Pete Seeger has died.
You have to have some feeling of loss – another one being shuffled off this mortal coil. I’m currently living in very difficult times. In times when class action is no reaction to the plights and slights we’re struggling with. I was listening to report on the radio (on the radio) about The Queen not being able to repair all her houses and that. And it was suggested that the review could have suggested a reduction in the number castles and palaces that she owns. But the interviewee – some Dame or other - nearly choked at the suggestion – and it was only a question – that that sort of thing had never crossed the review team’s mind.
Typical really. I’m living in Boris’ London and Cameron’s Britain. Both of those are fucked. But these conditions are unlikely to produce a Pete. That man’s from another century. I can’t see anyone making that sort of fuss these days – well not with an acoustic guitar or a banjo.
But Pete had a point.
If he’d had a hammer and not a guitar who knows what wreckage would have commenced – but his guitar did a fair amount of damage. As you know I’ve never trusted a hippy and folk music don’t always get me – but as I get older my tastes there are a changin’. Yet there’s something in recognising what Pete Seeger stood for. It’s about struggle in our times.
So this got me thinking about the ‘protest song’ (you can sing along if you like). If you stop and think about it – there’s been a whole heap of protest in our lives and lots of times we could sing about it. My earliest memory of protest numbers is most likely Dylan being played somewhere and at some time on the radio. But I guess that wasn’t my protest – I was just a child – not yet my own maaaan. So to pinpoint the protest is much harder – I mean what was I rebelling against as a misguided youth – well what you got? But surely over the course of those teenage years – those formative times – with teachers and mates – parents and jobs – I amassed a whole compilation tapes worth. Not that I made a tape though.
So what to focus on? The Crass seven-inch of ‘Big A Little A’ lent by a friend across the road and played on heavy rotation on the Kingston Road soundsystem. You know the system might have got you – but it won’t get me. Or The Pistols – God Save the Queen – anger as energy writ large with guitar riffs. Through the ghost town of The Specials and all incarnations to free Mandela – to tell you the truth I always liked the anti Sun City track by Steve Van Zandt. I used to rail against all those eighties arses who jetted of to eat granny smith apples in the sun – Queen anyone? Didn’t they do Live Aid though? Aren’t they worthy – not in my house and hopefully not in yours.
Then there was the dreadlock rasta of Marley and associated reggae injustice. All around was war as we made our way through the eighties of Reaganomics and Thatcher’s tub thumping – and what has war ever been good for? So Buffalo Springfield crept in with helicopter montages and napalm bombs – for what it was worth. Brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying Gaye told us as we learnt about that commie threat from the east – in history books and war films. It seems like that decade was one long awakening to horrors of humans and their political will. I’m not forgetting Nena – I’m just ignoring it.
And hip hop reminded us of the police and their unjust ways when you rocked a look that incorporated a gold chain and a kangol hat. That’s not forgetting Public Enemy and I attempting to fight the power – because – you know most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp – me and Chuck D have a lot in common. Whilst closer to home LKJ skanked through the streets where the skinhead mentality still lingered and any dissent manifested itself in police brutality and prejudice. Then lectures at Goldsmiths’ with Paul Robeson as the soundtrack to discontent.
But to get right back to Pete – to find that line of humility and anger – softly spoken words with bite and resistance – then Curtis Mayfield is my protest singer. There’s something in that falsetto matched with the incessant groove of positive vibes. Positive change – you know positive energy activates constant elevation. I’ll write about Curtis properly someday – but today I’m focussing on that message encapsulated in this neo-gospel grower. You can dance and change things – brother. You can change things by just moving your feet – people need to get ready for that.
Now I know our politics differ from the US – we’re built on different struggles. I always felt the left in America represented our liberal party – but Pete was a red. Enough said. And Pete’s dead.
The class struggle will grind on and on.
The class struggle will grind on and on.
We shall overcome.