Pete Seeger changes his tune – finger removed from ear.

September 28, 2007 at 8:37 pm (Jim D, left, music, stalinism)

I’ve never particularly liked folk music, with its whining three-chord “tunes”, its anachronistic and lachrymose lyrics and the sheer musical incompetence of most of its performers – including the famous ones like Bob Dylan.

Having said that, I have to admit that most of the folkies I’ve met over the years have been thoroughly decent people, often stalwarts of left-wing campaigns, strike-support activity and international solidarity. But for some unexplained reason, these admirable people almost invariably turn out to be Stalinists of one variety or another: what is it about the music or the “scene” that brings this about? Delightful, sandle-wearing,  hirsute do-gooders turn out to be apologists for some of the most monstrous regimes and genocidal crimes in human history!

Pete “If I Had a Hammer” Seeger always struck me as the spritual progenitor of the finger-in-the-ear school of folkie Stalinism (the finger being in the ear to prevent the truth about Uncle Joe’s crimes ever being heard): he was (and is) a very good and brave human being, so far as I can judge. Certainly, he had the courage to defy the House Committee on Un-American Activities, rather than betray his friends and comrades, and spent a year in jail as a result. On a less serious note, I’ve also always harboured a sneaking admiration for his legendary attempt to take an axe to Bob Dylan’s microphone cable at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. But still, this admirable figure remained an unremitting, unreconstructed Stalinist…

…Until now. According to Nicholoas Wapshott in the New Statesman, the 88 year-old Seeger says he has “‘been thinking what Woody (Guthrie – JD) might have written had he been around” to see the end of the Soviet Union. In a letter responding to (a) complaint that he had repeatedly sung about the Nazi Holocaust but failed to acknowledge the millions killed in Stalin’s death camps, he (Seeger) wrote: “I think you’re right – I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in (the) USSR”.

So now Pete has written a new song, ‘The Big Joe Blues’, which goes: “I’m singing about old Joe, cruel Joe./He ruled with an iron hand./He put an end to the dreams/Of so manyin every land./He had a chance to make/A brand new start for the human race./Instead he set it back/Right in the same nasty place./I got the Big Joe Blues./(Keepyour mouth shut or you will die fast.)/I got the Big Joe Blues./(Do this job, no questions asked.)/I got the Big Joe Blues”.

According to Wapshott, Pete now acknowledges that, “if by some freak of history communism (I think he really means Stalinism – JD) had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail”. So the finger’s well and truly out of the ear. At long last.


  1. Music » Pete Seeger changes his tune - finger removed from ear. said,

    […] your123 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI’ve never particularly liked folk music, with its whining three-chord “tunes”, its anachronistic and lachrymose lyrics and the sheer musical incompetence of most of its performers – including the famous ones like Bob Dylan. … […]

  2. Renegade Eye said,

    He always seemed decent.

    When I was a teen, I heard Seeger sing “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” on network TV in the 1960s, to protest the war in Vietnam. Sponsors pulled out of that show.

  3. Boogski said,

    My Mom used to sing “if I had a Hammer” to me when I was a little kid. Sorry. I have to say I enjoyed it.

  4. resistor said,

    Even by the admittedly standards of Denham’s usual posts, this on takes the biscuit for its mixture of stupidity, prejudice and plain ignorance.

    Just one example of folk’s ‘sheer musical incompetence’ is the double bass player of Pentangle, Danny Thompson.

    As well as playing mainly folk music, Thompson worked with real jazz musicians like Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, John Stevens and Harold McNair who probably overlooked his ‘sheer musical incompetence’.

    I’m afraid I’ve not been able to find a single instance of Denham making any musical mark in this world outside some Birmingham Pub on a Sunday lunchtime. Perhaps the gigs dried up after the demise of the Black and White Minstrels.

    However I’m sure that obscure Dixieland Jazz drummers represent the height of musical sophistication…

  5. Jim Denham said,

    resitsor :Danny Thompson is the exception that proves the rule. A ‘folk’ double bass player so good that he went on to play jazz.

  6. resistor said,

    Wrong again

    He played skiffle, jazz then folk. More ignorance.

  7. johng said,

    Dreadful stuff that folk business.

  8. Simon B said,


    Why does it surprise you that so many folkies are stalinists?

    Look at the similarities between folk music and socialist realist art.
    Poor quality, dull, formulaic and soulless.

  9. Jason S. said,


    Seeger disavowed Stalinism decades ago. He left the CPUSA in the 1950s. In recent years he’s labeled himself a “Luxemburgist.”

    And for fuck’s sake drop the jazz snobbery. Even Charlie Parker liked Hank Williams. I suppose he was a “musical incompetent” too.

  10. johng said,

    willie nelson. fantastic.

  11. Alex said,

    Many prominent “ear-ache” folkies in Britain were stalinist types e.g. Ewan McColl.

    OTOH, Dave Van Ronk, who taught Dylan half of his early repertoire, was a Trot,who , at one time, was close to the US Healyites.

    I’m convinced D.V.Ronk’s role is underplayed by the dissimulating Dylan in his autobiography, which introduces a Southerner called ‘Ray Gooch’ and his wife ‘Chloe Kiel’ into the story of his formative stay in Greenwich Village.

    But no one who was around at the time seems to be able to remember them!

  12. voltairespriest said,


    Do you actually have a social life?

  13. Chaya said,

    So, how long will it take for today’s leftists to come to the realization that Islamic Fascism is even MORE dangerous than Joe Salin!!

  14. Merlin69 said,

    Use repeated readings, alternate and choral reading, and self-timing strategies to provide practice. ,

  15. Дао said,

    Dreadful stuff that folk business.

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