The great Pete Seeger, his voice less vibrant, less sure (he comments on its fading several times), his spirit anything but less vital, celebrated his 75th birthday talking with Bill Moyers about today, yesterdays and, mainly, about music. The troubadour/protester still has the fire; his story remains singular.
Seeger reflected on his musical life and influences, mentioned an ancestor who was an abolitionist doctor, saluted Leadbelly and touchingly discussed Woody Guthrie, with whom he worked the proletariat side during the Depression. There’s little talk about wife Toshi or their family, though they’re on camera to help out with his tunes.
Singer played reluctant on the Almanacs and the Weavers, whose zestful singing and soulful entertaining in such venues as the Village Vanguard gave folk singing a pop following until they were blacklisted. Seeger himself had been a Young Communist member, and he’s just as open about his sympathies today as he was in early years.
Seeger endured the House Un-American Activities Committee, was cited with contempt of Congress and was blacklisted from network telecasts. When the ban was lifted, the Smothers Brothers invited him on their CBS series, but his perf of “Waist Deep in the Muddy” was excised — until later. His vibrant version of it appeared on the spec, and it remains a searing conscience-raiser.
Moyers doesn’t dig deep, instead following Seeger’s enthusiasm. At one point, Seeger’s family joined in the singing, the camera crew added their voices, and Moyers himself chimed in. There was an air of bravura and underlying sadness in Seeger’s manner, as though he quietly wonders just where the flowers have gone, as he asks in his poignant anti-war song.
Seeger the man remains obscure. What is in plain view is someone of consequence and common sense who has not compromised; not many of that sort are still around. Here he’s seen in all his exuberance and joy.