Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Ring On My Finger

My Pete Seegar obsession continues. More than a musician, Seegar was a performer. He not only sung his own songs, he always played other’s music, and also music from different countries. For example, he popularised the classic Cuban song, ‘Guantanamera,’ among the American audiences. Therefore, the album, Pete Seeger - We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert’ is a pleasure to listen to, not only for how Seegar connects to his audience, but also how he plays diffferent tunes.

There’s a nice, little tune in the album, called ‘The Ring on My Finger (Johnny Give Me)’. There are only four or five lines in the 2.17 minute track, which are repeated three times, and when the song ends, the realisation you arrive at is hearbreaking. Here is the song (The lines here cannot give you any idea how beautiful the track is when Seegar sings it...)

The ring on my finger Johnny give me … 3 times
Johnny alone until morning.
The shoes I’m wearing Johnny give me … 3 times
Johnny alone until morning.
The dress I’m wearing Johnny give me … 3 times
Johnny alone until morning.
Johnny say he loves me, I don’t believe … 3 times
Johnny alone until morning.

It begins as a typical love song; and once you have reached the fourth line, things become complicated. Why she doesn’t believe that Johnny loves her, and what does it mean that there was only Johnny until morning. Then it dawns on us that the speaker may be a sex worker. She is happy to receive gifts, but she cannot afford to commit to one man. Yet, she is happy with the time she can spend alone with Johnny. Heartbreaking.

I’m happy to report that there are more people like me who love Pete Seeger. One among them is my favourite Bengali singer Anjan Dutta. He was so enamoured by Seegar’s ‘Little Boxes’ that he did a Bengali version of it, called ‘Choto Baksho’, which is not a literal translations, but a solid inspiration.

Talking about rings, the only ring that fascinates me is the One Ring of Lord Sauron of Mordor in Middle Earth, the “one ring to find us all and in darkness bind us”. After the Peter Jackson films based on Tolkien’s books became popular, they had actually started selling the replicas of the ring used in the film, in solid gold, no less. It’s been my reccurent dream to own one such ring. Unfortunately, I cannot afford it.

It brings us the the tale of Shakuntala and her ring that King Dushyanta had given her. The ring was the proof of their marriage, and when Shakuntala lost it, the king forgot her and threw her away from the castle, only to remember her when a fisherman found it inside a fish.


‘We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert CD’ by Pete Seeger

Capturing a complete mid-'60s solo concert at New York's Carnegie Hall on two hour-long discs, Pete Seeger's WE SHALL OVERCOME is a glorious-sounding document of the folksinger/musicologist/social activist at the peak of his powers. Opening with a fleet-fingered banjo medley and ending more than two hours later with a stirring version of his classic "Guantanamera," Seeger touches on every aspect of his music, from protest songs to blues to traditional ballads to leftist anthems. The entire concert is remarkable, but a particular highlight comes in the middle of the first disc, when Seeger covers two songs by Bob Dylan, the apocalyptic "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and the anti-boxing tirade "Who Killed Davey Moore?," a gesture of solidarity from one generation of folkies to another. The remastered sound is pristine and the set includes new liner notes.

Recorded at Carengie Hall on June 8, 1963, this recording is one of Pete Seeger's most famous concerts. It contains the entire concert, about twice as much music as the LP. More here.

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