In the late spring of 1970, a group of about a dozen of us (I was along for the ride with a girlfriend of the time) spent a few hours with the mellow-voiced Peter Seeger at his 17-acre rustic homestead, in Beacon, N.Y., on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. It had been a lush, warm spring, famous for anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. We had a cookout, at which Seeger was an affable host. He, of course, sang and played the five-string banjo, and a few others joined in making music.
Way down below on the river was a sloop that he owned that he was using in the early stages of leading a campaign to stop the likes of General Electric and other organizations from dumping toxins (some carcinogenic) into the river (which that day, despite its poisons, looked like 18th Century painting of the Rhine. Gorgeous!). It seems astonishing now to think of what we dumped into our public water, both as individuals and as institutions.
I generally disliked folk songs back then -- the lyrics seemed too sentimental and sometimes far too preachy and the tunes repetitive and clunky. I find them easier to take these days because I hear them as part of the broad flow of history. Or maybe I'm just getting hard of hearing....
Meanwhile, take a look at this segment of the very funny and sad movie The American Ruling Class. In it, Pete Seeger is walking, banjoing and singing down a road in what seems to be a very pastoral part of Greenwich, Conn., a capital of the sometimes rapacious capitalism that the old leftie hated. I think it's pretty funny, as is much of the movie, directed by John Kirby, produced by Libby Handros and with writer/editor Lewis Lapham as the master of ceremonies. He takes us to a lot of other celebrities commenting on American society in the years before the Great Crash of 2008.
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