In much the same way that, while being abstinent from sex with partners for the last 15 years with very little sexual experience before that, I am politically bisexual, I am politically a folkie.
While I have some experience with folk music — I listened to WCAS in the 60’s, have been known to play a Gordon Lightfoot track now and then and once spent a night at Smokey Greene’s Bluegrass Festival sometime in the 1980s, I never really acquired a tasted for folk. Heck, all the bluegrass even sounded the same to me, though I have since discovered that is one of the things that bluegrass fans really like about the genre.
Still, I am politically very much in favour of folk music, even if, as with the case of bisexuality, I am not really much of a participant. I think it’s great that people can pick up an acoustic instrument and sing, can create personal music with poetry and enthusiasm, can just join in at the old hootenanny. That’s a good thing.
I just watched the PBS American Masters film on Pete Seeger, called The Power Of Song. He used music to create community and through that, created change. He left an impressive and powerful legacy.
Pete’s story of standing strong for his calling,even during the decades when he was reviled for being un-American, is one of the most patriotic stances I have ever known. Sure, he was a citizen of the world first, but his commitment was to the community he was in, starting with kids and moving up.
I’m not a standard progressive, I don’t agree with old leftys, have chosen not to be a back-to-the-earth earnest folkie, but damnit, I stand for their right to make those choices and admire them when they make them as clearly, as continuously and with as much commitment as Pete Seeger did.
Mr. Seeger knew his mission, knew it was good and virtuous, and by following it with intensity and verve for his whole life, he made the world a better place. He found common ground with those who thought they were his enemy, standing shoulder to shoulder for important shared causes.
He had plenty of support in that mission, lead by a wife he married when he had a short furlough from the Army in WWII and who made a home for him and his children that gave him sustenance for all the rest of his days. His family supported him too, his brothers helping to pay for him to go to Harvard, for example.
Pete Seeger was a man with a clear mission and pursued that mission all through his life which makes him a missionary. That is both why the establishment tried to silence him, stopping his power, and why he eventually left an enormous impact on a very human level.
I have to admit that I envy missionaries. Their clear and fixed beliefs, the kind that seem so odd to me, let them have the endurance and persistence in battle which lets them slough off decades of attack and still make their mark. I envy missionaries in the same way I envy folkies and active bisexuals; they just know what they like and keep on getting more of the same, no matter how lazy, sloppy, repetitive or amateurish it turns out to be.
Missionaries make the same simple pitch over and over again and delight in it every time. The fact that it all sounds much the same is the value and joy in the process.
When I started this piece, I was thinking that having some of Pete Seeger’s zeal and focus might be good for me to have, something to carry me as I got on with the fight. But in thinking about it, I’d realize be a really bad missionary, which is why I ended up as a hermetic visionary instead.
So, while I am politically in favor of missionaries, those who carry the message wide, building community in their wake, even if that process isn’t something I feel very comfortable participating in. I’d rather observe and ponder than sing another refrain of a good old organizer’s song, a comforting and affirming hymn to goodness.
Missionaries, Folkies and Bisexuals, I stand with you!
Just don’t expect me at the party, though. I’ll be watching from just over there. . .