Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012: Album(s) of the Year

Like last year's "Album(s) of the Year" post, first some meta commentary.

In reflecting on 2012 compared to 2011, it is amazing how my musical favs reflect where the rest of my life is that year. While 2011 was a year for challenging, self-reflective pieces, 2012 danced around those themes, but wimps from diving in deep on things that aren't right brain only or grounded in the familiar.  More below.

While 2011 was the year of iTunes Match helping me rediscover a newly organizationally and karmically scrubbed music collection, 2012 is the year of Murfie.com encouraging me to complete the transition to lossless and all digital.  Almost all 300+ CDs that I still own recently went on a one way trip to the great white north (sorry guys, I had to keep a couple CDs for sentimental reasons...I've owned my copy of "Tea for the Tillerman" since 1984!). All my music is now available to me digitally and lossless, without any of the physical storage issues.

I've been buying most of my used music from Murfie. With their clever business model of digital distribution of physical CDs, they very cleverly take advantage of shipping arbitrage to have a very compelling marketplace (why buy a single Elton John track for  $0.99 when you can get his entire Greatest Hits 1970-2002 album lossless for $1?).  I've been able to fill out adjacencies in my collection ($4 to complete my George Winston collection with the 4 CDs I didn't own? Check!)

If if you haven't already, check Murfie out. See here for my for sale CDs to get a flavor of the kinds of deals to be had. Highly highly recommended.

On to the goodies. As usual, first some niche winners, then my overall winner.

Best Album That Wish Came Out In 2011 So I Had Time To Really Listen To It: Monocyte (Saltillo)
2012 was a big year for my brother Kasra. After investing and working at the edges of the comic industry for years, he jumped in in a big way with Monocyte, his project with collaborator menton3 and a dream cast of 1000s from our mispent youth. Monocyte is a true passion project, and is remarkably unapologetic and challenging for a modern graphic novel. If you are looking for a read that will take you on an emtional and intellectual roller coaster like no other, give it a go. Fantastic. Then check out the work they're doing at 44FLOOD.

Besides being a phenomenally talented artist, mention3 is also a first class composer and musician (his Ganglion (Saltillo) album from several years ago remains a favorite).  As part of the Monocyte project, mention put out an album of trip hop inspired by the book. It is in every way as challenging (intellectually and emotionally) as the graphic novel.  I wish I had more time to sit with headphones and really go along for the ride.

Best 2012 Album That Is A Continuation of a Best 2011 Album: Babel (Mumford & Sons)
If this were best 2012 album that is a continuation of a 2009 album, the obivious winer would be My Head Is An Animal (Of Monsters And Men), paying tribute to Up From Below (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) would win hands down (what a great album!).

However, I have to give the nod to Mumford & Sons who picked up almost exactly where they left off last year with Sigh No More, and delivered the goods yet again.  Recommended.

Biggest Wallop Upside the Head: Down At The Sea Hotel (Various)
For many years, I've had a special appreciation for Lucy Kaplansky. All her albums are wonderful, but each has a handful of tracks that pack an emotional wallop strong enough that I've been known to break down in tears when it comes up on iTunes shuffle. Don't believe me? Listen to this story from 2004 on NPR, then feel the raw post-9/11 emotion on the rest of her Red Thread album.

Lucy put out a new album this year (Reunion), with the usual mix of interesting covers with intensely personal and true songs. There are at least four tracks on this album that have me reaching for the tissue whenever they come up. Well worth a listen.

As I was listening to the album, I was browsing around iTunes for other Kaplansky material. Amid some gems from her early folk days, I was taken aback to see "Goodnight, My Angel" come up in the search results, from an album I had never heard of. One of my favorite Billy Joel songs, being covered by a woman who's voice so easily brings me to my emotional knees. How did I miss this before?

Needless to say, Lucy delivers the goods with a rendition even better than the original. The album is an ensemble piece of children's lullabies by several of the artists from Red House Records, to accompany a children's book of the same name. Unlike other compilations, the album was produced as a single work, and works amazingly well. As a parent, I adore this album. If you do pick it up, I recommend getting the book/cd bundle.

2012 Album of the Year: Shahen-Shah (Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn)
Earlier this year I was listening to had Peter Gabriel's Passion, his marvelous soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ.  On a lark, I hopped onto Murfie to see what the market price was for one of my favorite albums ($1! What's wrong with you people?)

In the search results was a link to Gabriel's Passion Sources, which is a compilation of many of the songs that inspired Gabriel's album. For $1, how could I say no?

The first track was Shamas-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja by Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. Holy crap! The passion and purity! I had no idea what the man was saying, but out of nowhere it lifted me and took me to a spiritual place I thought I had lost. "O the bright sun!, O the moon in darkness!" Yes indeed.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I learned about Qawwali, and had the privilege to watch the legend that is Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn perform his invocations of the divine.  A quick return to Murfie and $5(!) later, I had three albums by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. Shahen-Shah was the first, and the first track was Shama-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja. It took me there all over again.

When a master like Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn is able to transcend, we and civilization are all raised with him. Thank you Ustad.

As a postscript to this story, a week ago someone on twitter posted a link to one of those moments that makes you believe in a connecting force that ties all together.  I won't spoil it.  Go watch it for yourself, and be glad that we live in a world where these things happen, and we have the means to share in it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pete Seeger: An Appreciation

He's the man with the banjo and the 12-string guitar.
And he's singing us the songs that tell us who we are.
When you look in his eyes you know that somebody's in there.
Yeah, he knows where we're going and where we been
And how the fog is gettin' thicker where the future should begin.
When you look at his life you know that he's really been there.

Still, what is the name that they're calling that man?
What is the name that they're calling that man?
You know, it's always the "Old Folkie"
They say he's always bleedin'
But whenever somebody's needing him,
He's the one who cares.
It's always the "Old Folkie"
Whenever somethin's burning,
Or a lesson needs some learning,
Or a tide that needs some turning,
To a better world somewhere,
Yeah, the "Old Folkie's" there.
— Harry Chapin, "Old Folkie" 

Growing up, I had very vague knowledge of Pete Seeger. He was one of those folk singing pre hippies that all the other folk singers seemed to respect, and he had written some fun songs that I liked as a kid.

Later on in high school, I became a huge Harry Chapin fan. I loved his stories and his ernest passion. I got to know all his songs, including his tribute song to Pete, "Old Folkie" from 1979. I got interested in Pete, and wanted to learn more.

Now back then, we didn't have wikipedia and iPhones. Learning about an obscure topic was a multi-year process. Gradually over time, you would pick up tidbits on topics of interest from broadcast TV, books, newspapers, and magazines. Slowly you would put together a fuzzy picture of the topic and fill in the blanks. If you had friends that shared common interests, you compared notes and speculated endlessly about connections, real or otherwise. Over a period of years, you started to form a picture from pieces and parts, investing no small part of yourself into the scene.

This was how I learned about Pete. My growing sense of social justice was inextricably tied to Harry, Pete, and the echoes of those that had marched for freedom and peace 15 years before. Who was this man who had touched so many?

In 1979 a 36 year old Harry Chapin sung his tribute to a 60 year old Pete Seeger. 2 years later, a 38 year old Harry Chapin died in a car crash. 3 years hence, I had discovered Harry, and through him, Pete, and I was sitting with friends at Ravinia Park with tears streaming down my face, listening to Pete leading the crowd in singing "All My Life's a Circle" as his tribute to Harry.

Fast forward a couple decades. Through the magic of the internet, I came to learn so much about Pete, and the remarkable life he has led. He was and is a genuine American hero. Although his country rejected him in the worst possible way, he never gave up on his country and what it should be. When the social movements of 60s began to form, Pete was there to shine his gentle light and help forge a new generation. The arc of the moral universe may be long, but it is people like Pete who put their hands upon it to bend it towards justice.

I thought of Pete often during the campaign of 2008. I lamented that our generation did not have our Pete Seeger to guide us as we entered our Crisis. I wished that Harry were still with us, giving it his all. I was thinking of Pete on the days leading up to the election, and again as the inauguration approached.

The day before Obama's first inauguration, Bruce Springsteen walked out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and sang "The Rising" to 400,000 people. Martin Luther King III spoke on the same steps that his father had spoken from. U2 sang of Pride (In the Name of Love).

President-elect Obama took the stage to thank the crowd and the nation: "But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard. I ask you to help me reveal that character once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today."

Then Springsteen was on the stage again, and to my amazement, there was Pete! At age 89, Pete Seeger was leading the world in singing "This Land Is Your Land". Not just any rendition mind you, but the full throated Woody Guthrie original. Go watch it. You owe it to yourself.

Until the end of my life I will remember and cherish the joy and wonder on Pete's face. In that moment, more than 70 years of struggle was redeemed. May we all live to see our life's work and purpose come into its own.

Jump forward 3 years. The country is in turmoil, with revolutionary era flags flying again. The counter revolution is also in full swing with the Occupy movement. Word spreads on Twitter that there is a march in New York City. All of a sudden, there he is again!

At age 93, Pete Seeger is trending on Twitter:

The Old Folkie is there again.

Yeah, for forty years now he's been pushin' on.
Carrying the dream 'cause Woody's long gone.
He's the last voice singing that "Bound for Glory" song.
And if you never seen him you might take a look
He's the man who put the meaning in the music book.
Yeah, the world may be tired but Pete's still going strong.

What is the name that they're calling that man?
What is the name that they're calling that man?
You know, it's always the "Old Folkie"
Singing for some hopeless cause.
Shouting at the mountain top
The wind is his only applause.
It's always the "Old Folkie"
We don't know what we're missing
'Cause nobody ever listens,
'Cept the lovers as they're kissin'
Oh, he's singing for them somewhere.
Yeah, the "Old Folkie's" there.

During his life, Harry made it his life's work to help others, with special focus on addressing hunger wherever it may be. He donated millions to charity, and inspired millions with his belief in our responsibility to each other. He was the true heir to Pete's legacy, but left us far too soon.

Harry would have been 70 years old today. If he were with us, he'd be organizing relief efforts in New York and New Jersey, and singing Pete Seeger songs in the state house in Michigan. I miss him.

I believe that we are defined by the ripples we leave behind, and by the echos of our ripples in the ripples of others. Pete Seeger has been there through thick and thin, being the change he wanted to see in the world. His ripples are gentle and subtle, but their influence is vast.

Thank you Pete.

Update: January 28, 2014

Rest easy Pete. Thank you for being there for those that needed it most, and raising us all up.

For posterity, Bruce Springsteen on Pete Seeger at his 90th birthday
As Pete and I traveled to Washington for President Obama's Inaugural Celebration, he told me the entire story of "We Shall Overcome". How it moved from a labor movement song and with Pete's inspiration had been adapted by the civil rights movement. That day as we sang "This Land Is Your Land" I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had taken. My own growing up in the sixties in towns scarred by race rioting made that moment nearly unbelievable and Pete had thirty extra years of struggle and real activism on his belt. He was ao happy that day, it was like, Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man!...It was so nice. At rehearsals the day before, it was freezing, like fifteen degrees and Pete was there; he had his flannel shirt on. I said, man, you better wear something besides that flannel shirt! He says, yeah, I got my longjohns on under this thing.

And I asked him how he wanted to approach "This Land Is Your Land". It would be near the end of the show and all he said was, "Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private property and the relief office." I thought, of course, that's what Pete's done his whole life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people. At some point Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity and the courage to sing in the voice of the people, and despite Pete's somewhat benign, grandfatherly appearance, he is a creature of a stubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won't let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself. Pete Seeger still sings all the verses all the time, and he reminds us of our immense failures as well as shining a light toward our better angels and the horizon where the country we've imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.

Now on top of it, he never wears it on his sleeve. He has become comfortable and casual in this immense role. He's funny and very eccentric. I'm gonna bring Tommy out, and the song Tommy Morello and I are about to sing I wrote in the mid-nineties and it started as a conversation I was having with myself. It was an attempt to regain my own moorings. Its last verse is the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The Grapes of Wrath. "...Wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air Look for me Mom I'll be there."

Well, Pete has always been there.

For me that speech is always aspirational. For Pete, it's simply been a way of life. The singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad. The spirit who has the guts and toughness to carry forth, to fight for and live their ideals.

I'm happy to report that spirit, the very ghost of Tom Joad is with us in the flesh tonight. He'll be on this stage momentarily, he's gonna look an awful lot like your granddad who wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He's gonna look like your granddad if your granddad could kick your ass.

This is for Pete...

Also for posterity, a profile in courage: Pete Seeger before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, August 18, 1955

A Subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities met at 10 a.m., in room 1703 of the Federal Building, Foley Square, New York, New York, the Honorable Francis E. Walter (Chairman) presiding.

Committee members present: Representatives Walter, Edwin E. Willis, and Gordon H. Scherer.

Staff members present: Frank S. Tavenner, Jr., Counsel; Donald T. Appell and Frank Bonora, Investigators; and Thomas W. Beale, Sr., Chief Clerk.

MR. TAVENNER: When and where were you born, Mr. Seeger?

MR. SEEGER: I was born in New York in 1919.

MR. TAVENNER: What is your profession or occupation?

MR. SEEGER: Well, I have worked at many things, and my main profession is a student of American folklore, and I make my living as a banjo picker-sort of damning, in some people's opinion.

MR. TAVENNER Has New York been your headquarters for a considerable period of time?

MR. SEEGER: No, I lived here only rarely until I left school, and after a year or two or a few years living here after World War II I got back to the country, where I always felt more at home.

MR. TAVENNER: You say that you were in the Armed Forces of the United States?

MR. SEEGER: About three and a half years.

MR. TAVENNER: Will you tell us please the period of your service?

MR. SEEGER: I went in in July 1942 and I was mustered out in December 1945.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you attain the rank of an officer?

MR. SEEGER: No. After about a year I made Pfc, and just before I got out I got to be T-5, which is in the equivilant of a corporal's rating, a long hard pull.

MR. TAVENNER: Mr. Seeger, prior to your entry in the service in 1942, were you engaged in the practice of your profession in the area of New York?

MR. SEEGER: It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school --

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?

MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn't my profession, I picked up a little change in it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes, before World War II, and I also did as early as 1925.

MR. TAVENNER: And upon your return from the service in December of 1945, you continued in your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I continued singing, and I expect I always will.

MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled "What's On" appears this advertisement: "Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn't answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn't answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of "What's On," an advertisement of a "May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy." The advertisement states: "Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally." Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, "Entertainment by Pete Seeger." At the bottom appears this: "Auspices Essex County Communist Party," and at the top, "Tonight, Newark, N.J." Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don't you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don't want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: I think that there must be a direction to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

MR. SCHERER: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?

MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

MR. SCHERER: And then in answering the rest of the questions, or in refusing to answer the rest of the questions, I understand that you are not relying on the Fifth Amendment as a basis for your refusal to answer?

MR. SEEGER: No, I am not, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of May 4,1949, issue of the Daily Worker, which has an article entitled, "May Day Smash Review Put on by Communist Cultural Division, On Stage," and the article was written by Bob Reed. This article emphasizes a production called Now Is the Time, and it says this: Now Is the Time was a hard-hitting May Day show of songs and knife-edged satire. New songs and film strips walloped the enemies of the people in what the singers called "Aesopian language." And other persons [participated], including Pete Seeger. Lee Hays is recited to be the MC, or master of ceremonies. Did you take part in this May Day program under the auspices of the Music Section of the Cultural Division of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Chairman, the answer is the same as before.

MR. SCHERER: I think we have to have a direction.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer the question.

MR. SEEGER: I have given you my answer, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: The article contains another paragraph, as follows: This performance of Now Is the Time was given in honor of the twelve indicted Communist Party leaders. And then it continues with Bob Reed's account of the show: This reviewer has never seen a show which stirred its audience more. Add up new material, fine personal and group performances, overwhelming audience response-the result was a significant advance in the people's cultural movement. Now Is the Time is that rare phenomenon, a political show in which performers and audience had a lot of fun. It should be repeated for large audiences. Mr. Lee Hays was asked, while he was on the witness stand, whether or not he wrote that play, and he refused to answer. Do you know whether he was the originator of the script?

MR. SEEGER: Do I know whether he was the originator of the script? Again my answer is the same. However, if you want to question me about any songs, I would be glad to tell you, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: That is what you are being asked about now.

MR. TAVENNER: You said that you would tell us about the songs. Did you participate in a program at Wingdale Lodge in the State of New York, which is a summer camp for adults and children, on the weekend of July Fourth of this year?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: Again, I say I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business.

MR. TAVENNER: I am going to ask you.

MR. SEEGER: But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you sing this song, to which we have referred, "Now Is the Time," at Wingdale Lodge on the weekend of July Fourth?

MR. SEEGER: I don't know any song by that name, and I know a song with a similar name. It is called "Wasn't That a Time." Is that the song?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you sing that song?

MR. SEEGER: I can sing it. I don't know how well I can do it without my banjo.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I said, Did you sing it on that occasion?

MR. SEEGER: I have sung that song. I am not going to go into where I have sung it. I have sung it many places.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you sing it on this particular occasion? That is what you are being asked.

MR. SEEGER: Again my answer is the same.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You said that you would tell us about it.

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you about the songs, but I am not going to tell you or try to explain-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer the question. Did you sing this particular song on the Fourth of July at Wingdale Lodge in New York?

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer to that question, and all questions such as that. I feel that is improper: to ask about my associations and opinions. I have said that I would be voluntarily glad to tell you any song, or what I have done in my life.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I think it is my duty to inform you that we don't accept this answer and the others, and I give you an opportunity now to answer these questions, particularly the last one.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, my answer is always the same.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: All right, go ahead, Mr. Tavenner.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you chosen by Mr. Elliott Sullivan to take part in the program on the weekend of July Fourth at Wingdale Lodge?

MR. SEEGER: The answer is the same, sir.

MR. WILLIS: Was that the occasion of the satire on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

MR. TAVENNER: The same occasion, yes, sir. I have before me a photostatic copy of a page from the June 1, 1949, issue of the Daily Worker, and in a column entitled "Town Talk" there is found this statement: The first performance of a new song, "If I Had a Hammer," on the theme of the Foley Square trial of the Communist leaders, will he given at a testimonial dinner for the 12 on Friday night at St. Nicholas Arena. . . .Among those on hand for the singing will be . . . Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays-and others whose names are mentioned. Did you take part in that performance?

MR. SEEGER: I shall he glad to answer about the song, sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs.

MR. TAVENNER: I ask a direction.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You may not he interested, but we are, however. I direct you to answer. You can answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question.

MR. TAVENNER: Have you finished your answer?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I desire to offer the document in evidence and ask that it be marked "Seeger exhibit No.4," for identification only, and to be made a part of the Committee files.

MR. SEEGER: I am sorry you are not interested in the song. It is a good song.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you present in the hearing room while the former witnesses testified?

MR. SEEGER: I have been here all morning, yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I assume then that you heard me read the testimony of Mr. [Elia] Kazan about the purpose of the Communist Party in having its actors entertain for the henefit of Communist fronts and the Communist Party. Did you hear that testimony?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, I have heard all of the testimony today.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you hear Mr. George Hall's testimony yesterday in which he stated that, as an actor, the special contribution that he was expected to make to the Communist Party was to use his talents by entertaining at Communist Party functions? Did you hear that testimony?

MR. SEEGER: I didn't hear it, no.

MR. TAVENNER: It is a fact that he so testified. I want to know whether or not you were engaged in a similar type of service to the Communist Party in entertaining at these features.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Mr. Tavenner, are you getting around to that letter? There was a letter introduced yesterday that I think was of greater importance than any bit of evidence adduced at these hearings, concerning the attempt made to influence people in this professional performers' guild and union to assist a purely Communist cause which had no relation whatsoever to the arts and the theater. Is that what you are leading up to?

MR. TAVENNER: Yes, it is. That was the letter of Peter Lawrence, which I questioned him about yesterday. That related to the trial of the Smith Act defendants here at Foley Square. I am trying to inquire now whether this witness was party to the same type of propaganda effort by the Communist Party.

MR. SCHERER: There has been no answer to your last question.

MR. TAVENNER: That is right; may I have a direction?

MR. SEEGER: Would you repeat the question? I don't even know what the last question was, and I thought I have answered all of them up to now.

MR. TAVENNER: What you stated was not in response to the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Proceed with the questioning, Mr. Tavenner.

MR. TAVENNER: I believe, Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I will have the question read to him. I think it should be put in exactly the same form.

(Whereupon the reporter read the pending question as above recorded.)

MR. SEEGER: "These features": what do you mean? Except for the answer I have already given you, I have no answer. The answer I gave you you have, don't you? That is, that I am proud that I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I have never refused to sing for anybody because I disagreed with their political opinion, and I am proud of the fact that my songs seem to cut across and find perhaps a unifying thing, basic humanity,and that is why I would love to be able to tell you about these songs, because I feel that you would agree with me more, sir. I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.

MR. TAVENNER: My question was whether or not you sang at these functions of the Communist Party. You have answered it inferentially, and if I understand your answer, you are saying you did.

MR. SEEGER: Except for that answer, I decline to answer further.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you sing at functions of the Communist Party, at Communist Party requests?

MR. SEEGER: I believe, sir, that a good twenty minutes ago, I gave my answer to this whole line of questioning.

MR. TAVENNER: Yes, but you have now beclouded your answer by your statement, and I want to make certain what you mean. Did you sing at the Communist Party functions which I have asked you about, as a Communist Party duty?

MR. SEEGER: I have already indicated that I am not interested, and I feel it is improper to say who has sung my songs or who I have sung them to, especially under such compulsion as this.

MR. TAVENNER: Have you been a member of the Communist Party since 1947?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: The same answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I must give the same answer as before.

MR. TAVENNER: I have a throwaway sheet entitled "Culture Fights Back, 1953," showing entertainment at the Capitol Hotel, Carnival Room, Fifty-first Street at Eighth Avenue, in 1953, sponsored by the Committee to Defend V. J. Jerome. It indicates that Pete Seeger was one of those furnishing the entertainment. Will you tell the Committee, please, whether or not you were asked to perform on that occasion, and whether or not you did, either as a Communist Party directive, or as what you considered to be a duty to the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: I believe I have answered this already.

MR. TAVENNER: Are you acquainted with V. J. Jerome?

MR. SEEGER: I have already told you, sir, that I believe my associations, whatever they are, are my own private affairs.

MR. TAVENNER: You did know, at that time, in 1953, that V. J. Jerome was a cultural head of the Communist Party and one of the Smith Act defendants in New York City?

MR. SEEGER: Again the same answer, sir.

MR. SCHERER: You refuse to answer that question?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I hand you a photograph which was taken of the May Day parade in New York City in 1952, which shows the front rank of a group of individuals, and one is in a uniform with military cap and insignia, and carrying a placard entitled CENSORED. Will you examine it please and state whether or not that is a photograph of you?

(A document was handed to the witness.)

MR. SEEGER: It is like Jesus Christ when asked by Pontius Pilate, "Are you king of the Jews?"


MR. SEEGER: Let someone else identify that picture.

MR. SCHERER: I ask that he be directed to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer the question.

MR. SEEGER: Do I identify this photograph?


MR. SEEGER: I say let someone else identify it.

MR. TAVENNER: I desire to offer the document in evidence and ask that it be marked "Seeger exhibit No.6."

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Make it a part of the record.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. TAVENNER: It is noted that the individual mentioned is wearing a military uniform. That was in May of 1952, and the statute of limitations would have run by now as to any offense for the improper wearing of the uniform, and will you tell the Committee whether or not you took part in that May Day program wearing a uniform of an American soldier?

MR. SEEGER: The same answer as before, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SCHERER: I think the record should show that the witness remains mute, following the direction by the Chairman to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: The same answer, sir, as before.

MR. SCHERER: Again, I understand that you are not invoking the Fifth Amendment?

MR. SEEGER: That is correct.

MR. SCHERER: We are not accepting the answers or the reasons you gave.

MR. SEEGER: That is your prerogative, sir.

MR. SCHERER: Do you understand it is the feeling of the Committee that you are in contempt as a result of the position you take?

MR. SEEGER: I can't say.

MR. SCHERER: I am telling you that that is the position of the Committee.

MR. TAVENNER: The Daily Worker of April 21, 1948, at page 7, contains a notice that Pete Seeger was a participant in an affair for Ferdinand Smith. Will you tell the Committee what the occasion was at which you took part?

MR. SEEGER: I hate to waste the Committee's time, but I think surely you must realize by now that my answer is the same.

MR. TAVENNER: Do you know whether Ferdinand Smith was under deportation orders at that time?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I think that he was not under deportation orders until a little later than that.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is his name?

MR. TAVENNER: Ferdinand Smith, a Communist Party member and former vice-president of the maritime union. My purpose in asking you these questions, Mr. Seeger, is to determine whether or not, in accordance with the plan of the Communist Party as outlined by Mr. Kazan and Mr. George Hall, you were performing a valuable service to the Communist Party, and if that was the way they attempted to use you.

MR. SEEGER: Is that a question, sir?

MR. TAVENNER: That is my explanation to you, with the hope that you will give the Committee some light on that subject.

MR. SEEGER: No, my answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you also perform and entertain at various functions held by front organizations, such as the American Youth for Democracy? I have here photostatic copies of the Daily Worker indicating such programs were conducted in Detroit in 1952, at Greenwich Village on May 10, 1947, and again at another place in March of 1948. Did you entertain at functions under the auspices of the American Youth for Democracy?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: The answer is the same, and I take it that you are not interested in all of the different places that I have sung. Why don't you ask me about the churches and schools and other places?

MR. TAVENNER: That is very laudable, indeed, and I wish only that your activities had been confined to those areas. If you were acting for the Communist Party at these functions, we want to know it. We want to determine just what the Communist Party plan was.

MR. SCHERER: Witness, you have indicated that you are perfectly willing to tell us about all of these innumerable functions at which you entertained, but why do you refuse to tell us about the functions that Mr. Tavenner inquires about?

MR. SEEGER: No, sir, I said that I should be glad to tell you about all of the songs that I have sung, because I feel that the songs are the clearest explanation of what I do believe in, as a musician, and as an American.

MR. SCHERER: Didn't you just say that you sang before various religious groups, school groups?

MR. SEEGER: I have said it and I will say it again, and I have sung for perhaps-

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SCHERER: You are willing to tell us about those groups?

MR. SEEGER: I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches, and I do this voluntarily. I have sung for many, many different groups-and it is hard for perhaps one person to believe, I was looking back over the twenty years or so that I have sung around these forty-eight states, that I have sung in so many different places.

MR. SCHERER: Did you sing before the groups that Mr. Tavenner asked you about?

MR. SEEGER: I am saying that my answer is the same as before. I have told you that I sang for everybody.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Wait a minute. You sang for everybody. Then are we to believe, or to take it, that you sang at the places Mr. Tavenner mentioned?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is that?

MR. SEEGER: It seems to me like the third time I have said it, if not the fourth.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Maybe it is the fifth, but say it again. I want to know what your answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

MR. TAVENNER: According to the Daily Worker, there was a conference program of the Civil Rights Congress on April 2, 1949, at which you were one of the performers. On August 27, 1949, the People's Artists presented a summer musicale at Lakeland Acres picnic grounds, Peekskill, New York, for the benefit of the Harlem chapter of the Civil Rights Congress, at which you were a participant. At another meeting of the Civil Rights Congress of New York, around May 11, 1946, you were a participant. Will you tell the Committee, please, under what circumstances you performed, because you have said that you sang at all sorts of meetings. Under what circumstances were your services acquired on those occasions?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir. I can only infer from your lack of interest in my songs that you are actually scared to know what these songs are like, because there is nothing wrong with my songs, sir. Do you know-

MR. SCHERER: You said you want to talk about your songs, and I will give you an opportunity. Tell us what songs you sang at Communist Party meetings?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you about the songs that I have sung any place.

MR. SCHERER: I want to know the ones that you sang at Communist Party meetings, because those are the songs about which we can inquire. Just tell us one song that you sang at a Communist Party meeting.

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Scherer, it seems to me that you heard my testimony, and that is a ridiculous question, because you know what my answer is.

MR. TAVENNER: Mr. George Hall testified that the entertainment that he engaged in, at the instance of the Communist Party, was not songs of a political character. He did say, however, that he was expected by the Communist Party to perform in order to raise money for the Communist Party. Now, did you, as Mr. Hall did, perform in order to raise money for Communist Party causes?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I don't care what Mr. Hall says, and my answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: That you refuse to answer?

MR. SEEGER: I have given my answer.

MR. SCHERER: Was Mr. Hall telling the truth when he told the Committee about the entertainment he engaged in at the instance of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: I don't feel like discussing what Mr. Hall said.

MR. TAVENNER: The American Committee for Yugoslav Relief has been designated as a front organization. According to the October 22, 1947, issue of the Daily People's World, in California, Pete Seeger headed the list of entertainers to appear at a picnic given by the Southern California chapter of that organization. Did you participate in that program?

MR. SEEGER: If you have a hundred more photostats there, it seems silly for me to give you the same answer a hundred more times.

MR. TAVENNER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: It is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: There are various peace groups in the country which have utilized your services, are there not?

MR. SEEGER: I have sung for pacifists and I have sung for soldiers.

MR. TAVENNER: According to the Daily Worker of September 6, 1940, you were scheduled as a singer at a mass meeting of the American Peace Mobilization at Turner's Arena, in Washington, D.C. What were the circumstances under which you were requested to take part in that performance?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: You were a member of the American Peace Mobilization, were you not?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you not a delegate to the Chicago convention of the American Peace Mobilization on September 5, 1940?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Is that organization subversive?


CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is the name of it?

MR. TAVENNER: American Peace Mobilization, and it was the beginning of these peace organizations, back in 1940. Did you take part in the American Peace Crusade program in Chicago in April of 1954?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before. Of course, I would be curious to know what you think of a song like this very great Negro spiritual, "I'm Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield, Down by the Riverside."

MR. TAVENNER: That is not at all responsive to my question.

MR. SEEGER: I gave you my answer before I even said that.

MR. TAVENNER: If you refuse to answer, I think that you should not make a speech.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. TAVENNER: Did you also perform a service for the California Labor School in Los Angeles by putting on musical programs there?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you teach in the California Labor School?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. SCHERER: I think for the record you should state whether the California Labor School has been cited.


MR. SCHERER: As subversive and Communist dominated?

MR. TAVENNER: Yes, it has been.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. TAVENNER: Did you also teach at the Jefferson School of Social Science here in the city of New York?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. SCHERER: I ask that you direct him to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer. Did you teach at the Jefferson School here at New York?

MR. SEEGER: I feel very silly having to repeat the same thing over and over again, but my answer is exactly the same as before, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Has the Jefferson School of Social Science been cited?

MR. TAVENNER: Yes, and it has been required to register under the 1950 Internal Security Act.

MR. SCHERER: There are a number of people here who taught at that school, Mr. Walter.

MR. TAVENNER: I desire to offer in evidence a photostatic copy of an article from the September 21, 1946, issue of the Daily Worker which refers to music courses at Jefferson School, and I call attention to the last sentence in the article wherein Peter Seeger is mentioned as a leader in one of the courses. * * * According to the March 18, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker, it is indicated that you would entertain at a musical presented by the Jefferson Workers' Bookshop. According to the November 25, 1948, issue of the same paper you would perform also under the auspices of the Jefferson School of Social Science. Also you were a participant in a program advertised in the Daily Worker of June 1, 1950, put on by the Jefferson School of Social Science, and according to an issue of February 15, 1954, of the same paper, you were expected to play and lecture on songs and ballads in the Jefferson School. Will you tell the Committee, please, what were the circumstances under which you engaged in those programs, if you did?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you also engage in performances for the Labor Youth League in 1954?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before. Did you think that I sing propaganda songs or something?

MR. TAVENNER: In 1947, what was your connection with an organization known as People's Songs?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I take the same answer as before regarding any organization or any association I have.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What was People's Songs, Mr. Tavenner?

MR. TAVENNER: People's Songs was an organization which, according to its issue of February and March 1947, was composed of a number of persons on the board of directors who have been called before this Committee or identified by this Committee as members of the Communist Party, and the purpose of which, from information made available to the Committee, was to extend services to the Communist Party in its entertainment projects. Mr. Lee Hays was a member of the board of directors, was he not, along with you, in this organization?

(Witness consulted with counsel)

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you not the editor of People's Songs, and a member of the board of directors in 1947?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: You were actually the national director of this organization, were you not?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: Was the organization founded by Alan Lomax?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: Was the booking agent of People's Songs an organization known as People's Artists?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.

MR. TAVENNER: Will you tell the Committee, please, whether or not during the weekend of July 4, 1955, you were a member of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you a member of the Communist Party at any time during the various entertainment features in which you were alleged to have engaged?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.

MR. TAVENNER: Are you a member of the Communist Party now?

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.

MR. SCHERER: I ask for a direction on that question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.

MR. TAVENNER: I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The witness is excused.

Pete Seeger was sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of Congress but appealed his case successfully after a fight that lasted until 1962.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sharing Alone

Growing up, music was a way to share yourself with others.  That moment when your favorite song came on the radio was an unexpected gift. If you saw someone else get excited by the same song, it was a moment of magic.

With the advent of cassette tapes, much energy was put into capturing tunes from records or radio, and meticulous attention put into mix tapes. Where there is magic, there is always a human drive to capture it and harness it and share it and be the magician. That is what we do, and how we shape the world around us.

There were few things more liberating than a drive with friends with the perfect mix tape blaring. After the randomness of radio, the freedom of setting the soundtrack for your own life was a new kind of magic, made more so because you were sharing that life with those you cared about.

Things began to change with the Walkman. The magic became personal, and part of who are.  Your own private soundtrack followed you wherever you went. You were never without that extra emotional dimension. As much energy went into deciding what tapes to take with you for the day/weekend as went into deciding what clothes to wear or where to meet your friends.

The sight of someone walking with those iconic headphones became common, and we all knew that they were in a happy personal place. Very occasionally, you'd hear some bleed through or someone would share their headphones, and it felt like an intimate view into a private place.

The boom box was brief detour into again public sharing of music, but the socially indiscriminate nature of it made it a fleeting thing. It is one thing to share music you love with friends, it is yet another to have some idiot you don't know blasting distorted tunes you don't care for.

The CD Walkman was a gift the tech gods delivered from the top of Mt Fuji. How could all that magic fit into something so small and so light?  It heralded the ever so brief revival of the Album as the unit of music consumption, and a brief return to the artist being the curator of the experience, but it was an evolutionary dead end.

The iPod then changed everything again. All your music, always with you, in whatever order you want, just for you. iTunes and Napster liberated you from your friends, radio, or the music store to score your tunes. Like the kings of old, if you saw something you liked, you just reached out and took it for your own. 

iTunes and Napster also made the album irrelevant again. All that mattered was your music, your songs, and your mood. The soundtrack of your life was now a realtime mix, limited only by the depth of your library, and your skill in wielding it. White ear buds were the new talisman, invoking the power of the new gods from Cupertino.

Even though the iPod was intrinsically opaque to the world around you, everyone wanted one, and envied those that had one already. Once they started to become ubiquitous, there was an unusual importance given to your choice of iPod style and color. Did you have one of the big ones with 60GB, or one of the cool Nano's? Neat, I love the red ones! What cause are they for again?

The emergence of the iPhone took much of that away. The magic of the iPhone is that this plain piece of glass becomes anything you want it to be. Having one was/is an expression of profound self-empowerment. However, once everyone has one, how do you express to others who you are? How can they infer the secrets hidden in the soundtrack of you or your TXT stream?  

The explosion of designer headphones (Bob Marley headphones made of sustainable leather and FSC certified beech wood?  Really?) is a symptom of the much broader need to share who you are, not just be empowered to express who you are. The ubiquitousness and perfect abstractness of the iPhone have removed its power as a talisman. What will be the new talisman for the physical world that can match the power of what's happening in the social and mobile worlds?

Nothing Like A Warm Bath

For a couple years, I was amazed how some restaurants could serve the most tender, moist, and most perfectly cooked meats.  These were "WOW!" moments.  Who were these super beings in the kitchen?

Later on I learned about the cooking technique called sous vide, where chefs use immersion water baths at percisely controlled temperatures to cook food to percise temperature targets.  Foods are cooked in vacuum sealed bags, so they stay moist and can be waiting in their bath as long as necessary until it is time to serve.

Over the past couple years, some sous vide machines have come out that are targeted for the home chef.  I've been eyeing them and waiting to jump in, but it just didn't feel right: do I really want a large dedicated appliance in the kitchen always reminding me that a real chef wouldn't need such a toy?  Isn't the bread machine bad enough?

These holidays, it was time to man up and take the plunge.

I picked up a PID temperature controller from Fresh Meals Solutions, and Macgyver'ed it into our slow cooker.  A temperature probe in the water bath is used to regulate turning power on and off to the slow cooker.  Slow cooker has plenty of room for a gallon of water and several vacuum sealed bags.

Rather than going for the hard core vacuum sealers, I went low brow with the zip loc vacuum freezer bags.  We've had a lot of luck using these for long term storage in the freezer.  The internet crowd seems happy for them for cooking as well.  I just didn't see that much of an advantage to the home sealing units, and the commercial grade ones were way over kill.

A couple ebooks with temperature and time tables for various proteins on the iPad and we were good to go.

Getting up and going was drop dead simple.  The SousVideMagic 1500HD came preconfigured for degrees F, and the default tuning was plenty good enough for my set up.  Our slow cooker brought the gallon of water up to the target temperature at about a degree a minute, and after about a 1/2 a degree of overshoot, was rock solid there.


This was a VERY inexpesive way to get into sous vide cooking.  The PID controller was a cheap $150, and the zip loc bags an even cheaper $10.  We already had the slow cooker so we were good to go.  The alternative was $400-500 for the dedicated units, or $800 for the professional grade PID controller/circulator plus more for a vacuum sealer.

The results are VERY good, and the convenience can't be beat.  Definitely worth experimenting with.

Couple caveats.

My set up does not have any sort of circulator, so I rely on convection in the slow cooker to keep temperatures even.  This is mitigated by the big thick ceramic insert that my slow cooker uses that buffers temperature changes.  The optimal set up would be a larger container with a water circulator to get the 0.1 degree control.  I'm a long way from benefiting for that level of precision.  If/when it becomes an issue, I'll upgrade the set up.

The vacuum of the zip loc is not serious enough to get the vacuum flavor injection that gourmands favor so much.  It will keep the food from floating and give you good thermal contact, but flavorings will not be driven into your proteins like you get with the high end commercial sealers.

The slow cooker is great for a family of four, but it is way too small for a dinner party where you have many to cook for.  If/when we get serious enough to cook this way for guests, I'll probably spring for either a large capacity rice cooker, or a big lexan tub with some sort of water circulator (I'm guessing the later for space/storage considerations).