Wednesday, May 02, 2007



Pete Seeger: The Power of Song
is a wonderful movie. It is currently being screened at the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF).

It is 90 minutes of folk songs, beautifully sung; 88 years or so (Pete Seeger's age) of the history of social movements, folk music, and the folk music of social movements. There are moments from historic performances, including an electric, impossibly young Bob Dylan. There are appearances, some in song, some in comments, some in moments of history from the Weavers, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Bruce Springsteen, President Clinton -- awarding Pete Seeger the National Medal of Arts, and many others.

Among the many social issues raised are patriotism, freedom of speech, Communism, union organizing, World War II, HUAC and the blacklist, racism, the Vietnam War (with an apparent allusion to Iraq in the lyrics of Waist Deep In The Big Muddy: "We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy, But the big fool said to push on"), and cleaning up the Hudson river.

The film was directed by
Jim Brown, who has made a number of films about folk singers. I do not believe the film has a distributor yet. (The one concern may be clearing rights to all the music.)

It deserves (actually, deserves is the wrong word, because it makes it sound like an obligation)... It may be enjoyed by a wide audience of younger people -- who have heard the music and can observe the context; older people -- for whom this film is a history of the issues and music of their lives; music students -- for whom this is simply great American music; and everyone -- for whom this film is both a joyful concert and an inspiration.

Through it all,
Pete Seeger is shown not as a protestor -- he did not sing protest songs to protest, he sang to bring people together -- but as a builder of communities and a Johnny Appleseed, propagating decency and freedom.

Tomorrow, May 3, is Pete Seeger's 88th birthday. Happy Birthday, Pete!

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