Jesse Larner, at HuffPo, explains just why Peter Seeger sucked as a folk singer.
As someone on the left who loves folk music, I understand that I’m supposed to feel mystically uplifted by the dean of activist folkies. But for those very reasons — because I believe in a humanist political order, and because authentic folk music speaks to me — I never could stand Pete. I don’t question his dedication or his energy. It’s just that I think them unfortunate. His conception of “folk music” has done tremendous damage, and his politics have done tremendous damage, and these things are connected.
Seeger’s been very influential. Most Americans, when they think of “folk music,” think of the 50s and 60s “revival” of that form: the songs, and versions of songs, made popular by him, The Weavers, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio. This is a mistake. The songs these people became famous for singing are pretty, denatured coffee-house comforts that have little to do with the life that informed the originals. …
For [the] bowdlerization of the folk tradition — deeply disrespectful to the people who created it, I may add — Pete the tireless popularizer of fake folk music bears much of the blame.
It’s worse than that, and here’s where the politics comes in. I’ve tried to describe the power of folk music, because it is important to understand that this power is not amplified when made explicit, when harnessed to an agenda. It is negated. Folk music is about life, and politics is only a small part of life. …
Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son’s future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.
Read the whole thing.
The perfect Pete Seeger song:
Lots of hat tips to Iowahawk.