For Pete Seeger, music and politics were inextricable

As news of Pete Seeger‘s death spread on Tuesday, some on the right offered eulogies in the form of a cliche: “I may not have cared for Pete Seeger’s politics, but I sure loved his music.”

Others twisted that idea into a joke that was snarkier, but more logical: “Pete Seeger’s politics AND music were awful.”

For Seeger, the two were inextricable. He sang about what he cared about — civil rights, workers’ rights, ending our senseless wars, protecting our broken planet — and his songs convinced Americans to care, too. When we mourn Seeger today, we’re also mourning popular music’s fading ability to mobilize political action.

In the closing pages of his terrific 2011 book, “33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs From Billie Holiday to Green Day,” London author Dorian Lynskey wonders if that mobilizing power has completely vanished from today’s pop music.

“If [the book’s epilogue] is a eulogy, it’s a eulogy for the idea of the mainstream protest song,” Lynskey told the Post in 2011, “the undeniable mainstream protest song which soundtracks certain events and maybe even changes people’s minds.”

Seeger didn’t allow protest music to die on his watch. In an appreciation for the Guardian, Lynskey writes, “Even in old age, [Seeger] kept singing, notably at President Obama’s inauguration and Occupy Wall Street. His voice may have grown shaky but it carried with it the history of the American left since the New Deal. He would have considered it neglectfully selfish to retire.”

Below, listen to some of Seeger’s most potent songs.

Chris Richards has been the Post's pop music critic since 2009. He's recently written about summer songs, festival fatigue, metal drumming and D.C. rap star Shy Glizzy.

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Justin Bank · January 28, 2014