First off, sad news about Pete Seeger, who died overnight, aged 94. Growing up I listened to a lot of folk music, so Seeger’s music and legacy as a musician impacted me from an early age. Even if I’d never heard his music, I heard people who covered his songs, from the Byrds with ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!‘ to Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions album. And though he was not a Dylan fan (there’s an apocryphal story of him attempting to take an axe to the power during Dylan’s Newport ’65 performance), everyone is entitled to their opinion. But he was more than just a musician: he was a humanitarian, patriot, activist, protester, environmentalist, artist and overall good person. He had strong beliefs, and was willing to stick by them, even at the detriment of his own career. His testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the McCarthy-era blacklistings is both a testament to his love of country and a scathing indictment of the times. The man worked tirelessly to defend his country, even from itself. His Smothers Brothers performance of his protest song ‘Waist Deep In the Big Muddy‘ aired during the height of the Vietnam War, when he was still blacklisted so many years later. It almost didn’t air due to that, in fact. However, the song was poignant then, and remains so now. He was a man of his convictions, and the world shall be a worse place without his fighting spirit. We’ll miss you and always appreciate you, Pete.
In other news, the Grammys happened over the weekend. I don’t watch them, but I did look at the winners afterwards. As with most awards shows, I was generally disappointed with the outcome. Granted, I am biased towards the indie/folk spectrum of music and tend not to like the more ‘popular’ stuff. Still, I tend to like the artists who get nominated in the ‘Alternative’ categories. Indeed, three of my favourite albums from last year were all nominated for the same award of ‘Best Alternative Music Album’. I was rooting for Neko Case more than any of the others, but I can’t fault Vampire Weekend winning. At least Kacey Musgraves won for ‘Best Country Album’ and ‘Best Country Song’, I can’t fault that either. However, I can fault the Recording Academy for their choice of Best Producer, because it clearly should have been Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (my bias is definitely showing). I would have tolerated Ariel Rechtshaid, but only because I love the Haim album he produced. An honour to be nominated, yadda yadda, blah blah; either of them should have won.
Finally, I will be bringing music into my classroom this week. Our topic this week is the women’s movement; mostly in the Progressive 19-teens, but also with a few links to the 60s. So of course I’m having my students read and analyse at least the Rolling Stones’ ‘Mother’s Little Helper‘, and possibly a song relating to women voting, if I can find anything. I am open to suggestions on that. The Library of Congress and University of Pennsylvania have plenty of lyrics for sheet music, but I’d like an audio version of something too, if available. Hopefully my students will appreciate it. I’m not sure how much they liked having The Band’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down‘ played when talking about the Civil War, but I keep trying to bring my research into my teaching, as higher education wants us to do nowadays. Since I research music and popular culture, songs in class relevant to the issues we’re discussing is what my students get.