Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pete Seeger film on PBS last week

from the NY Daily News, Wed Feb 27, 2008

PBS has a folksy look at Pete Seeger


Watching this first-rate "American Masters" production on
Pete Seeger, the reigning dean of American folk musicians, you find yourself wondering if in another life he was a monk and he enjoyed it so much that he asked if he could keep the same personal code this time around.
For all the music that fills this 90-minute production, the most fascinating part may be the window into Seeger's personal life.

He built his own log cabin in a lovely patch of upstate woodland and raised his family there, for many years without running water. A number of segments are introduced here with shots of Seeger, now 88, chopping wood.

He notes that he never enjoyed performing in nightclubs with his most successful group, the Weavers, because he doesn't smoke or drink. When the Weavers agreed to do a commercial for cigarettes, he left the group.

"They said we needed the money," he says. "I said we didn't need it that badly."

He smiles a lot, but he doesn't seem to laugh much. Maybe in private, he does. But the portrait here reinforces his public image as a man who seems slightly aloof, who takes things very seriously and is perhaps quietly impatient with those who do not.

At the very least, this in-house special - it was co-executive-produced by Seeger's wife, Toshi - suggests there are complexities behind the public troubadour. Whatever those might be, they don't diminish or dilute the main point here, which is just what the title declares: the power of song.

From the time he was a child and his father exposed the family to old-time Southern music, Seeger was drawn to song and its power.
Bruce Springsteen, one of a number of musicians interviewed here, takes it a step further by saying Seeger demonstrated "the power of music to influence."
Bob Dylan, another interviewee, says what impresses him most about Seeger is his "amazing ability" to make people sing along, whether they want to or not.

The special covers the range of the songs with which Seeger has coaxed those sing-alongs over the years, from folk dances like "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena" to message music like "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy."

It also puts them into the context of his involvement with political musicians like the Almanac Singers, and notes the career price he paid for refusing to disassociate himself from some of the messages in that music.

During his blacklist years, he supported himself primarily by playing for and teaching children - which, the show notes, ironically, enabled him to plant more seeds than he ever would have planted in a commercial career.

But the whole idea of a "career" seems mostly to amuse him. In the olden days, he remarks, most of the world did physical work and sang while they did it. You get the impression that's Pete Seeger's kind of world

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