Friday, July 4, 2008

Pete Seeger on the 4th of July: The Truest American Hero

My wife and I saw "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" last night. Part of PBS's superb American Masters series, "The Power of Song" may well win an Emmy this year, and it would be eminently deserved. One of the best portraits of a singer - someone far more than a singer - I've ever seen.

Pete Seeger is 89, and has been a major player for good and peace throughout most of the 20th, and now the 21st, century. He had some number one records with the Weavers in the 1950s, was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, worked tirelessly for civil rights, and inspired the cleanup of the Hudson River in the 1990s - our kids actually helped a little with that when they were in summer camp. But what stands out most about Pete Seeger is his voice with banjo singing out against war.

My wife and I were inspired by him many times in the 1960s, when we were first dating, especially when we were marching in Washington in October, 1969 to stop that decade's unconstitutional, immoral war, and Pete Seeger, singing out John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," across the street from the White House, shouted "Are ya listenin' Nixon?" And, it took a few painful years, but eventually Nixon had to, because the American people roused by heroes like Pete Seeger gave Nixon no choice.

Yes, Pete Seeger was and is a hero - the best kind of hero in an illegal, disgraceful war - the kind of hero of who does what he can to bring that war to an end. Far more of a hero than a fighter pilot who drops death on innocent people.

Pete Seeger of course was scorned by the retrograde forces in America throughout his career. The Smothers Brothers courageously put him on their TV show after Seeger had been banned for 17 years. Johnny Cash did, too, and one of the best parts of "The Power of Song" was a clip of Cash standing up for Seeger in an interview on Cash's show. Johnny Cash was a great man, more than just a singer, too. Bill Clinton as President finally gave Pete Seeger the official admiration he deserved, honoring him at the Kennedy Center in 1994.

We should all stand up for Pete Seeger today - happy Fourth of July, Pete Seeger, you're the truest and best kind of American, and our country and the world owes you a lot.


And take a look at this superb video - Pete Seeger and Majora Carter in the This Brave Nation series, recorded just last year.
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