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Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do You Do When You Get a Republican Alone in a Dark Alley?

I've been reading a book on Pete Seeger "How Can I Keep from Singing? The Ballad of Pete Seeger" by David King Dunaway.  Some of the material I was familiar with from various books and documentaries on folk music and musicians. But one particular point caught my attention, from the chapter concerning Pete's  inquisition before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

Pete, like many other folk or popular musicians with left wing connections was subpoenaed to testify before the committee in the early 50's and, as he was not planning to cooperate, he had to plan a legal strategy.  The two major options for those choosing to refuse cooperation were to refuse to answer questions on the grounds of the 5th amendment, or to refuse to answer to to answer indirectly based on the effect the questions had on the first amendment rights.  Pete choose the second and more legally perilous path, knowing that it would mean a contempt citation and a long period of legal troubles.

Pete's answers were a steady polite refusal to cooperate, complete with sirs. But what was most peculiar about Pete's testimony is that he brought his banjo with him, and when they asked about the subversive nature of one of his songs, he generously offered to play and sing it for them, so they could examine the question directly.

A couple of years after appearing before the Committee, touring while awaiting his trial on contempt charges, Pete was down in Louisiana and was sharing with some Cajun musicians who invited him to join them at a party in a nearby house.  the missus of the house and other guests were enjoying his banjo playing when the man of the house came home --Congressman Walters, Chair of the Inquisition Committee  before which he had appeared. Destiny had insisted on this musical appointment for the Congressman, who was forced to here the subversive notes.  The Grand Inquisitor  promptly questioned the heretical musician in the kitchen.  He discovered that his friends had invited Seeger and his wife had innocently enjoyed the repertoire. He promptly informed the musical red who had subverted his way into his household that he was unwelcome. At which Pete ungratefully left.

All of which leads me to my own little subversive plot.  I carry around with me, sometimes, Woody Guthrie  and Pete Seeger song sheets waiting for the perfect opportunity.  When I get a Republican alone with me in a dark alley --well dim so I can see, I will whip out my song sheets and serenade our unsuspecting Republican. Listen up or else!

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