In Defense of Pete Seeger

Reason‘s Nick Gillepsie isn’t happy about Pete Seeger‘s participation in yesterday’s We Are One inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, writing about Seeger’s Marxist past and initial opposition to American engagement in World War II. (An erroneous position, I might add, held on both the left and the right at the time, including by some in Congress). Seeger changed his mind when the Soviet Union was invaded. Of course, as a libertarian, Gillepsie takes offense at this particular verse from the song Seeger and Bruce Springsteen performed yesterday, Woodie Guthrie‘s “This Land is Your Land:”

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there. And that sign said – private property. But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin! Now that side was made for you and me!

I’m going to defend Pete Seeger, and not just because I think his music is classic — how can you not love “If I Had a Hammer?” It probably won’t shock you to learn that I attended Jewish sleep-away camp in the Catskills for several summers as a kid. This was not fancy camp with horseback riding and Olympic-sized swimming pools. It was more like hippie camp, with daily guitar sing-alongs and mandatory early morning swimming in a frigid lake. Every Saturday afternoon counselors led us on hikes into the woods, and on one such trip, a group got lost. About 20 pre-pubescent campers and their terrified teenage counselors wandered right onto the private property of American folk music legend Pete Seeger, who invited everybody in, served the kids cookies and milk, and played some guitar for them. The camp sent vans to Seeger’s house to pick the kids up, and when they returned that evening, they were just delighted with their adventure. Later in the summer, Seeger visited camp to perform for us, something he did every year.

So yeah. Pete Seeger’s politics may not always have been the most sophisticated, but his music is wonderful and he lives out his ideals. As you can see from the video above, he certainly looked thrilled yesterday to be participating, at the age of 89, in the inauguration of the nation’s first black president.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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