DVD Review: Pete Seeger, “The Power of Song”

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song
purchase this DVD (Amazon)

You need to see this movie.

He’s happily existed on the outskirts of the pop culture landscape for the last few decades, but Pete Seeger’s influence is still deeply felt — and his music still resonates. Jim Brown’s excellent 2007 documentary, now reaching DVD for the first time, offers a wonderfully comprehensive overview of Seeger’s long career without sacrificing focus or momentum; even without prior knowledge of Seeger’s recorded output, anyone with a soul should find The Power of Song instantly absorbing.

Of course, even if you don’t know you’ve heard Seeger’s stuff, you probably have; his voluminous catalog includes a wide array of standards, both those he’s popularized and those he’s written (the latter category includes “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”). He’s one of the most beloved living folksingers in the world — which must be particularly sweet for Seeger, seeing as how he was blacklisted for nearly 20 years after having the guts to stand up to Joe McCarthy at the HUAC hearings — and censored by CBS for daring to perform “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Yes, America, long before there was such a thing as a Dixie Chick, suits in boardrooms were terrified of a man with a banjo.

The Power of Song makes its case for Seeger with a stack of archival footage, some from Seeger’s own collection, and a series of interviews with artists he’s inspired, including Dylan, Springsteen, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, and — of course — Natalie Maines. But Brown is careful to avoid didacticism; the movie is as inspirational and entertaining as it is informative, anchored throughout by appearances from Seeger himself, filmed as he wanders the grounds of the upstate New York property he purchased in 1949, where he and his wife of 65 years still reside.

As uplifting as the movie is, it’s hard not to see parallels to current events in Seeger’s story — and just as hard not to be angry about the lack of courage displayed by contemporary pop culture icons five years ago, when a gang of incompetent boobs bullied the nation into shutting up and watching a war unfold. Pete Seeger risked everything for his convictions, and he did it explicitly; these days, we’re whipped into a frenzy by an offhand dig at the commander-in-chief, and told by nitwits like Britney Spears that we should, like, give the President our unequivocal allegiance.

Like I said: You need to see this movie.

The DVD, issued via The Weinstein Company, includes a handful of extras — nothing awe-inspiring, just a few added scenes and some nifty short films from the Seeger family vaults — but even without them, The Power of Song is well worth your $19. Watch the clip below, then buy your copy today.




  • http://www.jasonhare.com jasonhare

    Fuck yes, Jefito. I was profoundly moved by this documentary. I can't wait to watch it again.

  • JonCummings

    This is a brilliant film. It's funny–those of us who grew up after the baby boom were told by rock historians to idolize Woody Guthrie (because of Dylan), but Pete Seeger for many years was not given his due–in fact, I grew up with characterizations of him as a goofy second-tier folkie who copied Woody and then made kids' records.

    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Pete, if anything, took more chances with his own freedom than Woody did through the years (not just his freedom to pursue his career, but his physical freedom), and made a similar impact with his music. Of course, Woody's career was cut short just as the protest-music boom he and Seeger fomented gained momentum. Still, this film is a great reminder of how brave a musician could be at a time when artists had the stones to try to make a real difference.

  • JonCummings

    This is a brilliant film. It's funny–those of us who grew up after the baby boom were told by rock historians to idolize Woody Guthrie (because of Dylan), but Pete Seeger for many years was not given his due–in fact, I grew up with characterizations of him as a goofy second-tier folkie who copied Woody and then made kids' records.

    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Pete, if anything, took more chances with his own freedom than Woody did through the years (not just his freedom to pursue his career, but his physical freedom), and made a similar impact with his music. Of course, Woody's career was cut short just as the protest-music boom he and Seeger fomented gained momentum. Still, this film is a great reminder of how brave a musician could be at a time when artists had the stones to try to make a real difference.

  • http://www.jasonhare.com jasonhare

    Fuck yes, Jefito. I was profoundly moved by this documentary. I can't wait to watch it again.

  • JonCummings

    This is a brilliant film. It's funny–those of us who grew up after the baby boom were told by rock historians to idolize Woody Guthrie (because of Dylan), but Pete Seeger for many years was not given his due–in fact, I grew up with characterizations of him as a goofy second-tier folkie who copied Woody and then made kids' records.

    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Pete, if anything, took more chances with his own freedom than Woody did through the years (not just his freedom to pursue his career, but his physical freedom), and made a similar impact with his music. Of course, Woody's career was cut short just as the protest-music boom he and Seeger fomented gained momentum. Still, this film is a great reminder of how brave a musician could be at a time when artists had the stones to try to make a real difference.