The Power of Song

“Songs won’t save our planet. But then, neither will books or speeches. How will it be saved? By changing our course of action. How will our present course be changed? When our heads are turned around. How do our heads get turned around? By seeing more clearly: where we are going, where we have come from, where we are right now. ‘Learn from the mistakes of others; You can’t live long enough to make ’em all yourself’.”-Pete Seeger

I’ve always been a little behind my time: I adore black and white movies and TV shows from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and especially music from those eras. Among my favorite singers/songwriters are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac, Beatles/Lennon, U2 and Pete Seeger (the list could continue of course…). I suppose what has drawn me to these singers is their poetry like words, the meaning they bring to life and their activism. Pete Seeger is one strong example of this.

Recently, I viewed “Power of Song,” a brilliant documentary about Pete Seeger’s songs and especially his political activism. He was passionate about civil rights, our constitutional rights as Americans, and the war in Vietnam. He spoke out about these things, not only in his songs but at his concerts and public forums as well. Because he spoke out in a time that was highly controversial, he was basically blacklisted and was not allowed any TV appearances for over twenty years! This did not stop him from performing or continuing in his activism. His songs not only had rhythm, they had powerful meaning: “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” were the voice of not only the 60’s, but also of the now. That’s what makes music, especially from such artists as Seeger, so powerful and transcending of time. What was relevant in those songs then still carries on to the world today. They are timeless. He inspired many other singers that would define a generation and write protest songs (Dylan, Baez) and also fought for environmental causes, some close to home on the Hudson River. To be able to take ones gift of song and use it not only for enjoyment but to try and bring about change is, I believe, extraordinary.

Whether you’ve been along for the ride with Seeger or are just discovering him, here are some Pete Seeger goodies at the library:

How Can I Keep from Singing? The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway. A brilliant biography about Pete Seegers life, music and activism. It highlights his earlier years as a child, up through his musical career and political controversy that caused him to get on the blacklist. Some of his lyrics are also intertwined throughout. A very insightful and fresh read. (B SEEGER)

The Incompleat Folksinger by Pete Seeger. A truly unique book put together by Seeger. He discusses songs and people who were a bit of a rebel like himself, he brings us memories of Woody Guthrie, lessons on singing and playing music, as well his thoughts on folk music of the world. I also like the intro he writes to the book, especially his humble apology: “I’m sorry the book has to cost so much. For many people this represents a good day’s pay or more…” (784.4 SEE)

A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. A concert dedicated to two of Pete Seegers iconic influences. Seeger, Dylan, Springsteen, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others, sing the songs of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly-songs that held meaning just like that of Seegers and others. Although this isn’t about Pete Seeger, his voice is part of the collage on this video. (VID CUL VIS)

Power of Song. This documentary DVD came out in 2007 and talks about Seeger’s life as a musician, environmentalist, and the political controversy he often found himself in. Other singers like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez and Natalie Manns offer their insights about the man who paved the way for others. What I liked most about this dvd was that it was very personal. The director brought us home to Pete’s house in upstate New York, where we see him, at eighty-something years old, still working in the woods near the house that he built along the Hudson. You can still see the songs are alive in him! (DVD CULTURE PET)

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs. A great book and resource for storytelling. Seeger brings many familiar tales to life in a refreshing way and also gives some new ones. Particulary cute is a story by Seeger called Head of Cabbage, about a little boy who grows an enormous cabbage and sails around the world with it. There is also a neat section with story staters–great to get children (or anyone) writing! (808.543 SEE)

Sierra Club Survival Songbook with an introduction by Pete Seeger. The introduction to this book is inspiring enough: “a song on a shelf is in a state of suspended animation. You must bring them to life. Such is their magic, they can bring fuller life to you. And all of us together may be able to help survival.” This book is put out by the Sierra Club foundation and contains song about nature, our environment and protecting it, a cause that Seeger was adament about. Including are some songs written by Seeger himself. The songs are for piano with guitar chords, and are fairly easy if you are advanced, and great for beginners! (784.4 MOR)

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby by Peter Seeger. What a beautiful children’s book this is. The words and music are written by Seeger and are accompanied by colorful, brilliant paintings: they will transport you to a different place! “One grain of sand, one drop of water in the sea, one grain of sand, one little you, one little me.” We may just be that drop of water in the vast ocean, but like Pete Seeger we can make a difference too. (JP SEE)

If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle. This CD contains some of Seeger’s most passionate and political songs, from “Turn, Turn, Turn” to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and “Study War No More.” Also included is a booklet which contains recording information and other fun facts about the songs on the album. (CD FOLK SEE)

Pete Seegers Greatest Hits: All the old classics that still ring new and true. (CD FOLK SEE)

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Although this isn’t Pete Seeger singing his songs, I had to include this album by Bruce Springsteen…not only because he is on top of my list of favorites, but because he does an astounding job recreating some of Seegers songs. The full instrumental band is truly a treat for your ears and your feet because you won’t be able to sit still when you listen to this! His versions of “We Shall Overcome” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” will send shivers up your spine. Springsteen also includes “Seegeresque” versions of some of his older songs.

Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library assistant and believes she was a flower child of the 60’s in her other life…she is currently humming “we shall overcome…”

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