Gentle reminder to clergy mourning #PeteSeeger: too much of his music on Sunday & you'll exclude Gen X & Millennials. #NotJustBoomersInPews
— Rev. Erika (@UUYogini) January 29, 2014
She later clarified and qualified that statement. But I think she was pointing at something that's important to remember, not unlike what I was saying a few months ago here. The point I think is worth taking away from Hewitt's post is that while yes, certain people, Pete Seeger among them, were very important to history and have a strong connection to our Unitarian Universalist values, that it's not wrong or misguided or unfortunate to be someone who did not connect to Seeger's music, and that the sorrow that many are feeling at his death shouldn't be assumed to be universal, even among Unitarian Universalists. The problem comes when people assume that their cultural memories are universally shared and/or more culturally important. GenXers are sometimes quick to get frustrated about the larger Baby Boomer generation assuming their nostalgia and their cultural experience are either universal to all Americans or more important than any generation's experience before or since. And yes, GenXers can be overly sensitive about this. But that doesn't mean Boomers aren't sometimes guilty of this universalizing, too. Pete Seeger's death is important, but it's more important to people who connected with his music, and it's okay if people didn't, folks.
Folks the Facebook threads about this are being quick to say that Pete Seeger wasn't a Boomer. That's true. But his music was more influential with the Boomer generation than those that followed. Singers are often more influential to the generation that follows them in birth age, since they sometimes reach their popularity when they are of an age older than the high schoolers who listen to them. Let's put it this way: Simon LeBon was born in 1958. That makes him a Baby Boomer. But I'll be surprised if I hear anybody arguing that Duran Duran was Baby Boomer music, and important to their generation. Of course, I'm not claiming Duran Duran has great cultural importance to GenX, either, but for those of us reaching our teenage years in the 1980s we may know more Duran Duran lyrics than we care to admit to, and more than the average Boomer does, as well. Guess which other eighties star is a Boomer? Bruce Springsteen (1949), Michael Jackson (1958), Madonna (1958), Sting (1951), Peter Gabriel (1950), Axl Rose (1962), Prince (1958), Adam Ant (1954), Morrissey (1959), Siouxsie Sioux (1958), Belinda Carlisle (1958), Jon Bon Jovi (1962), and Bono (1960). I could go on. We GenXers are heavily influenced by music by Boomers, just as Boomers were influenced by some music by people a little older.
As a GenX person who grew up with early Boomer parents who weren't particularly connected to folk music and listened to country and jazz instead, if you had asked me last week to list as many Pete Seeger songs as possible, my list would've looked like this:
- If I Had a Hammer
Lest you assume that I don't think Pete Seeger's death matters, I do. I've rearranged some of this Sunday's service in my own congregation to remember him. I think he's important because of his history of activism. I think he's important to remember in worship because of this and because he claimed something of a UU identity. What I think we should be careful of, however, is assuming that everybody likes Pete Seeger, that everybody knows who he was and why he's important to us politically and culturally, and that everybody is mourning his death.