Like renewed allegations about Pete Seeger’s allegiance to the Communist Party, the musician and activist said rumors of the end of his recording career are greatly exaggerated. This just as bookies are computing the odds that Seeger will win another Grammy today.
It is moot that it was Seeger himself who started the rumor that his recording career is over.
“I thought it would be. Now I’m thinking of something else,” said Seeger, reached this week by telephone at his home in Beacon. Seeger, 89, said he has been having some creative rumblings of late, proving why “retirements” are almost always uncertain.
“You never can tell,” he said.
The “retirement” came up during an Associated Press story about Seeger three months ago, and was a topic of conversation at the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and State Route 9D on Jan. 31.
There, a peace protest that activist and musician Seeger often attends on the west side of Route 9 has been heckled by a “Support our Troops” and “Peace through Strength” contingent on the east side. Some of the “Eagles” as Seeger called the pro-Iraq war contingent, have accused Seeger and his pro-peace crew of giving comfort to the enemy.
Even still, those interviewed on both sides of the divide, said they wish Seeger well at the Grammys.
“His music is good. I do not believe in his political positions,” said Joe Berhosky of Poughkeepsie, pausing when pressed how to separate the message from the musician. “I didn’t say I liked his lyrics, I like his music. There’s a difference.”
Berhosky got involved in the pro-Iraq war side of the demonstration after his son joined the military two years ago, he said.
Seeger has been a frequent participant of the anto-war side of the divide for the last seven years, said organizer and peace protester Rich Carlson of the town of Wappingers. Carlson was among the first two to show up last weekend on the anti-war side of the debate.
The bitterness can get pointed, but it is often softened when Seeger is present, even among the most angry of the pro-Iraq war contingent, Carlson said.
“They don’t have a good reputation as far as dealing with people like ourselves, but they do grant Pete a lot of respect,” said Carlson.
“They’ve been posing for pictures with him,” said co-protester Liz Nedwell of Wappingers Falls.
Another “Eagle” protester, Dennis Maloney of LaGrange, acknowledged that he’s been around as some of the veterans have posed with photos with the peace activist. Maloney said he doesn’t wish Seeger ill, but he still resents what he sees as Seeger’s communist leanings and his belief that Seeger and his ilk have given “comfort to the enemy.”
Having said that, he admitted his crew gave “Pete” sunscreen and water when Seeger came to one of the cross-intersection vigils during a particularly hot summer day last year.
Seeger said he appreciated that.
“I’m glad we live in a country where we can disagree without trying to shoot each other. And one of them came over and talked with us for a bit and I think that’s a step forward,” Seeger said.
He doesn’t get angry at the oft-repeated accusation that he is a self-described member of the Communist Party.
“I don’t get mad about silly things about that. I’m sad for them that they haven’t woken up,” he said. “I drifted out of the Communist Party about 60 years ago. … The whole human race is tripped up by words. I suspect the word “the,” you know? THE solution. THE savior. THE revolution. I point out that when you study anthropology you learn that all of us were descended from tribal communists if you go back far enough.”
Like organizer Carlson, Seeger sees no reason to stop the seven-year anti-war protest.
“As long as an accident may happen sooner or later it will and it could be 2,000 years from now, but some insane person will say, ‘I know how to solve this problem.’ And if it’s not an atom bomb, it could be a biological weapon or something else,” he said.
In addition to the Lifetime Grammy Award Seeger received in 1993 and his 1996 Folk Grammy, Seeger’s awards have ranged from the Presidential Medal of the Arts to a Lifetime Legends medal from the Library of Congress.
Seeger is most known for his hits “Where Have All the Flowers gone,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his latest album, “At 89,” is up for a Grammy tonight in the Best Traditional Folk Album catogory.
Seeger will not attend the awards ceremony. He doesn’t like to travel much farther than he can comfortably drive from his Beacon home. One exception was his participation in the Obama inauguration, alongside Bruce Springsteen.
“He invited me and he also arranged for transportation,” Seeger said. “I didn’t have to worry about transportation or how to get there or how to get home.”
Although he shook hands with Barack Obama and his family during the festivities, he did not give the new president any advice.
“At one time I thought of writing him a letter reminding him that Lincoln put in his cabinet some of his rivals who wanted to be president, …and there were a lot of people who thought ‘these people ought to be nominated for president.’ Well Obama did this, he didn’t need my advice.”