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Saint Pete

It’s been “all Pete Seeger, all the time” on my local PBS stations during their current fund-raising drives.  Paeans to the man, the musician, the legend.  And it’s all a bunch of crap.

Pete Seeger was a Stalinist stooge.  He apologized for that a while back, which is just fine.  But apologies don’t change the past.  Watching bits and pieces of the documentaries and concerts on PBS, I noticed that while much attention was paid to criticisms of the musician, none at all was paid to the substance of those criticisms.  Evil conservatives were apparently intent on silencing Pete Seeger, man of the people, simply because he spoke for the “little guy.”

But was he ever a man of the people?  Here’s some of the lyric to one of his most popular songs, Little Boxes*:

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

If that sounds like the scion of a wealthy family sneering at anyone who doesn’t live in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, that’s because it is.  Pete Seeger, you see, attended private boarding schools in Connecticut before attending Harvard University.

Okay, so he despises middle class enclaves like Levittown but, like all good Communists, he has genuine sympathy for poor and oppressed people, right?

Not on your life.  Seeger’s most lucrative song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight,  was written and first performed by some of the poorest, most oppressed people he could have found, as described by Mark Steyn and quoted by blogger The Bovian Bloviator:

[The Lion Sleeps Tonight] is a tune that has reaped many millions for many people save for the song’s creator, a black South African named Solomon Linda who recorded it in Johannesburg in 1939. The song, “Mbube” (“The Lion”) was a hit but alas, Linda sold the rights to his publisher, Gallo Music, for the equivalent of 87 cents and aside from whatever one-time recording fee he received, that’s all the money he ever made on that ditty. He died in 1962 in Soweto after a grinding life of menial labor and poverty.

[From Mark Steyn’s “Song of the Week” column:]

 “A few years after Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds made their hit record, it came to the notice of Pete Seeger, on the prowl for yet more authentic traditional vernacular folk music for the Weavers. He misheard “Mbube” and transcribed it as “Wimoweh”. That’s a great insight into the “authenticity” of the folk boom: the most famous Zulu word on the planet was invented by a New York socialist in 1951. Still, Seeger was chanting all the way to the bank . . .

“The child of wealthy New York radicals, Seeger has always been avowedly anti-capitalist. Yet his publisher had a deal with Gallo Music: they snaffled up the rights to “Mbube” cheap and in return sub-licensed to Gallo the South African and Rhodesian rights to “Wimoweh”. And Seeger knew Solomon Linda was the composer. He says now that back in the Fifties he instructed his publishers to give his royalties from the song to Linda, and he was shocked, shocked to discover decades later that they hadn’t in fact been doing so. But it never occurred to him, as an unworldly anti-capitalist, to check his royalty statements. It was, on his part, supposedly a sin of omission. Not everyone can plead the same accidental oversight. Having persuaded Linda to sign away his copyright, the relevant parties made sure to slide some forms in front of his illiterate widow in 1982 and his daughters some years later to make sure the appropriation paperwork was kept in order.

So, ladies and gentleman, I give you the real Pete Seeger, patron saint of leftists and other hypocrites.


*UPDATE/CORRECTION: While Pete Seeger’s version of “Little Boxes” popularized the song, it was actually written by Malvina Reynolds, a California commie.  While Seeger attended Harvard, Reynolds had to settle for a doctorate from UC Berkley.  She also played the character “Kate” on Sesame Street.  (Thanks again, PBS!)

Thank you to Ron Radosh, for pointing out my error.  Mr. Radosh has written several fine books, including A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth, and Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left.

28 comments to Saint Pete

  • Ya gotta love the semi-annual, tri-monthly, bi-weekly, every other day PBS “begathons.” That’s the only time they approach having anything worth watching.

    • That’s weird, Fritz. Maybe your stations out there are different than New York/New England stations, but that’s the only time I can’t find anything on PBS. It’s all concerts all the time, mostly of the “Peter Paul & Mary” variety.

      They do show the occasional “Who” or “Jethro Tull” concert, though.

    • Matt Helm

      They used to use those begathons to show their best stuff, so people would want to donate. Now it’s all crapola. At least on Miami’s PBS. The only good shows I get from them are This Old House and No’m Abrams’ Old Yankee Workshop. Then there’s Mystery, and that’s it.

      • I like quite a few Britcoms, and nature documentaries. (Although I turn the channel in disgust every time they start with the human-bashing or anthropomorphism, which is frequently.)

        Norm Abrams rocks!

        • Matt Helm

          We don’t get any Britcoms on ours. But we did have a cooking show for blind people. No lie. Of course, it didn’t last long.

          • Matt Helm

            Just curious Mike, when you got cable and got the Boston stations, was Creature Double Feature still on channel 56 on Saturdays?

          • A cooking show for the blind? How… Never mind.

            In the early days of Cablevision, they were hungry for content, I guess. We had one station that split the day up, and got TV38 in the evening and a station of Scranton/Wilkesbarre (sp?) Pennsylvania during the day, for some reason.

            So, we never got Ch. 56.

          • Matt Helm

            The show was called Cooking Without Looking. It sounds like a scheme Ralph Kramden would come up with on a Lost Honeymooners episode. I can see it now …

            “But Alice, you just gotta give me the money! There aren’t any cooking shows for the blind. We’re bound to make a fortune!”

            “The answer is NO, Ralph. NO! Who ever heard of a ridiculous idea like that?”

            “Look Mrs. Wisenheimer, the blind gotta eat don’t they? Who’s going to cook for the blind?”

            “Who’s going to cook for the blind, Ralph? Who’s going to cook for the blind? I’ll tell you who’s going to cook for the blind. I will. I already do, because you don’t even look at your food when you eat, you just shove it in.”

            “Oh, I’d like to belt you. You’re a riot Alice! A real riot!”

          • Matt Helm

            Too bad you didn’t get 56, Mike. Creature Double Feature was the balls if you like everything horror or sci-fi from American classic B movies, to Japanese rubber suit movies.

  • On. The. Nose.

    I love Ronald Radosh’s story of how Seeger and Woody Guthrie put together an antiwar song album, because Stalin had a mutual non-aggression pact with Hitler. Then Hitler broke the pact, and they had to quickly re-call the first album, destroy most of the copies, and come up with a pro-war album. Men of principle, they were.

    “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is an awesome song, though.

  • Bruce Springsteen ain’t got shit on his idol Seeger!

    Me, I need some Nine Tonight…

  • Mr Sideous

    As one who grew up with folk music, it was really really hard for me to realize that not only Seeger, but most of those people were batsh*t communists. That hit me hard when I was reading one of Seeger’s books, and he referred to one of the most evil men of the century as “Uncle Ho.” I’m still reeling from that. Here I thought he was just some eccentric guy who dug roots music and built his own cabin up in the hills. Oh, but WHY is he doing this…
    Like most of these clowns, he renounced the excesses of Stalinism. In their tortured world view, Uncle Joe took the socialist train off the tracks. But the train itself is still good.
    I remember watching Moyer’s interview with Seeger. They both laughed when Moyers read an article asking if Seeger had “given up the ghost”. Then he says he wants “to live in a world with no millionaires”. My ex turned to me and said “Nothing wrong with that”. Of course I had to explain to her what he was really saying, and what it all implied. Speaking in code, if you will.

  • […] here to read the rest: » Saint Pete :antiwar-song, broke-the-pact, copies, destroy-most, gallo, his-publisher, hitler-then, missing, […]

  • Scott M.

    Great dialogue,Matt…”Guess you’re partially blind,Ralph…how long has it been since you saw your feet?”

  • Matt Helm

    I wish I came up with your line, Scott.

  • Ron Radosh

    I appreciate the kudos, but you got one thing wrong. Seeger made “Little Boxes” popular, but the song was written by the California commie, the late Malvina Reynolds. (yes, a truly vile sneering dittie.)
    Steyn got his information from a long article in “Rolling Stone” a few years ago, written by a brilliant and anti-radical South African journalist, whose name momentarily escapes me.
    As for Seeger saying he wants a world without millionaires, he might start with himself and give away his money—since he has been one for a long, long time.
    Ron Radosh

    • Thank you for the correction, Mr. Radosh. I’ll correct the post. I knew next to nothing about Pete Seeger before seeing those PBS specials (to be honest, I’d often get his name confused with rocker Bob Seger!) but it was hearing that song that told me something was very wrong with this man, and caused me to try to learn something about him.

      If you have any memories about Seeger or Woody Guthrie you’d like to share, I’m sure we’d all like to hear them.

      Your book on the Rosenbergs was a real eye-opener for me, by the way.

  • Mr Sideous

    I remember a few years ago was the 50th anniversary of the execution of the Rosenbergs. So the usual suspects got together to have a concert to celebrate how wrong it all was. Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, you get the idea. This was such an upside down moment: To realize that the fact those two were traitors to the country didn’t matter, because since they were “politically correct” they obviously were working for something bigger and better, so they are forgiven.
    I became a little greyer, a little harder that day. The true nature of PC.

  • Stephanie

    Hey Mr. Radosh! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Trotsky R. Lenin

    I’m glad that I accidentally ran into your right wing web site. Thanks to Pete Seeger’s name being picked up by Google News etc. Pete Seeger, in time, like many radicals of his generation learned about Stalin. Most people, frightened by the witch hunt, used that as an excuse during the McCarthy time to switch sides. Pete didn’t he simply abandoned Stalinism and the Communist Party as socially and politically useless. The above misinformed and rude article about Pete didn’t raise my hackles at all because, as a living and practicing Bolshevik, I have some ideas about what happens to scumbags like you guys when we win. Since the North American capitalist economy is entirely built on mythology, i.e. the mortgage crisis and is still “shaky” as hell, and with the beginnings of an active left again i.e. the occupations, our chances have significantly improved. I’m with Pete, Stalin was a dirtball and he screwed up the whole idea, he was a murderous and out of control bureaucrat that tried to simplify the transition by simply shooting folks like you. I’m of the school that doesn’t unnecessarily shoot anybody. I want to give you guys all the gold and diamonds you can carry and whatever signs of prestige and wealth you need to make yourselves happy. I think you guys need to live in a society like that and since real Bolshevism is about making people happy, I will do my best to make sure you’re accommodated. I believe that you need to have your own country where you can cheat and steal and exploit each other and I think that you should all establish a new country called Baffinia which would be on Baffin Island. You could have the whole place to yourselves. Food might be a problem but toilet handles made of gold should be easy. Please add a Russian accent to my final line. “Come The Revolution”. Actually I would add a Bronx accent because eventually the American working class is going to wipe the floor with youb useless and stupid jerks.

    • Ahhhh, name-calling. That’s always effective in getting someone to validate everything else you wrote, right, comrade?

    • Because I know any mention of the Gipper usually sets any fan of the old-time evil empire into brain-implosion mode, one more for Trotsky R. Lenin …

      “We are a nation that has a government — not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. … Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.” –Ronald Reagan

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