FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pete Seeger Before Pete Seeger

by CLANCY SIGAL

There are all sorts of ways to celebrate the life of Pete Seeger, but the one I prefer is a deliberately forgotten and suppressed album, “Songs for John Doe”.

Much of his life Pete was hounded by rightwing blacklisters, but the John Doe songs were kept under lock and key by the left.

The John Doe album, by the Almanac Singers (who later morphed into the gentler, more mainstream Weavers of “Goodnight Irene” Top Ten fame), was released in spring 1941 before Pearl Harbor.  Lyrics by Pete and Millard Lampell, it reflected the Communist left’s antiwar “isolationist” pacifism at a time when Hitler had invaded western Europe but not yet Russia.  It was the Party line at the time.  These wonderful, Almanac_Singers_Johndoetrenchant songs are incredibly up to date now, but suddenly were out of sync when on June 22, 1941 Hitler blitzkrieged Stalin and the line changed.

Let Bess Lomax, an Almanac singer, tell it: “The Almanacs… were inevitably affected by the intense national debate between the “warmongers” and the “isolationists”…Before every booking we had to decide: were we going to sing some of our hardest-hitting and most eloquent songs, all of which were antiwar, and if we weren’t, what would we sing anyway? … Woody Guthrie wrote a song that mournfully stated: “I started out to write a song to the entire population / But no sooner than I got the words down, here come a brand new situation”.

Poor Woody, poor Bess, caught up in the slipstream of history and the CP’s ever-shifting line.

On the other hand, there were the John Doe songs themselves which I heartily sang until I was dragged before the leftwing bishops and commanded to shut my mouf  because FDR’s “President New Deal” had changed to “President Win the War.”

Overnight neither for love nor money could you find a trace of John Doe in any radical book or record store.

So let’s remember Pete before he became America’s folkie grandfather welcomed to the White House by presidents.

“Oh, Franklin Roosevelt

Told the people how he felt

‘I hate war, so does Eleanor

But we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.”

Or

“Will you go to the war, Billy boy, Billy boy?

Will you go to the war, charmin’ Billy?

It’s a long ways away, they are dying every day.

He’s a young boy and cannot leave his mother.

 

Can you use a bayonet, Billy boy, Billy boy?

Can you use a bayonet, charmin’ Billy?

No, I haven’t got the skill to murder and to kill…

 

Don’t you want a silver medal, Billy boy, Billy boy?

Don’t you want a silver medal, charmin’ Billy?

No desire do I feel to defend Republic Steel…

Don’t you want to see the world, Billy boy, Billy boy?

Don’t you want to see the world, charmin’ Billy?

No, it wouldn’t be much thrill to die for Dupont in Brazil…

Girls would like your uniform, Billy boy, Billy boy.

Girls would like your uniform, charmin’ Billy.

They wouldn’t get much chance to love me with six feet of earth above me…”

R.I.P. Pete.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

 

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail