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PETE SEEGER - A Song And A Stone (DVD)

PETE SEEGER - A Song And A Stone (DVD)
Wienerworld Ltd WNRD2588

This classic documentary was made in 1972 by director Robert Elfstrom, at a time when Seeger was still blacklisted by major media organisations – ostensibly because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam, but actually stemming right back to the McCarthy era. Rather than make any value judgements on this situation, instead the film focuses on portraying Seeger’s positive personal qualities: his essential humanity and integrity and his life-celebrating, right-minded idealism, in the context of his status as a fighter for human rights.

The DVD begins with Seeger’s famous appearance on the Johnny Cash TV Show, by way of a significant segment where Cash defends his decision to feature Seeger on the show in defiance of his network bosses, and concludes with a sequence filmed at a 1971 Washington DC peace rally, performing We Shall Overcome. In between these landmark appearances, the documentary darts about across Seeger’s life not only in concert appearances and official interviews but also entertaining kids, interacting with his family and friends, engaging in informal hootenanny sessions with fellow-musicians and in his key role as passionate conservationist (God Bless The Grass) and enthusiastic environmentalist (navigating the Clearwater sloop during the campaign to clean up the Hudson River and even leading a shanty on board). There’s plenty of music too, with extracts from strong performances of key songs, both of his own composition and by others (e.g. Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and several by Guthrie including a particularly affecting Hobo’s Lullaby) and if at times it seems a touch ragbag (and the end-effect is more like a kaleidoscope trip through Seeger’s consciousness and preoccupations) the film is actually all the time emphasising the man’s essentially gentle, caring nature and sincere humanity, his entirely genuine stance on all matters that count. And of course pointing up his major contribution to folks’ awareness of their social responsibility, through intensely committed renditions of important songs such as Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, Turn Turn Turn, I Come And Stand At Every Door, Walking Down Death Row, Peat Bog Soldiers and Waist Deep In The Big Muddy.

Perhaps inevitably, the sound quality is quite variable (between above-acceptable and bordering-on-poor), but that’s no reason not to celebrate the timely appearance of this documentary on DVD. Viewing it some 40 years on also provides a salutary reminder that the concerns Seeger so honestly and consistently espouses are still all too relevant to us today.


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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.