The Corner

Pete Seeger, Musician

The admirers of Pete Seeger have had their say, and so have the record keepers (see John Fund’s piece yesterday). One point I haven’t seen anywhere is that, when you came right down it, he wasn’t a very good musician.

Oh, he could play his instruments and carry a tune and he had an ear for good old songs. But he made everything bland and boneless. He was the ideal leader of happy-clappy sing-alongs — the Mitch Miller of the folk revival. Musically, the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary were his children.

This style of performing crippled Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers movie about a fictional folk singer. I must be the only person who saw it who liked the movie better than the music. The songs were good, but the performances were anodyne.

The irony is that the movie was loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, who was anything but. Van Ronk moaned, roared, chuckled, and sometimes seduced. To hear him sing “Motherless Children,” “He Was a Friend of Mine,” “Come Back, Baby” or “Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her” is to enter another world.

This is all history to me since my musical memory practically starts at the British invasion. But I have opinions about the music of 1760 and 1860, so why not the music of 1960 too?

Back to old Pete — you were a Commie, and you were boring. Good night, Irene.


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