Pete Seeger: The Power of
by Tony Medley
Folk music, almost by
definition, is about protest and dissent. It became my favorite genre
when I was in college, and not because I was protesting anything. I had
liked Tzena, Tzena, Tzena and Goodnight, Irene and
Sweet Violets when I was growing into a college man, but it was The
Kingston Trio that really captured me.
Throughout the Ď60s, even
through Beatlemania, I still loved Folk Music, exemplified by The Mamas
& the Poppas, Peter Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Donovan, and all the
The main reason I continue
to pay for XM Radio is because it offers a Folk station that plays
nothing but Folk Music, including a show hosted by Bob Dylan. I loved
the music even though I didnít necessarily agree with any of the
messages conveyed by the writers, singers, and songs.
This is a film about the
guy who resurrected Folk Music, Pete Seeger. It tells his life story in
his own words and in the words of his wife, Toshi, along with those of
contemporaries and successors, including Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce
Springsteen, Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks), Tom Paxton, and Peter
Yarrow and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary. OK, they are all left
wingers, but thatís the nature of the folk music genre. It doesnít
negate the quality of the music. If we were going to have a political
debate, I would undoubtedly be on the other side of the fence from all
of these, especially Seeger. But I love their music.
This is a 93-minute film
that is fascinating for the first 75 minutes. It completely falls apart
in the last 15 minutes or so when it switches to Seeger saving the
Hudson River. I kept thinking of the line from The Ballad of Davy
Crockett as I was watching the film imply that Seeger
single-handedly cleaned up the river. The apocryphal song tells us that
Went down to Washington, so I hear tell
And patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.
But before Pete cleaned up
the river, he was out there fighting for the things in which he
believed. In his youth he was a member of the Communist Party. He
traveled around with the legendary Woody Guthrie, finally forming a
group called the Almanac Singers composed of the two of them and anyone
else they could find to join them. He also wrote at least one song with
Woody, Round and Round Hitlerís Grave.
After service in the Army
in WWII, he formed The Weavers and began, or continued, a lifetime
devoted to furthering the things in which he believed, all through folk
music. The film shows how he suffered for his beliefs through the
Blacklist. He was kept off TV for 17 years until The Smothers Brothers
brought him onto their show in 1969. Even so, it didnít seem to dim his
enthusiasm for the music or his ideals.
Had this ended 15 minutes
sooner, it would have gotten my top rating. But the last segment is
long, slow, and uninvolving. Even the music is second-rate. But thatís
what you might expect from a family produced documentary.
I wasnít much of an admirer
of Bruce Springsteen until he put out his album of folk music. Itís as
good as anything Iíve heard, and Iíve heard a lot. Forget the politics
and beliefs, I love folk music and the people who create and sing it.
Even considering the last
15 minutes or so, this is one I wouldnít have missed. On top of Seegerís
interesting life, you get to hear lots of great music, too!
November 6, 2007