The Magazine

Red Warbler

Marching in step with a song and a smile.

Oct 12, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 04 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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I seem to stagger about this agonized world as a clown, dressed in happiness, hoping to reach the hearts and minds of the young.

Mix vigorously with a statement by Wilkinson.

.  .  . all human beings are created equal and have equal rights. In the early and middle parts of the twentieth century, such a conviction made a person not a patriot, but a socialist.

And you get a taste of the sharing, caring, lame-o lefty mind omelet that spreads mood-poisoning to the masses.

The other momentous question of the modern era is what to do about it. The Protest Singer tells us what not to do. The slim volume is padded with a 28-page transcript of Seeger's August 18, 1955, testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (This committee is sorely in need of reconstitution, considering how many new activities have emerged that are un-American. The other day I saw a fellow turn off his BlackBerry before sitting down to a restaurant meal--and I had no one to report him to.)

Seeger was questioned by HUAC's chairman, Democratic congressman Francis E. Walter of Pennsylvania, a New Deal hack and coauthor of the McCarran-Walter "Yellow Peril" Act that tried to limit non-European immigration. Assisting the inquiry was the committee counsel, Frank S. Tavenner Jr., who seems to have been an idiot. The result of Seeger's being grilled was a sort of reverse waterboarding that, had it gone on much longer, would have had committee members and staff confessing to attempted suicide attacks on Joseph McCarthy.

Here are a few tidbits.

MR. TAVENNER: What is your profession or occupation?


MR. SEEGER: Well, I have worked at many things .  .  . and I make my living as a banjo picker--sort of damning, in some people's opinion. .  .  . It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school--


CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?


MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn't my profession. .  .  .


CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?

MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes .  .  . and I expect I always will.


MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker [containing] this advertisement: "Tonight--Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party? .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs .  .  . or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked. .  .  .

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of .  .  . the June 1, 1949, issue of the Daily Worker [containing] this statement: The first performance of a new song, "If I Had a Hammer," .  .  . will be given at a testimonial dinner .  .  . at St. Nicholas Arena. .  .  . MR.

SEEGER: I shall be glad to answer about the song, sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs. .  .  .

CHAIRMAN WALTER: .  .  . I direct you to answer .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: I am sorry you are not interested in the song. .  .  . I am saying that my answer is the same as before. I have told you that I sang for everybody.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Wait a minute. You sang for everybody. Then are we to believe, or to take it, that you sang at the places Mr. Tavenner mentioned? .  .  .

MR. SEEGER: .  .  . I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.



We all know the types who listen to Pete Seeger songs; even Pete admits they aren't interesting. Nonetheless, Seeger has labored long and hard among these featherheads. As Wilkinson says, "He hoped that by making people feel themselves to be elements of a collective identity, he could intensify their experience--enlarge and encourage them and help hold oblivion at arm's length."