Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Shorts: 40 Years On

Folk singers Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger at Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden.

“Sarge, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen/
And I always carry a purse./
I got eyes like a bat, My feet are flat/
My asthma's getting worse …
... I ain't no fool, I'm a-goin' to school/
And I'm a-workin' in a defense plant.”

--- Pete Seeger, “Draft Dodger Rag”
(written by Phil Ochs)

By Pat Browning

Does anyone here remember the Smothers Brothers? I was so clueless I thought they were funny. I didn’t know they were subversives. CBS had conniption fits over their material, and one guest shot they refused to okay was Pete Seeger singing “Draft Dodger Rag.” CBS finally cancelled the show in 1969.

There’s probably nothing wrong with me that a frontal lobotomy wouldn’t cure, but I laugh every time I listen to the YouTube recording of “Draft Dodger Rag.” It’s the song that’s funny, mind you, not the reality behind it. The lyrics remind me of Klinger in the old “M*A*S*H series. Hear it at

Now it’s 40 years later. The Smothers Brothers are still touring, the longest-lived comedy team in history – 50 years and counting. Pete Seeger just celebrated his 90th birthday and has been touted for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Seeger descends from ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. A lifelong resident of Beacon, New York, he’s been a folksinger, a “left wing” activist and a member of the Communist party. He left the party because he “never liked the idea of belonging to a secret organization.” To some, he was a treasonous rabble-rouser. To some he was a voice for the people. History will judge.

A dedicated environmentalist, Seeger takes part in events to benefit Clearwater sloops -- tall ships that sail as classrooms on the Hudson River. He launched the Clearwater foundation in 1969 to help clean up polluted rivers.

A concert celebrating Seeger’s 90th birthday was held in Madison Square Garden and will be telecast July 30 on some PBS stations. Meantime, you can hear the entire group of performers singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land” at:

Tomorrow: The Viet Nam war in crime fiction.


Mark W. Danielson said...

The Smothers Brothers did an amazing job of fooling the public because of their clean-cut appearance, and they ARE funny. Pete Seeger stuck to his principles, regardless of who he offended. There is a balance between subversive activity and holding the government accountable. The Vietnam War was our most unpopular war, primarily because of the draft, but there are too many similarities with our current situation in the Mideast. Perhaps we need more voices from the past.

Anonymous said...


Looking back on the chaotic '60s, I'm struck by the lack of protesters today. Are American young people too comfortable and privileged to raise cain about anything?

The stuff coming out now about VietNam and Iraq just curls my hair. But the only protests for government reform are coming from, of all places, Iran, and those kids face death or worse for their activism.

Pat B.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'll look forward to the PBS concert. Thanks for the tip!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, I think the 60's peace theme has eroded thanks to our current "all about me" philosophy. Clearly, our overseas dealings do not concern enough people, and our apathy may send our country spiraling. As opposed as I am to violent protests, I would certainly support some verbal opposition to our current state of affairs.