Posted by: smstrouse | February 8, 2014

Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan: America’s True Folk Hero?

‘Twas a memorable week for folk music. On the same day I watched the live stream of the Peter Seeger tribute held in Berkeley, I also saw Bob Dylan’s Super Bowl commercial. The juxtaposition of the two 60s icons was just too bizarre for words.


On the one hand, a memorial to a man who lived his ideals and leaves behind a legacy of love and social action. There’s a movement to have the new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River named for this man who was the inspiration and driving force behind the river’s cleanup. Personally I think they should rename the river itself. I mean what’s Henry Hudson done for us lately?

On the other hand, there’s Bob Dylan, who chose to use his voice to speak out for the good old American Way (and oh, by the way, buy a Chrysler). Oh, the  heartbreak! I wonder if Tom Paxton (another folk hero) will rework his old song from 1980 “I’m Changing My Name to Chrysler” to reflect Dylan’s new identity as a corporate shill.

Yes, it true, Bob Dylan’s life, career and personality have all gone through a lot of inconsistent changes. His latest incarnation isn’t a total shock. Which is why, I think, Pete Seeger stands out as the true folk hero of our day. He never wavered in his commitment to the values which he sang, worked and lived.

Last week in church we read the Beatitudes and I reflected how hard it is to really live the values that Jesus lays out in that sermon. Yet I can’t think of anyone in my lifetime who embodied those values, including the part about begin persecuted for righteous sake, more than Pete Seeger.

Pete was probably one of those “spiritual but not religious” folks we talk about today. He said once in an interview that he used to say he was an atheist, but not anymore. “According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

To paraphrase his version of Old Time Religion, “It’s good enough for me.”


In fact, I’d love to see Pete included in a new version of the book A Passion for Life, which includes icons of such modern-day saints like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero. Wouldn’t it be great to see Pete with his banjo that says “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender” on the cover of the updated edition?

I can’t think of a better way to honor this man. Well, except to continue to live the values, do the work and sing the songs he taught us.


Rest in peace, Pete and Toshi.



  1. Pete Seeger sang for peace; he was a prophet for what we humans could be, if we only actually followed in the footsteps of Jesus.


  2. The TappanPete ZeeSeeger Bridge. Works for me.


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