Friday, September 25, 2009

I nearly missed it

Somehow I lost a day. I went around all day Wednesday thinking it was Thursday. I was getting ready to spend the weekend in town for the Deep Roots Music Fest, which starts on Friday afternoon. Well, actually on Thursday evening but I am not particularly interested in the Thursday evening concert. Anyway, around 5.30pm I was thinking about getting supper and then somehow I remembered that the Pete Seeger movie was scheduled for Wednesday night and I really wanted to see it, and how could I have possibly missed that? I simply did not remember having made the decision to skip it and couldn't imagine that I had forgotten it. Then and only then did it cross my mind that maybe today was Wednesday and I hadn't missed it after all. I had to check a calendar and then the date on my computer!

Well the film started at 7pm and it is a good half hour drive---if not more---into town, and I hadn't had supper yet. So it was a mad scramble to get it together. As well, I had forgotten about the road construction and ended up waiting an extra 15 minutes to get through the construction area, so I arrived at the theatre just as they were shutting the door.

The Acadia Cinema is now called the Al Whittle Theatre, in honour of its former manager. It was bought by the Acadia Cinema Co-op, and now contains the Just Us Cafe at the front and the theatre at the back where the Fundy Film Society shows feature films on Sundays and documentaries on Wednesday, most of them from the Toronto International Film Festival. This Wednesday, in honour of the upcoming Deep Roots Music Fest, the documentary was Pete Seeger: the Power of Song.

The film itself was wonderful, lots of Seeger music, and historical footage. Interviews with him, his sister Peggy and brother Charlie, and also with his son, daughters and grandsons. Photos from the family album and old footage of protests he participated in and musical groups he belonged to. Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen and others had stuff to say about him. It was a very interesting history of "the Movement" and that whole time period, from the '30s right through to now.

I learned a few things. One was that Seeger was subpoenaed by the HUAC in the early '50s and he refused to answer their questions about his dealings with the Communist Party (he had been a member). He said he had a right to his opinions and a right to keep his opinions to himself if he so desired. As a result he was blacklisted, and so were the Weavers, the band he played with. He could not work as a musician anywhere. Except, and I think this is really funny, nobody minded him singing to kids. So that's what he did, in the '50s he made the rounds of summer camps and schools and sang to kids. Now what kids would those be? Why they'd be us, the early Baby Boomers, that's who. And those kids grew up and went to college in the '60s, and guess who they invited to come sing to them in college? The Weavers regrouped and became big again, in spite of being blacklisted by all the TV and radio networks.

Then the Smothers Brothers (remember them?) stuck their skinny necks way out and invited him to their TV show, and he came and sang on TV. Only, the network that carried the Smothers Brothers cut one of his songs, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", a Vietnam protest song. The Smothers Brothers cried Foul! over that and there was another big fuss, and they put the song back in.

Another thing I learned, and this was something Pete described, was about the union movement. HUAC was out to root out any leftism ("Communism") it could find, and the unions were of course rife with it, particularly after the Dirty Thirties. So sometime in the '50s a deal was cut whereby the unions could survive but they had to remove all their left-leaning leaders. And that, according to Pete, was pretty much the end of the unions as a force for reform. The "lefties" were all the big organizers and removing them pretty much de-fanged the union movement. Which is why the unions of today are hardly on the forefront of social change, the way they used to be.

Seeger has lived a very long life, he rode the rails with Arlo's Dad Woody in the '30s, he served in WW II, he participated in union strikes, the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests, and more recently Iraq war protests and the movement to clean up the Hudson River. He had this grand idea to build a ship to sail up and down the Hudson River and sing to people and get them singing and cleaning up the river, and that's what he did and that's what happened. They cleaned it up. His daughter said that when she was little he promised that one day she would be able to swim in the Hudson, and he kept that promise. To her huge amazement.

The film started with Seeger singing a protest song and getting the audience to sing along with him. At first you hear only his voice. He stares out into the audience and says, "I can't hear you", and gradually as the song goes on you can start to hear the audience singing. At the end you can't hear Seeger at all, the audience is singing so loud. And that is what he does, he gets people to sing. Once he made a sour face and said, Some of you look like this, you've been in Washington (DC) too long! And they laugh and start to sing.

He talked about meeting Martin Luther King and singing We Shall Overcome to him. He said, King talked about how you can't chase out darkness with darkness, you have to do it with light. You can't chase out hate with hate, you have to do it with love. You can murder the hater, but you can't murder hate.

The film ended with a song about bringing the soldiers home. Bring them all home, let them practice on their fancy high tech weapons at home. Once he was invited to visit North Vietnam during the Vietnam war and he went. When he came back he continued to sing war protest songs and talk about what wonderful people the Vietnamese are and how they just want peace. One time a Vietnam vet showed up at a concert with the intention of killing him. Seeger's wife Toshi told Pete, You have to talk to him, so he did. They had a long conversation and in the end the vet cried and said he was glad he hadn't killed him.

The story of Pete Seeger is amazing and inspirational, it really is. He sings occasionally now with one of his grandsons, and the grandson says it doesn't matter that Pete has lost his voice, he gets everyone around him to sing. Just seeing him standing there with his banjo or guitar saying the words gets people going.

3 comments:

Steven said...

Thanks! Netflix has the film and it's now at the top of my list of DVD's to be delivered...

20th Century Woman said...

I look forward to seeing that film. reat post.

Barbara Anne said...

I look forward to this movie. Ta!!

I nearly missed today with a power outage due to a storm and an alarm clock that missed it's cue. The sleep was nice as was the rain!

Hugs!