Read All the Way Through
Chris Barton sent a comment last week asking how to contextualize Seeger’s stand against HUAC. How much is too much? How much is too little, which could result in a kind of unintentional misinformation?
Originally I was drawn to a personal story about Seeger: how his childhood, rich in music but fairly lonely, made him the singer who wanted to get everyone singing together. When I read more about HUAC, I became totally fascinated with the trial. The way certain civil liberties I take for granted were suspended, the incredible damage done to a number of people’s careers and livelihoods, and the moral strength it took Seeger to stand on his First amendment rights, rather than take the Fifth, as many people did.
Now I’ve had to pull back and ask what I can do in this format. While I’d like to include Seeger going before HUAC, I think I need to focus on a different aspect of his life: how Seeger passionately believed the right music at the right time could create social change. And the pleasure it gave him to be part of that kind of change, and to encourage others. Right now I’m thinking of leading up to two of the great historical events he participated in: the Civil Rights march lead by Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and the anti-war rally in Washington DC in 1969 where he led hundreds of thousands in singing "Give Peace a Chance."
I’m thinking of ending with the peace march in Washington DC. Because of place, it has a wonderful resonance; one of Seeger’s first jobs was in Washington DC, transcribing folk songs; Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Jefferson Monument; Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream," speech here. The White House nearby. See the power that holds?
Meanwhile, there’s a big change that will involve this book. The publishing house, Bloomsbury, has laid off a number of people for financial reasons, and my editor Jill Davis has lost her job. I don’t know quite what’s ahead. My plan is to push the manuscript a little further till it feels more solid to me, then put it aside and work on something else while I wait to see what’s next.