Pete Seeger’s “Garbage”

(3 February 2014)

One week ago, 27 January 2014, we lost Pete Seeger, a true musical and activist legend. It would be incredibly difficult to adequately do justice to how important and influential he was. Fortunately, like always, Democracy Now! did a fantastic job of succinctly and yet movingly summarizing the hero’s life.

Seeger led an illustrious musical career. In the 1940s, he performed in The Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie. Then he formed The Weavers. In the 1950s, he was blacklisted after he opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s political witch hunt and was almost jailed for refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Seeger became a prominent civil rights activist and helped popularize the anthem “We Shall Overcome.” In the 1960s, he was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and inspired generations of protest singers. He was later at the center of the environmental and anti-nuclear movements.

I recently came across this 2001 interview with Seeger:

I haven’t been asked on TV that much in recent years. I did get on the Today show once. And I knew that they wouldn’t want me to sing a certain song. So I was prepared. I arrived at 6:00, and over the intercom, the director said, “Pete, what you got for us?” And I said: “Well, I got a little banjo tune, and I got something a little more serious. It’s a funny song but it’s got a serious point.” “Well, let’s hear ’em.” So I sang the banjo tune. “Fine.” So I sang the other, called “Garbage,” which has the whole crowd going, “Garbage, garbage, garbage.”

In Mister Thompson’s factory, they’re making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land
And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?
It’s absolutely needed for the economy”

Oh, Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
Their stocks and their bonds — all garbage!
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
What will they do when their system goes to smash
There’s no value to their cash
There’s no money to be made
But there’s a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history books
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism, and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history’s dustbin they’re consigned
Along with many other kinds of garbage
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

Well, he said: “Pete, you got something a little more cheerful? This is early in the morning.”

So I sang, “Walking down death row/ I sang for three men destined for the chair….”

“Pete, do you have something else?”

“‘If the revolution comes to my country, let me remember….'”

“Well, Pete, I guess we’ll stick with ‘Garbage.'”

Well, I got to do it on the air, but I wasn’t asked back. I haven’t been on the Today show since.

R.I.P. Pete Seeger.