Pete Seeger talked the talk and walked the walk. Who comes close today?

Maybe young people in the West just aren't that angry any more

Share
Related Topics

At 7am, the final item on the Today programme news bulletin on Radio 4 was about the death of a 94-year-old American folk singer with whom very few people under the age of 30 would have been familiar. By the 8am bulletin, the passing of Pete Seeger had become the day's lead story.

It took a little time for the Today programme editors to wake up to the cultural and political significance of this giant of modern music, but they got there in the end. Over a career that spanned five decades, Seeger recorded more than 100 albums and wrote some of the defining songs of his age.

He was responsible for one of the defiant anthems of the 1960s - “We Shall Overcome”, which he adapted from a traditional hymn - and he himself overcame a few vicissitudes along the way, including the accusations of being a Communist sympathiser which led to his ostracisation by American TV networks. Seeger championed minority groups, and sang for migrant workers and at political rallies. Through his songs, he shone a light on injustice and sought to challenge the established order. His death represents more than just a landmark: it marks the passing of a different, more engaged, more politically active, age as far as popular music is concerned.

To understand exactly how ahead of his time Seeger was, take these two snippets from interviews he gave many years ago that were replayed on the Today programme. “I'm convinced that sooner or later the people of the whole world will have to do something about the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” These words from Seeger came in between a news item about the house-price bubble in London and the story that, despite losing all our money, bankers at RBS are hoping to get bonuses equivalent to 200 per cent of their salaries.

Pete Seeger performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in New Orleans in April 2009. The folk singer died today aged 94 And then, on the 8am bulletin, Seeger's credentials as an environmental activist - unfashionable at the time - were pointed out.  “I work mostly up and down the Hudson River,” he said. “I think globally but act locally. But it's not enough to say some fine words. You have to find a way to be active in some way.” The very next item on the news was the environmental emergency in Somerset, where thousands are suffering from this winter's extreme weather patterns.

I don't know whether this juxtaposition was done advisedly, but it was certainly provocative. And it left me thinking (apologies for bowdlerising his most famous song): where have all the Pete Seegers gone? Contemporary music reflects the mores of its age, or maybe it's because young people in the West are just not that angry any more. Or, maybe, they are so disenchanted by the political process (cf Russell Brand) that their lack of engagement manifests itself in an unwillingness to look outside their personal ecosystem. Seeger said that, as a middle class man with plenty of material possessions, there were many social pressures on him not to protest. “I'm protesting,” he said “because I'm worried there won't be any world for my children to grow up in.” And here was a man who didn't just talk the talk.

Read more:
Obituary: Musician and activist dies aged 94
We shall be heard : Images of American Activists

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A long way to go before we reach Dave Eggers's digital dystopia

Memphis Barker
 

August catch-up: dress to impress, words to use more often, and the end of the internet

John Rentoul
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis