January 28, 2014

PETE SEEGER R.I.P.

Musician and activist Peter Seeger passed away yesterday at 94. Spy Vibe has celebrated Seeger in the past for his impact on the Folk Boom of the 1960s and for his life-long role as the Johnny Appleseed of song. Seeger was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for his new spoken-word album The Storm King. A collection of stories and poems from his life set to multi-genre music with percussionist Jeff Haynes, the album was great follow-up to two CDs he released last year-  not bad for a 94-year-old! Seeger grew up in a family of musicians who fostered a dedication to activism and traditional music. Seeger had a profound impact on the culture of the 20th Century through his gift for bringing people together through song. His long career stretches back to antifascist songs with Woody Guthrie during WWII, the Weavers, and decades of touring and playing on radio and television. As a website dedicated to 1960s style, Spy Vibe would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the major influence Seeger had on the Folk Boom and on the political and spiritual climate of the decade. Even if you are not a fan of his style of music, Seeger represents a dedication to community and to the environment that I hope will prevail for years to come. The Grammy nomination was his fifth (he has won four times!), in addition to winning the National Medal of Arts, a Kennedy Center Honor, the Harvard Arts Medal, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the Felix Varela Medal, the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, and the George Peabody Medal. Seeger sadly lost his wife Toshi last year after a 70-year marriage. His brother Mike Seeger (New Lost City Ramblers) passed away in 2009. His sister Peggy Seeger lives in the UK and continues to perform, record and speak out as an activist for LGBT rights and other issues. Below is a rare photo of Pete Seeger with Woody Guthrie. See more at NPR here. Story continues below. 


Recent related releases include Pete Seeger Remembers Woody and A More Perfect Union (with Emmylou Harris, Dar Wiliams, Steve Earle, and Bruce Springsteen), and a new documentary film called Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. Below is a rare poster for a benefit concert held in my backyard in Mill Valley, California in the late 1960s. Note the quote by John F. Kennedy. Other musicians supported Democratic candidate Phil Drath during the era, including the Grateful Dead and Joan Baez.



My eye on the early-mid 1960s has been particularly fascinated with the folk and blues boom. Not only is it interesting to see how youth culture embraced players like Pete Seeger, the music itself was powered by deep storytelling, humor, history, and topical concerns of the era. Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, so maybe to that paranoid establishment, this was REAL "spy music." Spy Vibers might enjoy the video clips below of Pete Seeger. The Power of Song illustrates Seeger's commitment to bettering the world through music and captures some of the larger issues of the early 1960s. His song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, was performed on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, but cut from broadcast by the censors. A campaign by the brothers pressured the network to finally air the footage, and Seeger was able to share a tune that showed his patriotism, empathy for those facing combat, and a larger questioning of war at the height of Vietnam. Written on his banjo were the words. "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." 


Another way to appreciate this area of music is to remember how important it was to the development of other styles. To stretch a quote by the great blues composer Willie Dixon, folks like Dylan, Seeger, Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Skip James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry, Lonnie Donegan, New Lost City Ramblers, etc were "the roots", and The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Led Zeppelin were "the fruits". Maybe the folk crowd didn't sport Mod or Space-Age fashion, but they were true rebels of the period who stood for the things that really matter. One of the most memorable moments I've ever seen on TV was Pete Seeger on Hugh Hefner's Playboy's Penthouse (1959). Pete had a great talent for getting a crowd singing, and it was sweet to see a room of sophisticates huddled around him singing along. Hefner, a huge music fan himself, sat close to Pete and joined in. The guests were movers and shakers of the new cultural revolution, but unified in humanity by that banjo.


Spy Vibers interested in seeing another side of the early-mid 1960s should check out the great documentary, The Power of Song. The film offers a context to this man and his music that is quite moving. The spirit of Seeger's songs transcend time because they embody universal, human emotion and experience. I encourage all Spy Vibers to spend some time with characters like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Alan Lomax. Dive into the Smithsonian Folkways site. Listen to traditional music from around the world and discover your inner folkie. Pete Seeger Appreciation page here. Below is a rare photo of 2-year-old Pete with his musical family. Thanks to archivist and pal Rich Remsberg for the images. Seeger obituary at the New York Times here. Stay tuned for our spotlight on album design at Folkways. 





Recent Spy Vibe posts: Siegel and Shuster's SPYDavid McCallum: Son of BatmanJon Gilbert talks FlemingBarbarella TV seriesMeet the Beatles 50thWonderwall comes to Blu-rayBatman StripsDavid Bowie at 67Kevin Dart talks Ringo & Powerpuff GirlsSherlock ExhibitFu Manchu history panelAndy Warhol box set, Six-Million Dollar ManStriped Light NudeBuckminster FullerDylan at NewportJane and SergeThe Goldfinger VariationsMod Tales InterviewPete SeegerKraftwerk returns to US, Beatles BBC on Fresh Air, Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Artist Editions, David Tennant's Ian Fleming audio books, Atomic ArtModern Architecture LPJulius ShulmanShane Glines Batman, The Prisoner and Captain ScarletDiego Fortunato and Verner Panton, Saturday Morning CartoonsAssassination Bureau on DVD, new Young Bond series, new Hercule Poirot novel, Early Beatles image archive, Julie NewmarErno GoldfingerHitchcock tribute.


Recent Ian Fleming posts on Spy Vibe: Ian Fleming LettersErno Goldfinger, Ian Fleming Music Series links: Noel CowardWhispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr, new Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, Bond audio book reissues, discovery of one of Ian Fleming's WWII Commandos, James Bond book covers, Ian Fleming's Playboy interview for Kindle, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, rare View to a Kill, Fleming's Royal gold typewriter, Ian Fleming's memorial address, Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive.

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