I could sputter for hours about Pete Seeger, and the reaction to his death, or I could make just a few points. I’m opting for the latter.
I remembered something from Peter Collier’s biography of Jeane Kirkpatrick (which I reviewed here). When she was in college, Jeane K. attended a Wallace for President rally. (We’re talking Henry, of course, not George.) Pete Seeger played the banjo. Already mature, she voted for Truman. Decades later, she was proud of that — proud of having resisted “the temptation of radical politics.”
As for me, I saw Seeger just once. It was in 2012, at the annual ceremony of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. I stayed for just a bit. And I wrote on this blog that Seeger had shown up “with a couple of musical instruments.” I asked, “What was he going to sing about? The glories of North Korea? The Castro brothers? Who or what is his current totalitarian ideal?”
Over the weekend, I was with some friends, including a woman who grew up in East Germany. She has a special distaste for Pete Seeger. He was thrown in their faces, presented as an American object of admiration, if not worship. I told my friend that our president — Barack Obama — had praised Seeger. Praised him for believing in the “power of community” to “move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.” My friend was positively staggered. She looked at me open-mouthed. She could not believe that the president had hailed Seeger — not Honecker, but the American president, Obama.
By the way, Kirkpatrick went to Barnard and Obama to Columbia. They were very different students.
One final item: Last week, I covered a recital by Marc-André Hamelin, the pianist, at Carnegie Hall. He played a sonata by Medtner. And the evening’s program notes said, “Medtner, like Rachmaninoff, was unsympathetic to the Bolshevik regime and left Russia in 1921.”
Okay. But, ladies and gentlemen, try to roll this one around your tongue: “Schoenberg was unsympathetic to the Nazi regime and left Germany in 1933.”