Posts Tagged ‘Woody Guthrie’

The man who made the world sing – Pete Seeger

January 30, 2014

Nehru said on Gandhi’s death “the light has gone out of our lives” and then in the course of his speech, delivered ex tempore, he added  ” The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years.”

I’ve similar thoughts, with Pete Seeger “Music has gone out” (and no it’s not an exaggeration) and yet what he sang, remains forever, the music that struck an emotional chord with millions.

I woke up to the sad news of Pete’s demise and just now I discover that he passed away on 27th and I came to know it this morning, the 29th. I think I was waiting for this news to come. In his last performance, on his B’day along with Bruce Springsteen, he looked extremely frail, but what wasn’t missing was his enthusiasm to ensure that people sang along.

I am an imbecile to all matters music, but I beg to say that I haven’t come across anyone like Pete, who unfailingly & unconditionally made people sing along. At his concert in Melbourne, while singing “Down by the Riverside” he said something like “Sing along, don’t worry about the melody” (I am trying hard to locate that video on youtube but can’t). Guantanamera, a beautiful spanish song, and a supposed national anthem of Cuba, was popularized by Peter. He made his audience sing Guantanamera, notwithstanding the fact that hardly anyone spoke Spanish.

It’s so romantic to listen when Pete recalls his days, crisscrossing the States, along with Woody Guthrie, hitch-hiking on every possible mode of transport and picking up America’s folk music all along.

Pete’s joy didn’t lie in his audience listening intently to him, his joy laid in making people sing with him. For other singers, it’s clichéd to say “I grew listening to XYZ” but for Pete it can be safely said “One grew singing along with Pete”. It would be sacrilegious to not sing along! And very sadly, I discovered Pete exactly 5 years before he left us. I am an ordinary mortal but this one regret I’d carry for my life that I didn’t get to meet this great soul. He looked so charmingly affable. Never one to touch alcohol or resort to swear words, he was admirable in his casual bearing.

Pete sang protest music, and as is often the case, today’s protesters are tomorrow’s politicians. But despite Pete’s strong political opinion, he never ever tried to dabble in politics, other than the membership of Communist Party of America, which killed his music career in the days of Mccarthyism. But then Pete was never in it for money, he survived those harsh times, and went on to become the greatest folk music/protest music icon that America has ever had.

This world is surely a lesser place without his presence. Never in my life I’ve felt a void at passing away of a public figure. In fact I am crossed at not being able to put down my feelings into words and youtube isn’t letting me watch my favorite Pete’s videos. When I first came to know of Pete I was overwhelmed with emotions, tonight I’m overwhelmed with numbness.

Hope the world does change for better to have Pete rest in peace. Long Live Pete Seeger and his music!

This Land is Your Land (From Brahmaputra to Gulf of Cambay (Khambhat))

January 24, 2010

The other day I stumped on this song “This land is your Land” by Woody Guthrie and I came to know of this song for it was Obama’s campaign song. And the first version of this song as I heard it is on the following link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5KnYADCSms&feature=related  and a clearer version is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE4H0k8TDgw&feature=related . It was was sung on Obama’s inauguration in front of a crowd of 400, 000 people, all standing in wintry freezing chill of Washington DC. I would not dwell on the point on how Obama administration is doing now, but his advent was promising. Anyway, what really struck me was, of course the song, but also the majestic scene of all singing together.

The background goes somewhat like this, when Woody wrote and sang, only 1000 thousand records were sold, the song was never played on radio, nor sold on music stores but then somebody heard it and included it in school text book and in matter of few years every school was signing this song. The genesis of the song lie in biblical and American folk music but the lyrics are so true for a nation like ours.

I heard it once and I couldn’t help it hearing over and over again and at the same time I was hopelessly wondering that can India ever have a scene like the one depicted in this video. From the moment I heard it I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by emotions. It only made me find out more about this song and I came to know about Pete Seeger (the lead singer), an avowed communist in capitalist America. I am not a communist and neither do I believe communism can do any good to India but at the same time I cannot deny that in many ways it is the voice of the masses. Pete is over 90 and as Bruce rightly described him “The Father of American Folk Music.” Pete has traveled the US from coast to coast, lived with people in different places, understood their culture their folk traditions and inculcated what he learned from them, in this songs. He is also described as the person who has been making America sing. In most of his shows he insists and, I wouldn’t be wrong to say, extols people to sing along with him. His India connection is that he is the one who made “We shall overcome” famous world over which was later translated in Hindi as “Hum Honge Kamyaab.” I would suggest to hear this first http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PIPUbQ4lA4 which gives an interesting anecdote of how the song evolved. After that you can hear to the version with which , we are all familiar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhnPVP23rzo .

If one listens to his song then it is not difficult to realize that the sentiments expressed by him are universally relevant and no wonder I could connect with it. India has got great many singers and with all due respect to our singers, I would love to find out one who has made India sing for one cause shared by all.

There was this interesting incident ( Ref http://cfs.osu.edu/activities/pastActivities/ProtestMusicAsResponsibleCitizenship/seeger.htm ) when he visited a village in Bengal, a guy standing outside his mud house recognized Pete, the guy went inside came out with his daughter in his arms and his family and sung for Pete the Bengali version of We Shall Overcome and another very relevant song of Pete “What did you learn in School” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VucczIg98Gw&feature=related ).

His song “Bring ’em Home” stands at somewhat contrast with what I have strongly stood for so long, that is utmost respect for Military but still this song speaks nothing but common sense. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4-w2FYIJbw

BEcause of his association with Communist Parties in America, Pete was banned from singing on Radios and TV Shows. NEvertheless he continued signing with School Kids (and he later said that Singing with High School Students has been the most satisfying experience). He gave his voice to the Civil Rights movement and it is to his credit that We Shall Overcome was adopted in Civil Rights Movement song. Here is a video in which a Civil Rights activist admits that Pete brought the sense of unity among the members of the movement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh0elZi0KG4 .

India is abound with Social Issues and needs Pan India singers who can make socially relevant songs and make this nation sing. Bruce springsteen is another singer with whom one can identify different phases of one’s life if one listens and understands those songs. The country is only seeing the widening of gap between Haves and Have Not. Can we make the affluent ones think about this lesser privileged India?

The title song was written by Woody, another communist, and the song went on to be so popular that different versions of the song were adopted by other nations viz. Canada, UK, Ireland, Sweden and more. In fact there was a rendition of this song suited to Indian version (From Brahmaputra to Gulf of Cambay) sung by Susmit Bose, when Pete visited India. I cannot find that song anywhere but here is a mention of it (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/article652997.ece) . This is an evidence that the song has a universal theme and today when India is deeply divided, though India has always been, by caste, religion, region, we need a song like to put back the feelings among Indians that this is one land that equally belongs to every Indian and not to demagogues or divisive figures.   India is a socialist country by constitution and I would say that today USA is a socialist country by culture. Unlike India, USA is truly a melting pot where everyone is accorded the same human dignity and respect.

Since hearing these songs, reading about Pete and Woody, I have been having mixed emotions inside and thought the best way was to put my thoughts here and just try and reach out to the like minded ones. Any takers?

There is a movement going around nominating Pete for a Noble Peace Prize. I am sure he deserves it more than Yasser Arafat (I am all for The Palestinian cause but not the means).