Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pete Seeger's banjo

Pete Seeger's banjo
Originally uploaded by guano
Here at home we have been watching a documentary about Pete Seeger, the man who invented folk music in the way we think about it since the 1950s. It brought tears to my eyes more than once. Here is someone I really admire, who has affected my life in more ways than I realized. Makes you realize among other things, just how informative and affecting a good documentary can be.
Folk music was a key part of the background for growing up in America in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn't get a chance to hear much of it before it finally broke through to mainstream radio and TV in the 1960s. For Sandy, growing in Sherman Oaks, CA, with the kinds of families, kids, summer camps, that a more cosmopolitan (and dare I say the word "progressive") kind of world produced, she heard about all of this, like the Weavers and Pete Seeger himself, a lot earlier, and in a lot more detail than I did. Makes me a tiny bit envious, but hey, I had a whole herd of Holstein cows, barns, fields, a creek and railroad tracks to explore, so it all evens out somehow.
By the mid-1960s, though, Seeger's music was trickling out through people like the Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn), Dylan, songs picked up by the civil rights movement (We Shall Overcome, etc.). So this guy was informing the most intriguing parts of my world even though I did not know his name yet.
He has a brilliant idea that music makes many things plainer to us than speeches or newspaper columns or TV. Works for me. Certainly worked for me then. I think both Sandy and I have the kinds of curiosity about the world we have, and to some degree, the politics we have because we started listening hard to those songs we liked.
Probably my favorite line from the whole documentary is what Seeger has written on his banjo, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." At this current moment when several sides are ramping their followers up to truly hate the other side(s), I wish this were more the tactic now.
One final thought: the documentary was brought to us by our local library. All my life, libraries (along with public schools) have been the thing that gave a poor kid from an Idaho farm the chance to dream big and go after those dreams. In these days when public leaders would rather cut back libraries' collections and hours than even consider raising taxes, I think we need more libraries with more hours to give more kids a chance, even if means raising a few taxes.