Went to a local folk music concert the other day with Pete Seeger as the headliner. He’s 88 I think, and still a charismatic stage presence. His voice is pretty much gone, but who can play and evoke the spirit of old songs the way he can?
One of the other acts did some Phil Ochs songs, another great singer, also a songwriter, but he killed himself in the early 70s, a victim of mental illness. His music is filled with beautiful melodies and carefully structured lyrics, often poignant, often funny, sometimes bitingly satiric and critical.
The woman singing his material said that he was like a prophet, so many of his songs sound as if they could have been written right now, today. They sang a song about American armed intervention in the Dominican Republic that proved the point. “Snipers shooting from palm trees…” was one of the lines. But there’s one song where his powers of prophecy fell flat, with a great big thud – “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” Here’s one of the verses:
I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I’ll send all the money you ask for
But don’t ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
He pokes fun at Pete, but Pete is too gentle and generous a soul to have his last laugh… I wish this song were prophetic. I wish that being a liberal democrat were such a fuddy-duddy establishment thing that more “radical” folks would poke fun at you for it. I wish that being a liberal were something to make fun of in a silly, satiric way, instead of it being a smear word. I don’t think Phil could have forseen that – I wonder what he would have made of it.