Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pound Sand

[Posted by Callimachus]

This article on Bruce Springsteen's Seeger sessions gives a one-paragraph summation of the relationship between Pete Seeger's politics and his music:

Seeger began his career with a forthright political agenda. An old-style Stalinist and card-carrying member of the American Communist Party, he argued from the start that “music is a weapon”, a theme immortalized by the words written on the guitar of his pal and singing partner Woody Guthrie: “This machine kills Fascists.” In groups like the Almanac Singers, Seeger sang at union halls and antiwar rallies (including those run by Communist Party fronts during the era of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact), and came into his own as a featured antiwar activist and singer during the Vietnam War years. But Seeger’s other side emphasized the story of America told by old traditional folksingers like Bascom Lamar Lunsford—a banjo picker whose politics and view of the world were 180 degrees out from anything Seeger believed, and whose music and life reflected the Appalachian culture he was born to.

A less-friendly writer might have reversed the parenthetical and non-parenthetical bits of it, but it remains a cold-eyed look at a troubling relationship between deep music -- the "other side" -- and repulsive politics.

For some people, the mere connection is enough to taint the music. And I have no interest in Springsteen and no love for Seeger's wretched political postures.

But many artists made similar mistakes in those years. Some made them on the left, some on the right. They lost sight of an essential quality of the art of the West -- the tradition that they were, in their own ways, heirs to -- which is personal freedom and the right of individual expression. Every swerve toward totalitarianism, left or right, was a poison to that.

I have learned more about writing and reading from Ezra Pound than any other individual. And he, too, had his political demons and it is impossible to disentangle the polemics from the art, down to the last echo. And the deplorable political views were a product of a benighted time, when American virtues and liberal freedoms seemed to have failed utterly and the future belonged to the "rigorous deputation from 'Slade’ " who held aloft their
"fore-arms / crossed in great futuristic X’s."

So I'll forgive your Seeger if you forgive my Pound. And we'll all forgive Roosevelt and Churchill, for making an alliance with the biggest butcher of the 20th century for the sake of bringing down the second-biggest, and whistle and go fishing in heaven. Life's a matter of compromises. As for the audiences, both Seeger and Pound struggle to be heard anymore in a nation obsessed with what fucking Katie fucking Couric wore on the fucking TV news tonight. Seeger and Pound would agree on that one, in more or less those terms.

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