I should be ashamed at only just now getting to the astonishingly brilliant collection of music known as Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions that was released earlier this year and to be sure, I am duly chagrined. However, now that I have finally opened the package and played it (and am listening to it for the 2nd time in a row) I have to I am having a damn hard time keeping my fingers on the keyboard when what I’d rather be doing is getting up and dancing around the room, clapping. Seriously, this is damn difficult! The cd kicks off with Old Dan Tucker, a rollicking, knee slapper if there ever was one and a square dance tune from the 1800’s. It gets the cd off to a rollicking start and give or take a ballad or two, the joint swings for the rest of the 60 minute disc.
There are bluegrass tunes, dixieland romps and Irish Republican anthems on this cd along with classic protest songs and best of all? They’re recorded live in Bruce’s living room. You can hear him call out chord changes and conducting instructions and you can practically smell the biscuits cooking and see the jug wine being passed around. The whole thing is a portable hootenanny, a real gone party, man! If you don’t know what a “hoot” is, look it up!
Far more than simply a party, these songs are a document of history, from 16th century Scottish tune Froggie Went a Courtin’ to 20th century labor laments, gospel hymns and the granddaddy of all protest songs, We Shall Overcome. The subjects sung about in these songs reflect segments of the American people that are not often sung about by popular musicians on albums that sell more than 100,000 copies in their first week and range from Dust Bowl refugees to the Southern black stevedores to the mules that pulled barges on the Erie Canal.
Now here comes a little name-dropping and a brief history lesson, but it’s appropriate, necessary and brief! I grew up with Pete Seeger, both as a frequent musical presence on my parents’ turntable and as a frequent guest in our house and us at his. We picnicked on the banks of the Hudson in the summer and even shared meals in Cuba in 1983 where as a 14 year-old I wowed Pete with the old “wet your finger and make the water glass whistle” trick, which apparently he (and the rest of the people in the restaurant) had never heard. We had a great time with me making the noise until people started to look around and then I’d stop and Pete and I would giggle. My most recent experience with Pete was when he came to the memorial meeting for my mother after she passed away early last year. I can’t measure how much that meant to me, as Pete had quite a bad cold and a trip from Beacon, NY to midtown Manhattan is a lot for an 86 year-old in February, but he came. He slipped out at the end and I didn’t get to thank him, but he came, and that’s enough. Ok, not so brief…sorry!
The point of that last paragraph was that Pete and his music are very dear to my heart and while he’s a very famous person, I am sure there are many people who don’t really know much about him except that they’ve heard his name. I bet they’ve heard songs he’s had a hand in without knowing it, though. The Byrds made “Turn, Turn Turn” a major hit, while Peter, Paul and Mary charted with If I Had a Hammer, We Shall Overcome was rightly adopted as one of the anthems of the Civil Rights Movement and Where Have All The Flowers Gone has been recorded by everyone from The Kingston Trio to Marlene Dietrich! All are songs written in whole or in part by Pete.
While Pete is of course a fantastic songwriter, he’s also a sort of musicologist and historian and his records can be counted on to educate as much as to entertain. The songs on this collection are not necessarily the Seeger songs many know but are more likely songs that Pete remembered from his childhood, classic folk tunes he played with The Weavers or discovered in a box of sheet music, somewhere.
Seeger is still active in his role as singer, songwriter, musical archivist and social conscience to the nation, but with this collection Springsteen is picking up the torch, so’s to speak and what with the state of the world today, one can only hope he can get some people to follow along. These songs deserve to live on, as do the thoughts, lives and experiences of those whose stories are told in them.
If you don’t have it already, do me a favor and by it from Barnes & Noble.com by using the link below.
Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions
And for my friends in Europe, there’s always Amazon.co.uk!