Monday, June 17, 2013

Quotations From Pete Seeger: On The `Folk Music Revival'

In a letter that he wrote to Don West in the 1960s that was recently published in a book that Rob Rosenthal and Sam Rosenthal edited, Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, Pete Seeger made the following critique of the post-1960s "Folk Music Revival" in the USA and elsewhere:

"...The whole character and definition of the word `folk music' is being warped by the commercial image of the solo professional performer and the publicity surrounding (him or her)--and I think that you are right that magazines such as Sing Out are consciously or unconsiously contributing to this bad state of affairs by continually boosting the names of performers in articles rather than talking about the music and the unknown people who have created it and kept it alive.

"...In our present commercial system the star syndrome is the regular thing and I believe among the biggest victims of it are the so-called stars themselves. I know that I feel a victim of it personally because for 10 years I have tried to persuade Sing Out to play down my name, but it keeps popping up in every issue. I keep sending letters to publishing companies and record companies, but the basic facts of economic life keep running against me and there goes my name up in huge letters. I consented to a normal interview with the Christian Science Monitor and suddenly see a headline, `A Folk Hero Is Born.' What are you going to do about this kind of shit? I can tell you for sure that many times I've thought of quitting the whole music business because of it..."

In a March 25, 1986 letter that was recently published in the same book, Seeger also wrote the following:

"...In the long run what the human race needs in the way of music is the ability and the confidence to sing a song, whether it is at the fireside, bedside, tableside, workside, sidewalk side, or anywhere side without having to think of it as a `performance.' And none of the `folk revivals' in any country nor any festivals, magazines, recordings that I know of have really attacked the problem and made much headway in solving it...Music seems still to be in hock to the experts, and most of the millions listen..."

And in a December 20, 1986 letter that was also recently published in Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, Pete also wrote the following:

"What I wanted to do was try and get rank-and-file people singing again, whether parent singing to children or workers singing on the job or friends harmonizing in a car as they drove down the highway. But the prevalence of loudspeakers has defeated me and a lot of others and in the end our `Revival of Folk Music' seemed more like simply starting up another minor branch of the pop music business, especially appealing to middle-class whites..."

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