Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Pete Seeger or Philip Johnson?

A commentator on my recent post about Philip Johnson’s Glass House asks: “Can we enjoy the art and ignore the politics?” This contentions reader compares Johnson’s support of Nazism with the political leanings of folksinger Pete Seeger, who, during the early 1940′s, was called “Stalin’s songbird” by critics of his politics (his political views have raised the ire of some recent commentators, too).

Unlike Johnson, Pete Seeger explicitly apologized for his political past, repenting, in a 1972 memoir, for “not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader.” Seeger joined the American Communist party circa 1940 and left circa 1950.

Seeger has done work of indisputable social value: entertaining the troops while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, working for 40 years with the Clearwater group to clean the Hudson River. But I would argue that his musical performances, like this 1949 TV version of the Hebrew song “Tzena Tzena” by Seeger and his quartet The Weavers, are his most lasting achievements. But whatever Seeger’s motivations in performing it may have been, his buoyant bluegrass style in “Tzena Tzena” echoes the majesty of band member Ronnie Gilbert’s contralto, one of folk music’s great voices.

Seeger’s own voice, though fragile, possessed an ineffable charm, which may have lessened the bite of his topical songs like “Waist Deep in Big Muddy” or “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” (Marlene Dietrich, no less, became a frequent performer of “Flowers” both in English and in German.) What music fan, whatever political accounting he might have with Seeger, would want to be without those unexpected performances?



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.