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How Seeger moved U.S. culture left
Chicago Sun Times ^ | 1/29/2014 | Howard Husock

Posted on 01/29/2014 6:47:26 AM PST by Borges

That Pete Seeger, who died Monday at age 94, is being hailed as a sort of American hero — re-discoverer and popularizer of traditional folk music, champion of anti-war, civil-rights and environmental causes — is a testament to just how profoundly to the left popular culture shifted over the course of his lifetime. And the popular culture that honored him in life — with a lifetime-achievement Grammy Award and the National Medal for the Arts — did so in no small part because Pete Seeger himself did as much as anyone to move it to the left.

If Seeger was “America’s Most Successful Communist,” as I have called him in the past, it was because of his profound impact on popular music, especially through his songwriting.

To understand Seeger’s impact, it makes sense to look back to March 1962 — when a clean-cut group called the Kingston Trio released what would become a No. 1 hit, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” written by Pete Seeger. Adapted from a Ukrainian folk song, it was a lament about the tragedy of war and its victims — tuneful, subtle and evocative. And it was brilliant anti–Cold War propaganda: “When will they ever learn?” The song’s success was a watershed: It marked the beginning of the introduction of political themes and overt social causes into American pop music — a process that would be continued by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and countless others to the point that now we take it for granted.

It was not always so. Critics may ascribe cultural rebellion to Elvis Presley, but Presley himself was no rebel; his aspirations included being a member of a gospel-music quartet. In 1972, he endorsed Richard Nixon. There was nothing political in the lyrics of early rock ’n’ roll. The change that Pete Seeger started with “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” can be seen as the culmination of a process launched decades earlier, in 1935, when the Communist Party announced its “popular front” strategy to wrap the causes of the Left in the trappings of American traditions. As the writer V. J. Jerome put it in the title of an address to the American Communist Party’s 1951 convention, “Let Us Grasp the Weapon of Culture.”

It was the genius of Seeger (who had joined the Party in 1942) to realize that the uncopyrighted songs and musical styles of the rural American South, both white and black, could be adapted to serve as the vehicles for politics. This was no mere happenstance: Seeger was the son of Harvard musicologist Charles Seeger, himself a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. At first, Pete Seeger’s efforts in the 1940s and 1950s — with Woody Guthrie, whom he discovered and helped to popularize, and the Weavers, of which he was a member — were often overtly political. In a song co-written with Woody Guthrie (himself now an uncontroversial icon), “66 Highway Blues,” Seeger sang, “Sometimes I think I’ll blow down a cop/Lord you treat me so mean. . . . I’m gonna start me a hungry man’s union / Ain’t a-gonna charge no dues / Gonna march down that road to the Wall Street walls / A-singin’ those 66 Highway blues.”

But under McCarthy-era pressure, Seeger figured out that he had to be much more subtle. The result was a series of hits in the style of “Flowers” — lyrical, affecting, and effective. They included “If I Had a Hammer,” a huge hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary, (“It’s the hammer of justice / It’s the bell of freedom”) and the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” in which Seeger subtly changed Ecclesiastes to include the anti-Vietnam lyric, “A time for peace / I swear it’s not too late.”

It was just this style that Bob Dylan, who began his career as a Seeger protege (although he would go on to transcend such politicized art), perfected in his anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was Seeger, as much as anyone, who popularized “We Shall Overcome” — a civil-rights anthem with no overt reference to race.

In other words, Pete Seeger led the way in devising the formula that pushed popular culture leftward: The music (or the movies) had to work as art and avoid heavy-handedness. It is, to be sure, a tragedy that this happened — as much for art as for politics. But in promoting the causes he embraced — undermining the view that the American experiment was noble and the nation good, and imprinting the idea that private business is anti-social — he must be considered a resounding success. For its part, the cultural Right has long, and unsuccessfully, been trying to match his example.


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: communist; peteseeger
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1 posted on 01/29/2014 6:47:26 AM PST by Borges
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To: Borges

Pete Seeger in the final analysis was an enemy of the people.


2 posted on 01/29/2014 6:55:28 AM PST by allendale
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To: Borges

Interesting.


3 posted on 01/29/2014 6:55:58 AM PST by gattaca (The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. Ecclesiastes10:2)
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To: Borges

The only good Communist is a dead Communist - and now Seeger is good.

That he had talent is quite beside the point - he made the wrong decision at every point in his life on the big issues, having joint the CPUSA in 1941, at the height of Stalin’s powers (and purges). Until Hitler invaded the USSR, he was against U.S. involvement in the war - thus aiding Hitler indirectly. He was a huge force for the Left and, unlike Joan Bayez, NEVER APOLOGIZED for being on the dark side and the consequences of having taken part in its activities.

I’m glad the SOB is dead - he can’t pollute any more minds now, and he’ll be answering for his actions.


4 posted on 01/29/2014 6:56:24 AM PST by Ancesthntr ("The right to buy weapons is the right to be free." A. E. van Vogt)
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To: Borges
It marked the beginning of the introduction of political themes and overt social causes into American pop music — a process that would be continued by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and countless others to the point that now we take it for granted.

It also meant then to score with chicks you had to mention "Modern Art, Civil Rights or Folk Music."

5 posted on 01/29/2014 6:57:05 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Borges

commie unionist


6 posted on 01/29/2014 7:00:40 AM PST by yldstrk (My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: allendale

Quite true.

‘Pod.


7 posted on 01/29/2014 7:00:58 AM PST by sauropod (Fat Bottomed Girl: "What difference, at this point, does it make?")
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To: Borges

I never heard of him till yesterday.


8 posted on 01/29/2014 7:07:20 AM PST by b4its2late (A Progressive is a person who will give away everything he doesn't own.)
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To: b4its2late

You’ve heard of his songs I’m sure.


9 posted on 01/29/2014 7:07:39 AM PST by Borges
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To: Borges

Probably. But it never registered.


10 posted on 01/29/2014 7:08:10 AM PST by b4its2late (A Progressive is a person who will give away everything he doesn't own.)
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To: Borges
I wonder how it is that these people who are clearly capitalists in their endeavors choose to champion anti-capitalism?
11 posted on 01/29/2014 7:09:09 AM PST by oldbrowser (Obamacare is Obama's Great Leap Forward)
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To: Borges

Sadly, this is true. If Pete Seeger died in say 1975 every obituary would mention word the “communist” in the first sentence. Today, it’s barely noted. He was a “folk” singer whose politics are essentially in line with American icons like Springsteen and Dylan.


12 posted on 01/29/2014 7:12:11 AM PST by nhwingut (This tagline is for lease)
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To: Borges

Pete Seeger was a commie bastard. He’s a dead one now. Let’s see if the commie POTUS we have lowers the flag in his honor or makes some sort of honor speech for the enemy of the state.


13 posted on 01/29/2014 7:14:11 AM PST by ThomasMore (Islam is the Whore of Babylon!)
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To: nhwingut

All this talk about folk music, has me thinking out this song....

Teen Angst - Cracker

I don’t know what the world may need,
But I’m sure as hell that is starts with me.
And that’s a wisdom,
I’ve laughed at.

I don’t know what the world may want,
But a good stiff drink it surely don’t.
So I think I’ll go and fix myself a tall one.

Cause, what the world needs now
Is a new kind of tension.
Cause the old one just bores me to death.
Cause, what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head.

I don’t know what the world may need,
But a v8 engine is a good start for me.
Think I’ll drive to find a place,
To be surly.
I don’t know what the world may want,
But some words of wisdom could comfort us.
Think I’ll leave that up to someone wiser.

Cause, what the world needs now
Are some true words of wisdom
Like la la la la la
Cause, what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head.

I don’t know what the world may need,
And I never grasped your complexities.
I’d be happy just to get your attention.
And, I don’t know what the world may want,
But your long, sweet body lying next
To mine could certainly raise my spirits.

Cause what the world needs now
Is a new frank sinatra
So I can get you in bed.
Cause what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head.


14 posted on 01/29/2014 7:14:13 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: ThomasMore

Probably cuddling up now to his hero Stalin as we speak.


15 posted on 01/29/2014 7:15:47 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Borges
Pete Seeger preserved and made popular a lot of traditional US folk music. He championed using music as a means to express oneself. That he was a communist does not stop "This Land is Your Land" and many of his other songs from being excellent expressions of joy and patriotism.

I don't agree with his politics. That does not prevent me from appreciating his contribution to a great era in music, which is now over.

16 posted on 01/29/2014 7:15:54 AM PST by grania
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To: FReepers
Do You Really Want To Be Alone In Times Like These?


Click The Pic

Support Your Lifeline, Donate

17 posted on 01/29/2014 7:17:13 AM PST by DJ MacWoW (The Fed Gov is not one ring to rule them all)
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To: nhwingut

Bob Dylan is not a Leftist.


18 posted on 01/29/2014 7:19:47 AM PST by Borges
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To: grania

Woody Guthrie wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’


19 posted on 01/29/2014 7:20:31 AM PST by Borges
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To: Borges

It also shows you how far to the left the Democrat party has moved. For all the talk about Republicans moving to the right think about a Democrat party that in 2014 is basically aligned with the politics of Americas most famous communist. I mean Seeger is one of them.


20 posted on 01/29/2014 7:20:42 AM PST by nhwingut (This tagline is for lease)
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To: Borges
Thanks for the correction. Wasn't Pete Seeger among those who popularized it?
21 posted on 01/29/2014 7:22:44 AM PST by grania
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To: grania

Have you ever read all the lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land”?

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


22 posted on 01/29/2014 7:23:29 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: Borges

At Newport, Seeger played the audience a recording of a newborn baby, and said that the final night’s program was a message from everyone to this baby that the world it was being born into was full of hate, hunger, bombs, and injustice, but that the people - the folk - would overcome, and make it a better world.

Enough to drive Dylan away; electric set followed


23 posted on 01/29/2014 7:24:15 AM PST by harwood (Ann Coulter: Future SCOTUS nominee!)
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To: Borges

Until he died, the sheeple had forgotten about Seeger. Now they will name this and that after him, but many still are so uninformed that they won’t know who Seeger was.


24 posted on 01/29/2014 7:25:05 AM PST by Theodore R.
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To: oldbrowser
In the early 70s an episode of "Room 222" featured a strident Marxist high school student whose hero was a banjo-playing folk singer named Oscar Smith. He preached the virtues of Smith high and low, and strove to bring him to the campus of Walt Whitman High to perform. When he finally heard back from him, he asked for an inordinate amount of money to show up. In other words, he turned out to be a "capitalist sell-out." The student was thus disillusioned with Marx and the episode ended with the Lloyd Haynes character recommending that read Gandhi instead.

Isn't it hard to believe a liberal show like "Room 222" spoofing Pete Seeger? No one would do it now (and not because of his death or his age).

25 posted on 01/29/2014 7:25:08 AM PST by Zionist Conspirator (The Left: speaking power to truth since Shevirat HaKelim.)
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To: grania; All

“This Land Is Your Land” is one of the United States’ most famous folk songs. Its lyrics were written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 based on an existing melody, in critical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio, he wrote a response originally called “God Blessed America”.[1] Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses in line with his sympathetic views of communism,[2] than appear in recordings or publications.

The song wasn’t sung by Seeger until...

The song was sung by Springsteen and Pete Seeger, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2009.

This song reeks of commie sentiment.


26 posted on 01/29/2014 7:25:56 AM PST by ThomasMore (Islam is the Whore of Babylon!)
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To: Borges

Jimmy Carter used to quote Dylan, but I though Dylan is leftist. Thanks for the info.


27 posted on 01/29/2014 7:26:06 AM PST by Theodore R.
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To: allendale
He was an enemy of private property, yet owned a 15 acre spread on the Hudson River, protected by fence and no trespassing signs.
28 posted on 01/29/2014 7:26:26 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks ("Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth.")
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To: oldbrowser

They assail capitalism to try to get the anti-capitalist sheeple to buy their products.


29 posted on 01/29/2014 7:27:07 AM PST by Theodore R.
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To: Ancesthntr

He can still pollute the uninformed sheeple with his remaining songs.


30 posted on 01/29/2014 7:28:50 AM PST by Theodore R.
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To: ThomasMore

You do know your music history; thank you for that summary. FWIW, I don’t see where calls for equality in opportunity are a bad thing.


31 posted on 01/29/2014 7:28:55 AM PST by grania
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To: grania

Then what do you think about calls for getting rid of private property?


32 posted on 01/29/2014 7:29:34 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: ThomasMore; All

Grandson of Pete the Commie

Tao Rodríguez-Seeger is the son of Emilio Rodríguez, a Puerto Rican filmmaker, and Mika Seeger. After his father was invited by the Sandinistas to document the nation’s civil war, Seeger spent nine years of his childhood in Nicaragua.

...the apple don’t fall far....

On October 21, 2011, Seeger was part of The Pete Seeger March which walked in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street to Columbus Circle. There he performed with his grandfather Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram, and other musicians.


33 posted on 01/29/2014 7:30:03 AM PST by ThomasMore (Islam is the Whore of Babylon!)
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To: Borges

He, like the Obamadorkthing, is slime.

The only diff is that Seeger could sing.


34 posted on 01/29/2014 7:32:27 AM PST by Da Coyote
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To: Borges

Not a Dylan fan but did see him get medal of freedom from Obama (Obama is not giving these to the ted nugent types) and he performed at Obama’s inauguration, saying to the crowd, “change is coming.” Add his songs’ popularity among the anti war social justice crowd and i pegged him as a lefty. I apologize if im wrong. And would be happy to hear he’s not a lefty.


35 posted on 01/29/2014 7:34:04 AM PST by nhwingut (This tagline is for lease)
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To: dfwgator

In 1973 someone summed the entire 60’s antiwar and counterculture movement in a single sentence:

“You know, a lot of guys joined the revolution just to get laid.”

Anyway, Seeger is dead. For those who mourn, I hope the rocks fall on them.


36 posted on 01/29/2014 7:34:07 AM PST by elcid1970 ("In the modern world, Muslims are living fossils.")
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To: elcid1970

Yep, liberal chicks are easy.


37 posted on 01/29/2014 7:35:00 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: nhwingut

Dylan’s output is 99% apolitical. In the 1960s, He wanted nothing to do with the hippies.


38 posted on 01/29/2014 7:35:45 AM PST by Borges
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To: grania

Crony capitalism shines a bad light on free market capitalism. But then again, it’s over-reaching, big government that makes crony capitalism possible and powerful. In the USA we HAVE equality of opportunity...only if government gets the hell out of the way. Guys like Seeger and other commies believe that government is the answer. I wholeheartedly disagree.


39 posted on 01/29/2014 7:36:10 AM PST by ThomasMore (Islam is the Whore of Babylon!)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

It’s ALWAYS the same with communists. THEY are the anointed who ‘deserve’ more, YOU are the ruled proletariat... with a boot stamping on your face forever.


40 posted on 01/29/2014 7:37:29 AM PST by Ray76 (How modern liberals think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaE98w1KZ-c)
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To: ThomasMore

I don’t always agree with Seeger about how he would’ve created a more perfect world. But I’d whole heartedly support going back to honest music which expressed people’s thoughts and emotions.


41 posted on 01/29/2014 7:42:37 AM PST by grania
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To: dfwgator
liberal chicks are easy

They were in my youth, if often less good-looking too.

For a while it seemed worth adopting their politics. But eventually the stupidity and dishonesty of the whole crowd drove me back toward the light.

42 posted on 01/29/2014 7:52:23 AM PST by Fightin Whitey
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To: Borges
The music (or the movies) had to work as art and avoid heavy-handedness.

This is the problem with the few cultural offerings from the right.

Conservatives need to create music and movies that can stand alone, that are interesting, even compelling without preaching. The message has to be subtle. We are competing for cultural shelf space, and losing badly.

43 posted on 01/29/2014 7:57:13 AM PST by Jeff Chandler (Obamacare: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.)
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To: Borges
So right. Bob Dylan is anything but a typical liberal.

When Rolling Stone interviewer Mikal Gilmore prodded Dylan for the first time, trying to get him to say that Obama was being criticized because he was black, Dylan said:

“They did the same thing to Bush, didn’t they?"

The fourth time Gimore pushed the issue, Dylan said:

“Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds? Well, who are these people who changed their minds? Talk to them.”

44 posted on 01/29/2014 8:09:31 AM PST by Scoutmaster (I'd rather be at Philmont)
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To: Borges
So right. Bob Dylan is anything but a typical liberal.

When Rolling Stone interviewer Mikal Gilmore prodded Dylan for the first time, trying to get him to say that Obama was being criticized because he was black, Dylan said:

“They did the same thing to Bush, didn’t they?"

The fourth time Gimore pushed the issue, Dylan said:

“Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds? Well, who are these people who changed their minds? Talk to them.”

45 posted on 01/29/2014 8:09:31 AM PST by Scoutmaster (I'd rather be at Philmont)
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To: Borges

The best thing Pete Seeger ever did for me was to make my 1963 Vega long-neck banjo valuable. Ah, capitalism.


46 posted on 01/29/2014 8:12:06 AM PST by Scoutmaster (I'd rather be at Philmont)
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To: nhwingut
As recently as eighteeen months ago, Dylan was still performing his song "Saving Grace" in concert.

If you find it in Your heart, can I be forgiven?
Guess I owe You some kind of apology
I've escaped death so many times, I know I'm only living
By the saving grace that's over me
By this time I'd-a thought I would be sleeping
In a pine box for all eternity
My faith keeps me alive, but I would still be weeping
For the saving grace that's over me
Well, the death of life, then come the resurrection
Wherever I am welcome is where I'll be
I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
Is the saving grace that's over me
Well, the devil's shining light, it can be most blinding
But to search for love, that ain't no more than vanity
As I look around this world all that I'm finding
Is the saving grace that's over me
The wicked know no peace and you just can't fake it
There's only one road and it leads to Calvary
It gets discouraging at times, but I know I'll make it
By the saving grace that's over me

47 posted on 01/29/2014 8:22:42 AM PST by Scoutmaster (I'd rather be at Philmont)
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To: dfwgator

There’s a liberal religious group called The Family that used sex to recruit men. Rose McGowan’s parents belonged to it at one point IIRC.

The goal of getting someone into error is easier than getting them out and most men rush in when it comes to sex.


48 posted on 01/29/2014 10:11:21 AM PST by Bogey78O (We had a good run. Coulda been great still.)
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To: grania

You may not like his politics, But Pete Seeger sums up my feelings about our POTUS in his song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

Seems like some folks are still following that “Big Fool”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Here are the final verses of the Pete Seeger song:

Now I’m not going to point any moral —
I’ll leave that for yourself.
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking,
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers, that old feeling comes on,
We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy,
The big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy,
The big fool says to push on.
Waist deep, neck deep,
Soon even a tall man will be over his head.
We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool says to push on.


49 posted on 01/30/2014 11:15:01 AM PST by WhatsItAllAbout
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To: WhatsItAllAbout

I am impressed. That Seeger song could be The Ode to Obamacare.


50 posted on 01/30/2014 11:25:45 AM PST by grania
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