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Customer Review

38 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Be Advised -- with a biographer like this, who needs enemies?, March 25, 2009
This review is from: How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger (Paperback)
David King Dunaway's biography is valuable, but be advised, the author is no friend of folk music and is patronizing to Pete Seeger. In this he echoes the attitude of 1950s U.S. Cold War academic political science departments to folk music and folk musicians. Dunaway writes: "In the twenty-first century, the appeal of Pete Seeger is akin to that of a nineteenth-century Romantic figure, the rustic innocent with the magic flute, who appeals to those unable to live fully for the frantic quality of their lives," p. 421.

The book falls short as an explanation of Seeger's politics and does little to enlighten readers about the appeal of his music, since the author has no curiosity about the former and is lacking in knowledge about the latter.

There are also many very nasty comments in this book about other figures in the folk singing world, effectively unattributed, since the notes at the end are merely general attributions for each chapter without specifically stating who said what. Nor is there any attempt to interpret or give a context for these inflamatory remarks.

Dunaway is also inaccurate. He gets wrong the name of Seeger's nemesis Karl Joachim Friedrich (the teacher of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski). The German-born Friedrich, a political scientist who was an adviser to the US military on propaganda during World War 2, was violently opposed to populist movements and wrote an article about Seeger and the Almanac Singers in the Atlantic Monthly in 1941, calling them "the Poison in Our System." Dunaway misspells the name of this writer as Carl Frederick, as though he were just a random writer and not a highly influential Cold War figure.

Dunaway also mis-attributes the authorship of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" to George Gershwin and claims (implausibly) that Seeger had to conceal his liking for this song from his classical music-loving parents.

Finally, Dunaway spends much too much time on what neo-conservatives like David Hadju, David Horowitz, and David Boas (of the Cato Institute) had to say about Pete Seeger in the 1990s, giving these writers, who have little to do with music or folk music, way too much weight and respect.

In other words, with a friendly biographer like Dunaway, Pete Seeger doesn't need any enemies.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 31, 2009 4:33:35 PM PDT
Thankyou for this review. Ah, there's nothing like a little bit of insight and attention to detail when reviewing something. So often there are hidden agendas which only reveal themselves when you read between the lines. As a long time fan of Pete Seeger, I for one would indeed prefer more of an examination about his music and storytelling than his political views, given that firstly, this is a well worn path, and secondly, Mr Seeger has always worn his political heart on his sleeve: one can sometimes overcomplicate and over-analyse what is really a fairly straight forward issue. Pete Seeger is arguably the most humble of twentieth century musicians and certainly does not need to be patronized by this biographer. His focus has always been on the power of music and storytelling to bring people together, not on the power of politics to divide them.

Posted on Jan 28, 2014 10:05:40 AM PST
Good review thanks. A sad day for fans of Mr Seeger and his politics.

Posted on Jan 29, 2014 9:38:06 PM PST
rain cloud says:
Harold, you should write a book about seeger. the time is now.

Posted on Feb 22, 2014 12:19:21 PM PST
Pat Nance says:
Thanks for helping separate the false from the true just as Pete would do.
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