an appropriate time for it. Who knows.
And by the end of March 1968, the big fool Lyndon Johnson had decided that he would not push on any further, and announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. It wasn’t the song that did it, but the song was certainly part of the current flowing against Johnson’s Vietnam policy. (We can of course thank Nixon for the following 5 years of American involvement.) Here’s Amy Goodman talking with Seeger about how the song eventually made it to air, part of a full hour from Democracy Now’s 2009 show celebrating Pete’s 90th birthday (the interview itself is from 2003):
There’s “We Shall Overcome,” too — as the song became the anthem of the civil rights movement, Seeger helped popularize it with Northern white audiences as well. And here he is with grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, singing the song again at Occupy Wall Street — the audio isn’t the best, but there’s Pete, out in the cold, doing the thing he did best, singing with people, for people.
We wouldn’t think of leaving out this clip of Pete and Bruce and Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, at the Obama inaugural concert, singing our alternate national anthem, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” complete with the original 1944 lines that infuriate the 1-Percenters and their suck-ups:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.
And finally, the song Pete often ended concerts with, “Guantanamera.” Go ahead, grab a hankie, and sing along. You’ll feel better.
Pete was pretty good at the whole Hope thing. We’ll close with this snippet from his interview with Amy Goodman:
AMY GOODMAN: And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?
PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.
We’ll be posting several brief “moments of Pete” during the day — if you have a memory or a song you want to share, drop a note to doktorzoom at wonkette dot com.