Skip to comments.CHANGING HIS TUNE ... Mark Steyn
Posted on 05/03/2009 8:15:21 AM PDT by Rummyfan
This week marks not only the first hundred days of King Barack's reign and the 30th anniversary of Mrs Thatcher's arrival in Downing Street, but also the 90th birthday of Pete Seeger. The celebrations of Mr Seeger's tenth decade are extensive. If he seems a remote figure from the pop culture back catalogue, not so fast: He played at the Obama inauguration. Which, when you think about it, is quite something.
One must congratulate the old banjo-picker on making it to four score and ten, which is a lot older than many "dissenting artists" made it to under the regimes he's admired over the years. Two years ago in The New York Sun, you'll recall, Ron Radosh had a notable scoop: Hold the front page! Stop the presses! Grizzled Leftie Icon Repudiates
Who? Castro? Chavez? Al-Qaeda?
Whoa, lets not rush to judgment. No, the big story was: Grizzled Leftie Icon Repudiates Stalin.
A couple of months earlier, there'd been some documentary or other celebrating the spirit of Pete Seeger, the folkie colossus, with contributions from the usual suspects Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, one or more Dixie Chicks, two-thirds of Peter, Paul and Mary, etc. Mr Radosh had also been interviewed but his remarks about Seegers lifelong support of Stalinism had not made the final cut. No surprise there. In such circumstances, the rule is to hail someone for his activism and commitment and passion without getting hung up on the specifics of what exactly hes actively and passionately committing to. Giving him a Kennedy Center Honor a decade or so back, President Clinton hailed ol Pete as an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them, which is one way of putting it. You cant help noticing, though, that its all the documentaries and honors ceremonies and lifetime-achievement tributes to Mr Seeger that seem to find certain things inconvenient. The Washington Posts Style section, with its usual sly elan, hailed him as Americas best-loved Commie which I think translates as Okay, so the genial old coot spent a lifetime shilling for totalitarian murderers, but only uptight Republican squares would be boorish enough to dwell on it.
Anyway, in the Sun, Mr Radosh, a former banjo pupil of the great man, did dwell on it, and a few weeks later got a letter in response. I think youre right, wrote Pete. I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in [the] USSR. And he enclosed a new song hed composed:
Im singing about old Joe, cruel Joe He ruled with an iron hand He put an end to the dreams Of so many in every land He had a chance to make A brand new start for the human race Instead he set it back Right in the same nasty place I got the Big Joe Blues (Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast) I got the Big Joe Blues (Do this job, no questions asked) I got the Big Joe Blues
Its heartening to see that age (hes now 88) hasnt withered Seegers unerring instinct for bum rhymes (fast/asked). Still, Ron Radosh was thrilled that, just 54 years after the old brutes death, a mere three-quarters of a century after the purges and show trials and whatnot, the old protest singer had finally got around to protesting Stalin, albeit somewhat evasively: He put the human race right in the same nasty place? Sorry, not good enough. Stalin created whole new degrees of nastiness. But, given that the guy got the two great conflicts of the 20th century wrong (in 1940, he was anti-war and singing Wendell Wilkie and Franklin D/Both agree on killing me), its a start. I cant wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078.
Mr Seeger has a song called Treblinka, because he thinks its important that we should never forget. But wouldnt it be better if we were hip to it before it snowballed into one of those things we had to remember not to forget? Would it kill the icons of the left just for once to be on the right side at the time? America has no best-loved Nazi or best-loved Fascist or even best-loved Republican, but its best-loved Stalinist stooge is hailed in his dotage as a secular saint whos spent his life singing for peace. He sang for peace when he opposed the fascistic armaments stooge Roosevelt and imperialist Britain, and he sang for peace when he attacked the Cold War paranoiac Truman, and he kept on singing for peace no matter how many millions died and millions more had to live in bondage, and, while that may seem agreeably peaceful when youre singing If I Had A Hammer in Ann Arbor, its not if youre on the sharp end of the deal thousands of miles away.
Explaining how Stalin had put an end to the dreams of a Communist utopia, Seeger told Ron Radosh that hed underestimated how the majority of the human race has faith in violence. But that isnt true, is it? Very few of us are violent. Those who order the killings are few in number, and those who carry them out arent significantly numerous. But those willing to string along and those too fainthearted to object and those who just want to keep their heads down and wait for things to blow over are numbered in the millions. And so are those many miles away in the plump prosperous western democracies who dont see why this or that dictator is their problem. One can perhaps understand the great shrug of indifference to distant monsters. Its harder, though, to forgive the contemporary urge to celebrate it as a form of idealism.
James Lileks, the bard of Minnesota, once offered this trenchant analysis of Pete Seeger:
If I Had A Hammer? Well, whats stopping you? Go to the hardware store; theyre about a buck-ninety, tops.
Very true. For the cost of a restricted-view seat at a Peter, Paul and Mary revival, you could buy half-a-dozen top-of-the-line hammers and have a lot more fun, even if you used them on yourself. Yet in a sense Lileks is missing the point: yes, theyre dopey nursery-school jingles, but thats why theyre so insidious. The numbing simplicity allows them to be passed off as uncontentious unexceptionable all-purpose anthems of goodwill. Which is why you hear This Land Is Your Land in American grade schools, but not The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. The invention of the faux-childlike faux-folk song was one of the greatest forces in the infantilization of American culture. Seegers hymn to the senselessness of all war, Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, combined passivity with condescension - When will they ever learn? - and established the default mode of contemporary artistic dissent. Mr Seegers ongoing veneration is apparently indestructible. But at least we now know the answer to the question When will he ever learn?
At least half-a-century too late.
If I Had A Hammer? Well, whats stopping you? Go to the hardware store; theyre about a buck-ninety, tops.
Mark Steyn quoting Lileks - love it!
Earlier I sang "The Star Spangled Banner" by myself at the campfire. Most people don't know that our National Anthem has four stanzas at the third is rarely sung because it is anti British: The Complete "Star Spangled Banner"
Mark Steyn.. brilliant, as usual. thank you posting the article..
Steyn and Colter... you did need much more than that.
-OR- the democrats on your family are dumber than a box of marbles (90 of them)..
In a just world, these moral midgets would have to live the consequences of that they're cheering on. Let's see how long they'd last on one of Stalin's camps. Or one of Castro's prisons.
Pete Seeger is dead. Don’t know the death date but you have to figure most of the voters in Illinois and especially Chicago are dead. There are more dead people on the voter registration rolls than live folks. So it is fitting to have a dead guy sing at the imposter’s inaguration.
Surprised Steyn forgot to mention Old Pete’s PRO- WAR songs, like the “Good Ship Rueben James”, written AFTER Adolf rolled into Russia.
True. But since communists are forbidden to actually "own" anything, said hammer would have to be property of the State.
Pete was probably waiting in a line at a commie hammer store (without hammers, as usual) when he composed the song.
I believe they deserve the same fate as that of Stalin's victims, and Mao Tse Tung's, and Castro's. That would be justice.
Lets not forget about this little tidbit about ol' Pete, Pre-1950, In 1936, at the age of 17, Pete Seeger joined the Young Communist League (YCL), then at the height of its popularity and influence. In 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party itself (see quotation below). He drifted away from the Party in the 1950's, but remained an unrepentant Stalinist.
Excellent point. I really lament the passing of the songs we learned in grade school in the 50s and early 60s that celebrated America - The Star Spangled Banner; The Battle Hymn of the Republic; The Marines Hymn; Anchors Aweigh; Shenandoah; Yankee Doodle; America; When Johnny Comes Marching Home; The Yellow Rose of Texas; She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain; John Henry, Steel Drivin' Man; Oh Susanna!; Camptown Races; Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair; Erie Canal
Our kids are being cheated out of so much of our heritage and particularly that which taught love of your country. PC and Pete Seeger nursery rhymes have destroyed all of. It's all part of public school efforts to teach kids all the evils of their nation.
I didn't enjoy singing all that much as a kid, but it is amazing to think how I still remember all those songs and their lyrics to this day.
Here's that "double standard" again - I see a person who "celebrated Stalin" being the moral equivalent of someone who "celebrated Hitler" - as would any rational person comparing mass murderers.
The fact that "cool" people were communists (in the mind's of liberal elites) seems to make them think the rest of us see supporters of these mass murderers the same too. What idiots. Eff the Washington Post. Eff the New York Times. Stalin and Hitler were both mass murderers and the people who supported them are not just idiots or useful idiots, but ENABLERS. The New York Times helped Stalin in his free murder reign. Won a prize for it too.
Pete Seeger = BANJO BOLSHEVIK
Wow. Excellent article.
It's all part of Obama's Retro-Left freakshow.
The Fabian Socialist as hipster. Obammunist chic.
He'd be a hit at Newport. How is he on tambourine?
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.