Pete Seeger on a park bench, chatting with a Catholic reporter

Pete Seeger on a park bench, chatting with a Catholic reporter February 3, 2014

Hearing about Pete Seeger’s death, those shrewd detectives over at CNS went ferreting through their files last week and found an unusual interview with the iconic singer from over 40 years ago.

Carol Zimmerman explains:

The story was part of a series titled “Dateline: U.S.A.” the news service was doing in those years. Seeger wasn’t a Catholic but he was in town as part of the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, which then and now offers a look at the many ethnicities, folkways and cultures that make up U.S. society.

Here’s part of the piece, from reporter John Sullivan, published in the summer of 1970:

He lives in a log cabin his family and friends helped build.

He wears jeans, old shirts, old sweaters, work shoes and drives an old station wagon. His traveling entourage usually consists of his wife, Toshi, and his younger daughter, Tinya

When strangers recognize him, he smiles awkwardly, mumbles his thanks and, as if wondering what to say next, ambles away.

He doesn’t have a press agent.

And that, believe it or not, is Pete Seeger, the man who, at 51, is helping young America rediscover — for at least the third time — the country’s folk music tradition….

…Not long ago, Seeger sat on a bench in Washington’s Mall and talked about some of these things — a little bit about himself, but mostly about the world around him.

Obviously, he’s not an easy man to typecast, and Seeger is the first to admit it: “I try not to get myself put in a box and I try not to put other people in boxes.  . . . There’s a tendency to give a dog a bad name and kill it.”

On a recent television show with Canadian singer Oscar Brand, Brand opened a heated attack on Catholic legislators who vote against abortion and for parochial school aid. Seeger quickly calmed him down. “Before we start looking anti-Catholic,” he said, “let me sing a song.” It was a New England Irish Catholic protest song, “No Irish Need Apply.”

Stories of Seeger’s calming interventions abound, but he sees himself as one who stirs up people.

“I don’t want to find myself being used by people just to calm things down because, frankly, I’m glad to see people getting stirred up.

“You know the old saying: the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And the world is full of good people who are not stirring up enough trouble.”

Read it all.

Photo: CNS/Sister Nancy Bauer, OSB

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