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“Music Can Make You Feel Like You’re Not Quite So Helpless:” Pete Seeger on People’s Music

Pete Seeger, folksinger, songwriter, and activist, provides a remarkable link between the radical culture of the 1930s and the protest culture of the 1960s. In 1940 Seeger met Woody Guthrie and the two formed the Almanac Singers, a leftist singing group that recorded pacifist and pro-union songs. After the war, Seeger formed the Weavers, a popular folk music group, but his successful career was hurt by Cold War red-baiting. While he lived and worked under siege for his political views during the 1950s, Seeger had a large impact on the protest culture of the 1960s, penning some of the eras most important songs, including a variation on a spiritual that became the anthem “We Shall Overcome.” In the 1970s and 1980s, Seeger focused on environmentalism, but he continued to appear at benefit concerts and rallies, and his musical legacy of protest singing continues to influence the way Americans speak out.

Listen to Audio:

SEEGER: People here at the People’s Music Weekend are not thinking about money, not for themselves, they’re thinking about the world which must be built and how our music can help it. Music can help this world roll in a better direction. There is an underlining unity at the People’s Music Weekend even though some are into this kind of music and some are into that kind of music. You’d be surprised, music can make you feel like you’re not quite so helpless any more. Learning about our brothers and sisters, wherever they are young or old, white or black or brown, means we find we’re not quite so helpless. They feel this way too. I even made up a verse for Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides Now.” I can’t sing anymore, my voice is gone, but you remember she had a beautiful song. She has a verse about clouds, about Junes and moons and ferris wheels the dizzy dancing way you feel when you fall in love. It ends with a kind of sad verse, “Now some people think I’ve. . . they shake their heads and say I’ve changed, Well, something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day” Well me, I wanted to sing her song but I’m, as you see, gray bearded, bald headed. So I wrote a verse, which any older person could sing, “Daughter, daughter, don’t you know. You’re not the first to feel just so. But let me say before I go, it’s worth it anyway. Some day we may all be surprised, we’ll awake and open up our eyes. And then we all will realize the whole world feels this way. We’ve all been living upside down, and turned around with love unfound until we turn and face the sun. Yes, all of us everyone.” I really do believe that learning the songs of other people and other places can make us feel more powerful.

Source: Interviewed by Tami Gold, 1993
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads