Apr 8, 2008

power of song

This weekend I watched a documentary on Pete Seeger called The Power of Song. I'm interested in Pete for a few reasons:
  • He is my town's local celebrity and performs at important town events, like the Strawberry Festival, the Corn Festival, and the Pumpkin Festival;
  • He's participated in peace movements for many of his 88 years;
  • He's had a big role in the fight to clean up the Hudson River, and I've enjoyed going sailing on Beacon Sloop Club's sailboat, the Woody Guthrie;
  • I'm way into banjos (and harmonicas, which are less relevant here); and
  • My mother has been belting out the song "Good Night, Irene" for as long as I can remember.
I learned of Pete a couple of decades ago when he performed at an Angela Davis talk. There weren't a lot of factoids in the film that I hadn't learned since that event, but it was interesting to see footage of Pete's testimony in front the House Un-American Activities Committee, as well as lots of banjo strumming. Funny enough, what the film did give me was permission to make artwork.

I do believe that art, music, dance, and poetry are necessary. But for some reason, I've always felt guilty about wanting to spend time making objects meant just for looking. It seems like wasted time. I feel I should be growing food, making tools, something functional, necessary to every day. I have dreams where my trade is fashioning hinges and latches. Then I read Muriel Rukeyser's writing about the role of poetry in getting to the essence of one's life, in remembering. Or Richard Shelton's writing about the psychologically freeing impact of creative writing programs in prisons. These accounts, like the story of Pete Seeger's life, make me know that the value of art is true.

So here's another reason to be interested in Pete Seeger: He reminds me of the power of song, of dance, of beauty. It always has a function.

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