Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Peggy Seeger: A 1996 Interview--Part 2

Since the 1950s, Peggy Seeger ( has been performing before audiences in the United States and Britain. During this period she has recorded over 14 solo albums and many joint albums. After living in England between 1959 and 1994, Seeger moved back to the USA and lived in Asheville, North Carolina until early 2006. Following is part 2 of a 1996 interview with Seeger.

Your artistic work seems to have reflected movements and cultural trends more than the stuff we hear on the radio more frequently. In what ways do you think your artistic work has been influenced by the movements of the last 30 years and the cultural trends—your songwriting, presentations, concerns?
Peggy Seeger
: I think folk music has always reflected a very large spectrum of human activity. Chiefly, because the folk songs themselves are about so many different things. Popular songs have generally been about love and love lost, for the most part. I mean the really popular songs. The high-selling stuff. I’m not talking about music hall and background popular songs. I mean the stuff that really gets the main attention. It’s usually been sad love songs or things like that.

But folk music, right throughout its history—because it has come not as a commodity music, but as a music which has been produced purely and simply because people felt that they just had to make it—has been about so many different things that it has reflected what has been happening in the so-called “lower-strata” of society. And that is the industrial struggles and many of the subjects which aren’t mentioned at all in popular music: like violence against women, like child-beating. And like orphans and nagging wives, violent husbands. And happy love songs, too, I suppose. Folk music is very versatile in what it chooses to reflect. And I think many of the songwriters now, because they’re writing about things that are happening now, they choose an idiom which is already there—which is folk music. And there are some wonderful songs being written on the folk circuit.

You mentioned your drift away from old left kind of labor stuff, more turning towards a feminist orientation, green concerns. When did that start and to what degree has that reflected shifts in the world or your own personal shifts?
Seeger: Well, it definitely reflects shifts in the world. I began to get interested in it in the mid-Eighties. I began writing feminist songs—well, my first one was 1970, when I wrote “Gonna Be An Engineer.” And I wrote that for a stage play that we were doing. And it just rolled-out of me, although I’ve had a relatively easy life as far as gender-discrimination was concerned. I just literally produced that in an evening, which surprised me. Then I found that because of it I was being asked to sing at women’s functions. When I went along to sing at these functions I found that I didn’t have any songs that dealt with the issues that they were talking about: like abortion, like rape, like strife between mothers and daughters, women’s position in unions, contraception. Things like that.

So I started to write songs consciously about these issues. And that was in the mid-to-late Seventies.

So I guess that would answer the question why you started writing your own songs?
Seeger: Yeah. Now I ran this side-by-side with the left-wing politics at the time. Because I was a socialist-feminist. I’m moving over quite quickly to radical feminist and to feeling that the way politics are organized, what we recognize as politics, is something that is determined by the patriarchal structure that we have. And that many of the politics are really meant to bolster up the System that we have, which is a patriarchal one: heavily centralized, heavily industrialized, highly competitive and aggressive. And many of these are principles that feminists feel are not part of what women want to be part of or what women want to be like.

This patriarchy, and the industrial complex that goes with it, is what is responsible for the rape of the Earth. And so that is why I’m moving around to a different kind of politics and to a different activist sphere. It seems that many women and many men are also moving around to this.

A kind of drift towards eco-feminism?

Next: Peggy Seeger: A 1996 Interview--Part 3