Pete Seeger & Generational Mourning

The Rev. Erika Hewitt launched a long Facebook discussion this week with this tweet:

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:
  1. If I Had a Hammer
The end.   I might not have gotten that far, as I often mix him up with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, who did a famous version of it.  They were more influential to me, because the album Peter, Paul & Mommy was released not too far before I was born, and so they had children's music when I was a child.  I would've thought "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" was theirs, too, since they did record a version of it as well.  I may have mistakenly guessed a Bob Dylan song or a Woody Guthrie song, like "This Land Is Your Land."   And I thought "Turn, Turn, Turn" was by someone in the Byrds.  This is despite hearing him play at General Assembly in Fort Worth, where the only song I remember much of is "Abiyoyo," which nearly bored me to tears, and which I wouldn't have remembered the name of.  Nevertheless, I do remember enjoying the evening, which I think I attended, but am not sure.  I dislocated and sprained my ankle one evening, which made most of that GA a blur of pain meds and pain.

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.


Sara said…
As a Gen X who did grow up loving Pete Seeger (he was part of the soundtrack of all my parents campfires and sing-alongs, when someone busted out a guitar along with the marshmallows there would be some Pete Seeger), I personally would resonate with a service full of his music. But the problem with music is that it is such a matter of personal taste. Not everyone likes classical choral music. Not everyone likes folk. Not everyone likes gospel. (My husband would prefer that there was NO music in the service!) We can't ever assume everyone is going to like the music of any particular Sunday, so let's do a little of a lot of different styles.
Continue to limit music to the gray hymnal and only the hearing impaired or boomers willcheer.
John Marsh said…
My own kids remember Seeger chiefly from his line in Sesame Street's "Put Down the Ducky".

We in Ottawa had a sing a long tribute at the Fellowship shortly after Pete's death. This Saturday night at Ottawa First Congregation, we will have a benefit concert. To our delight, Tim Baker, lead singer of the hot new indie Rock group Hey Rosetta has gotten permission to appear (since he is headlining at the Blues Festival here in Ottawa he had signed a contract not to make any other appearances.)


John Marsh
Minister, First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa

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