Pete Seeger & The Road to Woodstock ( part b )

“They had the complexion of wealth, that clear white skin which is accentuated by the pallor of porcelain, the shimmer of satin, the finish on handsome furniture, and is maintained at its best by a modest diet of exquisite foods … Their nonchalant glances reflected the quietude of passions daily gratified; behind their gentleness of manner one could detect that peculiar brutality inculcated by dominance in not over-exacting activities such as exercise strength and flatter vanity – the handling of thoroughbreds and the pursuit of wantons.” ( Flaubert, on the idle rich, Madame Bovary)

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert



Flaubert had an antipathy for the fortunate classes that was excessive, corrosive and combined with certain satanic tendencies and an admiration for the Marquis de Dade, highly volatile and unpredictable venality ….” Since they did capture certain facts of contemporary middle-class life, Flaubert’s neurosis has been read as the private correlative of a cultural neurosis, that infectious and dangerous modern malady called bourgeoisdom. Freud would later analyze that middle-class affliction as springing from unwarranted embarrassment before the sexual drive, and Flaubert would no doubt have agreed. But, more interested in denunciation than in diagnosis, he preferred to call it names: mediocrity, mendacity, deadly virtuousness….For he has now reached a point of such exasperation that when he finds himself with persons of that species he is consistently tempted to strangle them, or rather to hurl them into the cesspool. ”

Although the rhetoric against the monied classes dates at least to Jesus, the repetitive articulation by Flaubert helped define a war against a state of mind, a spirit, rather than recognizable social classes. Whether as Freud termed it, ”the narcissism of minor differences” and Flaubert’s disavowal of his own class appeared as a response to not having really escaped it; this articualted mind-set presented the major obstacles to realizing Woodstock and its legacy known as the Woodstock nation 40 years on. In fact counter-culture almost meant the culture of counting….money, that irreversible symbol and metaphor; inescapable and omnipresent.

Flaubert believed in the redeeming power of art and the ability of art to be transcendental to reality. Whether he harbored doubts or qualified his desires as illusions or turned to rough sexuality as substitute for a search for beauty he remained convinced of the unwillingness of ruling classes to meaningfully enac

cial change.

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie



From the Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang( pg. 247 )

Artie Ripp: We fly to Wall Street and we go to the banker’s office-and here’s a guy who’s got both a picture of Mao on the wall and a pirhana in a fish tank in his office. Already I know this guy is off  the fuckin’ cliff someplace. He wants to make it clear that he’s an out- of -the box thinker and left of right and right of left and not anyplace near center.

Artie Kornfeld: I walked into the meeting with Artie Ripp, and the banker was throwing meat in his pirhana tank. After coming from this beautiful experience, I was seeing everything that I hated about the world of capitalism.

Economists like Frank Genovese of Babson College have provided an analytical template for radical reform and solution to the social and economic  inertia, by advocating the abolition of inheritance as legal right ,with the goal of abolishing the concentration of wealth, but his thesis is considered far beyond the mainstream and relegated to extreme margins in terms of policy option in the U.S. On Oct 1,2009, Moderator and anchor Howard Green on BNN remarked that the Thomson family holds 450 million shares in its company Thomson-Reuters for a market value of $15 Billion and receives dividends of over $10 million per month. And this example is far from unique.

”Woodstock gives us the ability ….”Just to see, just to realize what’s really important. The fact that if we can’t all live together in peace, if you can’t be happy, if we have to be afraid to walk down the street, if you have to be afraid to smile at somebody, right…. What kind of a way is that to go through this life?” ….it isn’t any way to go through life and Woodstock represents that realization and serves as an example.”( Artie Kornfeld, Woodstock documentary )seeger-611

Pete Seeger spent a considerable amount of time in the South during the civil rights marches of the 1960s. It was his variation of an old spiritual, which Seeger called “We Shall Overcome,” that has become an anthem of the crusade for equality in America. Though Seeger has questioned the validity of his activism, his promotion of progressive causes ran against the grain of accepted standards and prevailing community values from the 40′s through the 1960′s. His five string banjo was adorned with the phrase, ”this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”. Seeger’s critique of the establishment and their thinking was equally as biting and eloquent as Flaubert, though more melodic and perhaps more dangerous through the bias of easily disseminated folk music.

Seeger internalized the folk tradition, then blended an activism tinged with a message of anti-militarism and an embracement of necessary progressive causes. His sallies into the deep south were not without personal danger and his persistence in pursuing intuition and personal conviction continued unabated despite the blacklisting he endured at the hands of what Adam Smith called the ”invisible hand of capitalism”. It is far too simplistic and jarring to refer to Seeger and fellow traveller Woody Guthrie as mere ”leftists”. Seeger is a conservative person, ethical but hardly a radical, and an unwavering supporter of non-violence.Imagine Ghandi with a stringed instrument. More Wobblie than Eli Kazan’s On The Waterfront. Perhaps the real ”radicals” are to be found in the corridors of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The road to Woodstock continues….

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One Response to Pete Seeger & The Road to Woodstock ( part b )

  1. Dave says:

    Thanks Tom,
    Actually the layout will be changed shortly to something more impressive, almost magazine like. Glad you enjoyed the post. I will do my best to see that it remains integ. warts and all.; almost improvistational style.

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