As it Happened: The Archive Edition Activist and folk singer Pete Seeger
This is a c._b._c. Podcast good evening. I'm chris bowden all summer. We've been revisiting some of the more memorable interviews for more than half a century of as it happens this is as it happened the archive addition tonight in another installment of our as it happened back to the feature series. He shall overcome his only. The weapons were a banjo guitar an endless string of protest songs and even after he was blacklisted targeted by the f._b._i. And held in contempt of congress pete seeger eager refused to quit. That's my main purpose in life to persuade people that it's fund make music can fund to make up songs from nineteen ninety-five michael writes feature your interview with the late activist and founding father of the american folk music movement as it happened the archive addition radio that surrounds hate and forces it to surrender once when he wasn't busy singing pete seeger said a good song reminds us what we're fighting for which explains why so many good songs bring to mind pete seeger songs like if i had a hammer turn turn turn we shall overcome and where have all the flowers gone because mr seager who died in two 2014 spent the better part of his ninety four years doing those two things singing and fighting now with his fists he was a pacifist after all but his career as a performer like that of his friend and contemporary woody guthrie was shaped around his activism activism which came at great cost in the nineteen fifties he was is hauled before the house unamerican activities committee where he refused to answer questions about his political beliefs or affiliations he was held in contempt of congress and sentenced to jail a conviction that was eventually overturned but he was blacklisted from radio and tv would not appear again on network television until the late nineteen sixties. We'll by nineteen ninety-five. He was very welcome. Guest on the radio here on as it happens in a feature interview with michael enright. Mr seager made a surprising admission explaining why he viewed himself as conservative and he touched on two issues writ large across today's media landscape political correctness and fake news here here again is michael's feature interview with pete seeger. You were recently given the kennedy center award. One of the highest honors america can bestow so on its artists and i. I just wonder seeing you. There is here was a government watering you and yet it was the same government that tried to put you in jail for ten years. You were kept off radio and television in the united states. I guess the irony of all that crossed your mind. Bill of arnie's have to laugh. I was protected from my present situation normal life by being a radical people were scared to get in touch with now. People aren't scared to death in touch with me. I'm drowned in male of suffocated by honors and my wife and i look at each other and say how do we get out of this trap. Where you better go back to the blacklist days. Actually the blacklist is something that i've lived with all my life. My father was fired from a the job and the university of california because he felt that the first world war was an imperialist war and he felt more like a pacifist and end <hes> he got me into radical politics back in the dirty thirties and nineteen forty to believe woody guthrie the fellow who wrote this land is your land. He and i and a few others actually did get on network radio once the next day. The headline said comey folksingers tried to infiltrate radio and that was the last job we got it lasted up until the late sixties sees when you were booked on the smother. The smothers brothers show drive for about seventeen years. I couldn't get on network t._v. I did get on local t._v. I'd be seeing some college and knock knock on the door of the local stations. I'm singing at the college. Tonight could say a few words in between your plane some records or whatever and and they said oh yeah we remember goodnight. Irene come on and speak for three minutes and beyond my way a few minutes later. They'd get angry phone call. Why did you let that communist zone so on your airwaves that it was too late. I call it. Cultural guerrilla tactics tactics carried on for twenty or thirty years. What was it about your politics. You use the word radical radical means to go to the root of something what was it that made such a frightening specter for so many americans. There are a large number of people who when the russian russian russian revolution came along felt that this was going to be the beginning of the end or something and as you know u._s._a. Did not recognize the soviet the union for about fifteen years and even then when hitler came along a lot of people said oh this is the way to take care of the communist will build up hitler hitler and he'll go on attack styling and we'll finish them both off of course hitler pulled a dirty trick and started invading france and england and communist did the same thing as style pulled rug out from under him then signed a nonaggression pact said you're gonna sit him on me. I'll stick him on. You and i was foolish enough to go along with it. I was seeing peace songs. In the year of nineteen forty four zero. One three made a funny song. Why do you stand there in the reign. Why a bunch of <hes> students had gone down in the stood on the white house. Lawn and roosevelt gave a speech in the rain. It was a it was a very scolding speech. He said you're still wet behind the ears. <hes> you should know that <hes> we've got to help out britain and so on a woody wrote a funny song about it. I printed in my book. Oh they tell me they've got lands where they will not let you stand in the rain and ask for jobs upon the lawn. Thank god in the u._s._a. You can stand there every day but i would not guarantee they take you on. It was a it was a march asking for jobs jobs for youth and instead of spending money on war wanting jobs a youth. This has been a continual complaints. You know people will come. We got money for bombs and planes and guns but we don't have money for hospitals and schools and so on there are some people in some commentators in the u._s. Who who cents. It's an echo of the the blacklist times the mccarthy times now with conservative control of congress. <hes> people have lumped liberalism awesome in with the counterculture and said they're both dead. Do you sense what he used to call. An unpleasant irrational voice moving through the country again. It's been going on a long sometimes just a new tack a very clever attack might say and they picked on one of the big weakness of the communist party and picking out that phrase political correctness miss because the communist party did use that term and they just turned it upside down and fired it back on of now the way they handle title people who would like to get a sensible word in edgewise. They don't wanna know you can say anything you want. They just drown out. Do we do that in the media. Do you think convinced that it's a it's a bad habit of the media but when i meet people in the media who tells me look we're in business like you are. We have to sell newspapers. We have to <hes> get listeners and viewers were elsewhere out of business and i look them right in the eye and said yeah so does is cocaine. Would you sell that right and they usually silent and i answer. Tell me will you sell. Will you answer that question. Would you sell cocaine if they'd let you answer answer. These guys know that if they will allow they would sell anything that makes money and at the moment it would seem certainly an official america washington conservatism is selling and and selling big well <hes> the word conservatives joke to my father used to say the truth is a rabbit in bramble patch. All you can do circle around and say it's somewhere in there but the word conservatism israel been really turned upside down also. I'm basically a conservative myself. You know if i most people who call themselves conservatives. They'd like to turn the clock back to the days when there was no income tax. They'd like like to go back there conservative right. That's about the only thing that conservative about they. Don't mind coming into a town with a lot of bulldozers turning everything upside down me i i sincerely would like to turn the clock back to the days when people lived in small villages and we took care of each other life was shorter harder ardor dangerous but we took care of each other and we wouldn't be wondering as many of us are now if there is going to be a human race in one hundred years. It's it's not just the air is going to go in the water is going to go the forests will go. All sorts of things will go wrong i. I wonder if the seoul is going to go well. In many ways i think so has gone in countries like the usa when people know that there are starving people in the world and they say well okay. Let him watch out for themselves. I'm i i watch out for myself now. I got two cars when you said that. In an earlier time people lived in smaller communities and took care of one other they also sang to each other exactly i have to confess is another way. I'm conservative. I would love to see a world where people sitting at the kitchen table. Oh sing when they go on a journey. Whether it's walking or riding i like to see people make up songs as a matter of fact that's my main purpose in life to persuade people that it's fun to make music and fun to make up songs and i when they say well. I can't write a song that takes skill. I say do woody. Guthrie did he take over an old song and change a few words and before you know it he had new verse. I nephew done that for a few years. You find you can make up <hes> more than just a verse. You're listening to as it happened the archive addition. I'm chris how tonight as part of our back to the feature series an encore presentation of michael endroits nineteen ninety-five feature interview with the late activist and folksinger pete seeger zieger can can. I be pertinent enough to ask you if you have your banjo there. Oh ooh got banjo and guitar. All handy does is the banjos at the one with the inscription around the the bell. Yeah this will says this machine. <music> surrounds hate and forces it to surrender juice around us with something. People don't have much voice left. Can you bet tune under banjo anything at all my favorite to all end coal creek march and it comes from eastern tennessee one hundred years ago wondering just exactly one hundred years <music> <music> all <music> <music> trickled on a little mouse wonderful. That's wonderful. The the other night. I listened to an interview done by alan lomax with arlo guthrie <hes> way back when i was in his late twenties and listening to his voice choice and the way he talked and his experiences i can't hear those voices today and aside from yourself where those authentic doc american voices coming from in music today well. You won't hear them on the a._m. Radio you won't hear them on t._v. Much but they are all around around believe me there are now thousands for all. I know tens of thousands of people making up songs like woody did and some of them are great songs some imprinted in that little magazine sing out right <hes> comes out four times a year with about twenty songs in it and some of them get putting other little folk nick magazines here there many of them never get printed but they get put on a tape somewhere and when the singer sings at a coffee house they'll have copies piece of their tapes to sell. It's all around the world people have got the idea and it's a good idea that instead of listening to a speech that listen to a song and sometimes you don't have to have many words the young woman in the hudson valley where i live <hes> pat humphries by name and she attended a songwriting workshop and the leader of the workshops had pointed out you know some of the old spirituals just changed one word and you get a new verse so she made a perverse asong. We'll keep on walk in forward. We'll keep palm walk in full key. Walk-in skin for rude never turning back never turning back. We teach our neighbors coverage. We'll teach our neighbors coverage t- char- neighbors coverage never turning back never turning back and so on it can go on for a long time once you get a crowd singing this. It's like a spiritual song spread all around the english speaking world. Is that how you came to create. If i had a hammer and turn turn turn that kind of thing or lee hays use the son of a methodist preacher in arkansas and he knew these old songs bride and he's the one who made up the words if i had a hammer sent him to me in january nineteen forty nine peat. Can you put a tune to this. I put a tune but it wasn't and is good at tune as it might have been. Some people still seeing it the way i wrote it. Oh this land but about eight nine nine years later a younger bunch of singers peter paul and mary changed my tune of it and the song went around the world absolute been recorded audited by dozens of people and it's played in many languages and many countries. You know that that's what pays taxes now i could. I wouldn't need during a penny. That song manages to pay my insurance taxes every year. I did get a little nervous when trini lopez recorded. Oh oh well l. There's always a dangerous somebody will make a happy go lucky song out of it and they can try but it's hard to johnny cash song just the first three verses. He didn't sing the last same saying. It's the hammer of justice. It's the bill of freedom song about love between mabuza sisters what i do is i guess a crowd singing. It and i'm most proud that i have not sung this song. In twenty years. All i do is sing the first line and from there on i line out the him as they used to same jerk. I say hamr justice basing that line. Everybody knows the word same with where have all the flowers gone and turn turn turn up. I'll give the words to audience and they'll sing it. If there's anybody listening who's heard me in the last few years. They'll know that i usually sing with my grandson. Who's got a good voice and i'm the fella who lines out the him just a word or two about the weavers. Here's was was weavers your idea or how did how did all of that come to be. Actually i think it was lee hays kind of genius <hes>. He wanted to do things right. Doggone it if he couldn't do it right. He didn't want to do a tall. I thought he was cantankerous all his life but now he's dead. I'm <music>. I'm convinced he was kind of a genius and he was based in the almanac singers that sang together before world war two woody guthrie millard lamb pell and best hawes sis cunningham lee and me and others we sang for trade unions labor unions back in nineteen forty one. I'm forty-two after the war. I was raising a family would he was raising a family. We only got together occasionally but lee said pete don't inch what would you think of forming a group which would actually perish the thought rehearse and i- reluctantly agreed arlo usually kids me says pete's always carson's people. Don't rehearse too much but we did. Rehearse the the main thing we found a glorious alto singer named ronnie gilbert travelers still singing around. She's doing we. We talked to her. She was doing a one woman. Show on mother harris. I'm other general at the jones where did fred helderman come on will he like ronnie was kind of a teenager in new york when he heard this country music but he fell l. in love with it and after he got out of the u._s. coastguard in the forties he came around to sing the hoop nannies and he had a real a good voice and he was a sharp musician so fred ronnie leeann me formed <hes> we were about to split up the we. He hadn't been able to get any jobs union. This thought we are bunch of lefties and didn't want to have anything to do with us but i was dissatisfied singing on my own. I knew there's some songs that are soloist literally cannot sing right saints. Go marching in. You need that answer back over in the saints over the saints. Go marching in go marching. I said i want to sing with a group and as a last desperate resort fate worse i than death i said let's get a job at a nightclub. I don't drink you. Don't smoke. Don't like staying up late but i went to a little dive in greenwich. Village called the village elhage vanguard. I'd want sung there on my own a couple of weeks. I went back to max gordon. Would you hire a quartet. He says no. I don't want to quote quote. That'll hire you. I said well you paid me all of two hundred dollars a week to sing for you. Would you take a quartet if they only charged you two hundred week it was low. Pray even then he laughed. He says well. I guess i can't turn that down so we started working for max gordon two hundred a week and oh free hamburg's about a month later he came in and saw the size of the hamburg's we were making and how many of them were eaten every night. He said let's make that two hundred and fifty dollars a week but no more free hamburg's and then incomes a guy who says i'm gordon jenkins. I work at decca records. I think you're wonderful and he got us up there for an audition. I didn't know who jenkins was. I don't listen to pop music. Don't don't listen now and don't didn't listen then but people say oh. He's a important man in the music business well. The audition did not take place as the head of decca records new me. He knew i was a lefty took. One look is all these guys aren't commercial. He walked out refuse to stay for the audition and everybody else was embarrassed and drifted away except gordon. Gordon jenkins whispered in my ear says i'll get to on mine. Accession couldn't tell him who to hire so there was gordon jenkins orchestra with the weavers singing irene good night and that was it that it was the biggest selling record good since world war two stayed up number one week after week after week after week after week. After week. I was in an a diner. Somebody said turn earn neck jukebox off. I've heard that song fifty times today a lot of a lot of what the weavers were about had come out of a kind of collective spirit in the u._s. and it had to do with hope and fear and unions and capital and so on does that spirit exist today in the u._s. I'm thinking in november. What thirty seven percent of the people voted i mean. Does anybody care anymore. Ha ha that's the key what with those other sixty percent doing a lot of them are like a singer utah phillips do know him yeah wonderful thing. He goes around a little button saying don't vote it. Just encourages origin them. I don't know maybe he's right but i see the big story since the nineteen sixties is something the media doesn't quite know what to do with because no one big story. It's many many small stories. You don't find big marches in washington anymore. You're that's right what you find lots of little things going on in every community in the country and i bet it's going on in canada too and i'm now quite convinced convinced that if there's a world here in one hundred years it's going to be saved not by anyone big organization of any sort no big political group no big church no big movement. It's going to be saved by millions upon millions upon millions of little organizations it just might be jesus jeremiah and mohammed and buddha and a lot of other people talked about this might come true. We might start treating each other decently because we have to. If we don't treat each other decently they will be no human race. I thank you so much for talking talking to us tonight. It's a great pleasure. Could you play something just here at the end will parse guitar called living in the country and as people can play much better naidoo. Leo cocky does this at lightning speed. I pay kind of medium slow and my grandson unusually. Oh you'd be music plays an electric guitars along with me nice as little melody which i used to whistle. I call it living in the country. Thank you so much for being with us. <music> <music> <music> uh <music> and <hes> thanks thanks so much fi folk singer and activist pete seeger speaking with michael enright on as it happens in nineteen ninety five. Mr seager died in twenty fourteen as it happens last spoke with mr seager in two thousand and eight on the death of another folk legend odeta homes. Here's a clip of his conversation with carol. Hello mr seager. Can i tell you first of all. This is a great honor to speak to you. Well you find my brain is going and my usual answer. When people say how are you i say if i could remember i yeah well. You have influenced so many people through your music and we appreciate it very much but we are calling in you to get your response to the news about odeta homes or remember her with me. <hes> a great big crowd in front of us in central park several thousand people and <hes> in the distance you could hear noises of traffic but at our songs transported our listeners to distant places distant times take this hammer cavalry every touma captain take this hammer writ to wake up to take this carrie touma captain tell them go on telecom gaw pete seeger speaking and singing to carol in december two two thousand eight. That's it for this episode of as it happened the archive edition produced by kevin ball with help from technician rental gonzalves and keith art in radio archives. We posted the episodes on the as it happens website. Just follow the link to as it happened at at the top of the page and we'll be back again next friday with another episode of as it happened the archive addition as it happens will of course be back on monday. I'm chris how good <music> for more c._b._c. Podcasts go to c._b._c. Dot c._a. Slash podcasts.