Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender': REBECCA J. ROSEN writes about Pete Seeger and the banjo in The Atlantic

When I think of Pete Seeger, who passed away early this morning at the age of 94, in my mind he is never empty-handed. Always, always, always, he carried with him his banjo.

He was just 27 years old when folklorist Alan Lomax asked him about his odd choice of instrument in an interview.

"Hello there, Peter," Lomax says.

"Howdy," Seeger replies.

"Mighty nice music you're making, Pete."

"Oh, I'm just warming up."

"What's that funny looking guitar you're playing?"

"Oh this isn't a guitar. This is a banjo," says Seeger.

"Well tell me: Is the banjo something new?"

"New? It's about as new as America is."

And age wasn't all that the banjo and America have in common. The banjo is an instrument whose history reflects the nation's: It was born in slavery, gained popularity on the minstrel stage, and, eventually, in Seeger's hands, turned against its own past, becoming a "machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender"—at least, that was the proclamation written upon its head.

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