November-December 2007 

PETE SEEGER:  THE LION IN WINTER

A REVIEW OF PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG

  By Ross Altman

pspart4c400.jpg It took six actors to play Bob Dylan, but there is only one Pete Seeger. Now in the winter of his discontent, Pete is the subject of a new documentary directed by Jim Brown (who made the Weaver’s movie, Wasn’t That a Time) and executive produced by Pete’s wife of sixty three years, Toshi Seeger. It’s a love story, a folk musical, and a passionate portrait of Pete Seeger’s America all rolled into one.

Few artists have been at the center of as many storms as Seeger, from the fight against fascism in World War II, to the cold war fight against McCarthyism and the blacklist, the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements. Even now, the lion in winter, standing out on an icy street corner near his log cabin home in Beacon, New York, with an American flag and a peace sign, forty years after his protest song Bring ‘Em Home fired up the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War, is still singing out against the war in Iraq.

The most die-hard Seeger fan (among whom I count myself) would learn something from this movie: For one, he had other siblings besides his well-known half-brother and sister Mike and Peggy. One of them, his (until now) unheard from brother John largely paid for Pete’s brief Harvard education, a bit of family lore that Pete only learned about during the on-camera interview shot for this movie. His spontaneous reaction upon finding out that his older brother had sacrificed to send Pete to college—when Pete had assumed his parents had paid for it—is one of the more moving moments in a movie filled with them.

Seeger stayed only one year at Harvard, but it put a stamp on the greatest song he helped to create. He has always credited his time at Harvard for prompting him to change the original word “will