'Tis a Gift To Be Simple, "Tis a Gift To Be Free

Pete Seeger And His Search for Community

Like a ghost of politics past he sat with Harvard Nieman Fellows of the '70s. Pete Seeger had aged since the days when he sang in front of huge audiences, providing the musical backdrop for an entire decade. His hair and beard were grayer, his voice older, the lines in his face more pronounced.

He told the Nieman Fellows in a seminar at the Faculty Club, "I'd like to see a singing labor movement," echoing his sentiments of 35 years ago, when he sang for labor unions.

"The unions kicked us [his singing group, The Almanac Brothers] out after the war," Seeger said, "so we ended up singing at colleges."

Seeger talked about the things he always enjoyed talking about, espousing the same philosophy that made him an idol of young people in the '60s. And here he was, bandana and all, ironically sitting amidst the oak and ivy glory of Harvard's Faculty Club, a haunting collection of elderly wisdom and youthful idealism.

Seeger entered Harvard in 1936, intent on becoming a journalist. He became immersed in the activities of the Harvard Student Union, a left-wing political group, and spent so much time working for the organization that his grades dropped and he lost his scholarship. Unable to land a job as a journalist after leaving school in 1938, Seeger started to use his musical talents to earn a living, travelling around the country playing the guitar.

But Seeger no longer speaks highly of nomadic ways. Although he said that "travelling taught me working people," Seeger now advocates establishing one's roots. "The search for community is one of the most important searches today. Every intellectual is kidding himself if he thinks 'his' community is made up of only people like himself. You have to know everyone, from the baker to the banker. The middle class is kidding them-selves: if you don't know the workingmen, you're in a very weak position."

In the evening, Seeger dined with students in Currier House's Senior Common Room, asking various students where they grew up, and if they want to live there. After a poor showing of hands for those who wished to return to their hometowns, Seeger said, "Well, you know, you can only travel around so much, the time comes when you have to settle down. You can't avoid it all your life." He added he was there "to sing songs that make you proud of where you come from and what you are."

Much to the surprise of many Currier students and Nieman fellows who expected more political and commonplace topics, Seeger seemed preoccupied with the subject of provincialism, of settling down.

But Seeger proved himself neither political nor commonplace. Rather he appeared more concerned with people than politics, interested in politics only insofar as people are affected.

One political issue that Seeger definitely sees as seriously affecting all people is censorship. He dubbed it "one of the most important issues alive today."

"If we do not find a solution," he said, "there will be no human race."

Seeger repeatedly cited the example of a book which explained how one can assemble an atom bomb. "Would you like such things available on bookstands?" he queried the Nieman Fellows.

"You'd think I'd be against censorship; I've been censored all my life," Seeger told his confused audience. "But every year, as technology increases, the need to control information is greater."

While he said he dislikes censorship, Seeger added, "we're kidding ourselves if we say we don't need it, not so long as there are crazy people."

As the father of three children, Seeger asked why young children should be exposed to vile pornography which glares at them in open view on the newsstands, or why Americans should be a "captive audience" to unavoidable billboards.