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Jul 022013

The article “Pete Seeger talks Beethoven, Bob Dylan, and the end of the world” dated “May 23, 2013”  “By

Here are some excerpts from the aforementioned article by Bernard Woods which began the following way :

“The legendary folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger is in town to speak at Peabody’s graduation ceremony, where he will receive the Peabody Medal for his outstanding contributions to music. We were delighted to meet Seeger over lunch, where our conversation ranged widely, as he often broke into song, singing ‘Anacreon in Heaven,’  from which Key took the melody to the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ new lyrics he wrote to Beethoven’s ‘Seventh Symphony,’ and several other tunes, in addition to reciting  ‘The Gettysburg Address’ (in its entirety) and a couple poems from memory. He spoke with authoritatively about the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, the construction of the Washington Monument,  and Japanese poetry. And, of course, music and politics. Below are excerpts from that conversation.

City Paper: I owe you a great debt of gratitude. When I inherited a banjo about ten years ago, I learned most everything from you.

Pete Seeger: I should have brought down the two books I want to give to Peabody. The small book is my best seller, I wrote it over the course of 14 years and gradually improved it and it’s called How to Play the Five String Banjo.

CP: I know it well. So, how did this Peabody award come about?

PS: I haven’t the faintest idea. They spend much of their time teaching how to read music expertly whereas I purposely stayed away from reading music. I like to be an ear musician, and in school, I had to take a music class but I told the teacher I would really prefer to learn the song from ear rather than from paper. I did put two pages in my banjo instruction book, at the very end, ‘How to Read Music Slightly.’

The article ended the following way :

CP: What do you think the state of folk music is now in the world?

PS: It all depends on your definition of folk music. Because in one sense, I’d say the most popular folk instruments of the 21st century are the electric guitar, the electric bass, and the drums, traps. If you got those three, 99 percent of the people will understand what you are doing.

CP: That’s funny, because 50 years ago people were furious at Dylan for going electric. But now you’re saying those instruments are folk instruments.

PS: Of course, now he just shouts. I can’t understand what he’s singing. Too bad. But he’s actually out there just to say ‘I am what I am. This is me. If you like it you can like it. If you don’t like it, it doesn’t make a damn to me.’ He wrote his best songs when he was young. As did I.

CP: With politics, you’ve been outspoken and engaged over the years. What are issues you’re concerned with now?

PS: It’s hard to say which is the most important. The world population–we’ve got to tell the economists and people with money, they’re simply bringing the end of the world quicker. You may be making more money, but if you tell people ‘if you don’t grow you die.’ it just means the sooner we die. And then you have the people who want to understand. My father used to argue with scientists and said ‘Do you realize you are the most dangerous religious belief in the world?’ and the scientists would answer ‘No, I don’t have a religious belief.’ ‘Oh no,’ my father would say. ‘You think that an infinite increase in empirical information is a good thing. Can you prove it?’ [The scientists replied] ‘Oh no, it must be obvious.’ My father would say ‘Oh no, it’s not obvious at all. If it’s infinite it means someday it will take a device no bigger than a pistol to shoot off an atom bomb. Is that a good thing? If we don’t put a stop to invention sooner or later, it’s the end of the of the world.’ They would stagger off saying ‘You have no right to ask such questions.’ My father would shout after them ‘Face it, it’s a religious belief.’ But then he would turn to me with an ironic smile and say ‘You know, Peter, if I’m right then perhaps the committee who told Galileo to shut up was correct.’

But I think if the human race is still here in a hundred years, it will be the arts that keep us going, the visual arts, the musical arts, the cooking arts, the humor arts, even the sports arts.”

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Louis DeCola, Jr.                                    © 2013 The Hygiology Post ®