Thanks to Carl Brookins for offering this review. This is a bit of a serendipitous occurrence considering just last night I revisited my love of the music of this era by performing some old Peter, Paul, and Mary songs at a Cabaret show, with two of my talented kids. I remember well the days of hootenannies, Seeger, Biaz, Dylan et al. What a fun time that was. And it was fun to go back in time last night, except most folks had never heard “Stewball.”
The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.
The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.
I suppose I’m biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendancy and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others. I once had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.
It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs; a man who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger’s influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies.
This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner, for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.