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For those mainly interested in Pete’s music, Faith has already recommended his musical autobiography Where Have All the Flowers Gone in the January-February 2009 folknik. The Protest Singer is for readers who want to know more about Pete as a person: his upbringing; his involvement with Woody, the Almanac Singers, and the Weavers; the Communist Party, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the civil rights and labor movements, Martin Luther King, the ship Clearwater, and so on. This focuses on Pete’s ideas and philosophy, as espoused in a series of interviews he gave the author in recent years, at his home on the Hudson River. Much will be familiar to Pete aficionados, but much will not.
For example, the tale of Pete’s summons to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) includes why Pete chose the First Amendment (freedom of speech) over the Fifth (freedom from self-incrimination) as his basis for refusing to answer most questions. A 28-page appendix has Pete’s full testimony before HUAC in 1955. Pete’s difficult and courageous choice of the First Amendment led to a brief trial in 1961 and a one-year jail sentence, which was dismissed on appeal more than a year later. In preparation for a year in jail, Pete—who had been blacklisted and had to travel almost constantly to small jobs—left his wife Toshi to raise three small children in their somewhat primitive home. After Pete was exonerated, Toshi said, “Next time, no appeal. You go to jail.”
I was particularly interested in the extensive section on Pete’s involvement in the early days of the civil rights movement, where he was sometimes the only white person in a crowd. This part includes Pete’s description of how and why he modified the old union song “We Will Overcome” to “We Shall Overcome.”
Thirty-odd photos add much to the book. For example, one shows Pete and Bob Dylan in an intense conversation in 1963, at the New York City club The Bitter End. Readers can get a feel for the book from Wilkinson’s earlier, in-depth profile “The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger and American folk music” in The New Yorker (April 17, 2006, pp. 44-53). The article is available online at www.peteseeger.net/articles.htm
—Peter RossThe Unwanted, Music from the Atlantic Fringe.
The Unwanted’s special brand of music spans oceans and continents, generations and genres, and can leap from traditional to contemporary in a single bound. They cross musical borders as easily as normal folks cross streets. From Ireland’s County Sligo, to Appalachia and the American west, to the remote outback of Australia, their music blends folk, old timey, blues, and Celtic. This strikes me as interstitial music, akin to the interstitial fiction movement. They remind me of Wake The Dead and Euphonia, which —considering how I feel about those groups—is high praise indeed.
Cathy Jordan (of Dervish), Rick Epping and Seamie O’Dowd all sing; and among the three, play harmonica, concertina, banjo, mandolin, jawharp, fiddle, guitar, bones, darbuka, and various percussion instruments.
Cathy Jordan is one of the finest singers in today’s Celtic music scene. Three songs deserve special mention: the Civil War-based “Sweet Becky at the Loom,” the pro-environmental “It’s Cool to be Green,” and the hauntingly beautiful Irish love song “Eileen a Ruin.” Epping and O’Dowd are no vocal slouches either, as shown in the cowboy-like “Out On The Western Plains,” the hard-luck imagery of “Morning Blues,” “The Diamantina Drover” (on the travails of herding cattle in the Australian outback), and the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations.” Instrumental medleys, including “The Duke of Leinster Set” and “Shove the Pig’s Foot,” show off O’Dowd’s excellent fiddling; and Epping’s fine bluesy harmonica comes to the fore on the five-part Irish tune, “An Phis Fliuch.” This is fast becoming one of my favorite recordings this year. They may call themselves The Unwanted, but when you hear their music, you’ll definitely want them in your music library.
—Robert RodriquezRoy Bailey, Below the Radar..
As the title suggests, most of these songs are not on subjects that get intense public scrutiny. They’re below the radar, focusing on what holds continuous and primary importance to many of us: peace, visions of a more just and loving world, poverty, international relations, and more. The baker’s dozen is rounded out by a couple of great love songs, and a definitive paean to the pleasure of people singing together.
First is the tender Scottish “Road to Dundee,” followed by Tom Paxton’s “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain” (Isaiah 52:7), with slightly changed words to reflect the English experience. “Anna Mae” and “Palestine” are two of four songs here by Seattle’s Jim Page. Adapting Martin Hoffman’s tune, as used by Woody Guthrie for “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” aka “Deportee,” Page’s “Collateral Damage” is one of the most moving and painful in my experience: “Collateral damage is all we will be.” But you will want to learn and sing this song; it’s powerful.
“Friends Like These,” from George Papavgeris, may well bring tears to attendees at Friday SFFMC song swaps, or to others who attend regular group singing gatherings. “Who needs fame, and who needs fortune, who needs a life of ease? I’m the richest in the country when I’m blessed with friends like these.”
Other songs are by Si Kahn, Leon Rosselson, Ian Campbell, David Ferrard, and trad. The CD’s final cut, Page’s “Visions of Our Youth,” appropriately encourages both young and old: “In that moment, or so it seemed, we were able to change the world.”
Bailey’s long and illustrious career has earned him a place as one of England’s finest singer/songwriters. His work contains the soul of working class ideals and gives a radical alternative to the mainstream music industry. You will play this CD often, learn its songs, and sing them with friends.
—Faith PetricPete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, a Singalong Memoir (3rd edition).
Where Have All the Flowers Gone, a Singalong Memoir by Pete Seeger, is the third edition of Pete’s autobiography in words and songs containing, he says, corrections of hundreds of mistakes in the first 1993 edition and adding 30 pages of newer songs. The biggest change has been that it comes with a CD containing 267 MP3 files. “With the touch of a button you can hear, more or less, the beginning of every song.” (To listen to a whole song, check the discography at page 291.) The more than 300 songs given here are far from being Pete’s full repertoire, but surrounded as they are by the personal stories and historical content relevant to each, they give us the flow of his life, indeed, his autobiography.
Here we have not only the words, chords, lyrics and histories of the songs but suggestions and instructions on how to present them and get audiences to sing along. You may not be a performer but you still want this autobiography as it is fascinating. The enthusiasm, respect—well, love—not only of the songs but of the life he’s lived and people he’s known and worked with are contagious. Pete quotes Woody Guthrie, who said of his first songbook “This songbook got an ironclad copyright, and anyone caught singing one of these songs will be a good friend of mine ‘cause that’s why I wrote it.” To which Pete adds ”And why I wrote this book for you.“ Pete, being one of the most giving and generous people I have ever known, gives us a book that enriches our lives beyond measure. Get it for yourself and those you care about.
It’s available from Sing Out for $24.95 + postage (at the Sing Out! Publications website) and at local music stores for the same price. By ordering books by the box, SFFMC is getting a reduced price and passing savings on by selling copies at $20. Available at 885 Clayton St., SF 415-661-2217.