why would they kill a singer?
The summer of 1983, when I was nine years old, my brother and sister and I accompanied our parents to an Operation Solidarity protest outside the Salmon Arm office of MLA Cliff Michael. I remember sitting that morning in our dining room drawing out protest signs, and I remember standing in a swarm of people singing “We Shall Overcome”. To this day, it remains one of those songs that gets my little heart going pitter-pat with just a few notes.
I don’t know if it was that experience of 1983 that triggered my great and unquenchable love for Pete Seeger, but love him I do. Whenever I hear this song I get a little tear in my eye.
But Pete Seeger is fairly old; he’ll be 93 this May. I realize that most of the people I am in school with have never heard of him, and that’s too bad. Not only does he have some pretty good work, but in my view one of the things that is so wonderful about Pete Seeger is how through his music I learn so much about other artists. Watching youtube videos of Pete Seeger led me to Malvina Reynolds, who wrote the song “Magic Penny.” You know. love is something if you give it away. I grew up singing that song at summer camp but I never realized it was written by someone, it seemed like one of those songs that was just there.
Malvina Reynolds is getting a new run of fame these days as her song Little Boxes is used as the introductory song for the TV show Weeds, but my favourite of her songs at the moment is Little Red Hen. The singing is a little unique, but I promise you you won’t be able to get it out of your head (in a good way). (That’s Pete Seeger along with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the background). I like to play this song for my kids when I ask them if they’d like to help around the house and they decline. They’re plotting a revolt, I’m sure.
Because I’ve been enjoying Malvina so much on youtube, I decided to order a couple of her CDs through Amazon. On the re-release of her album Sings The Truth is a wonderful version of Little Boxes by Victor Jara.
On the CD, following Jara’s song, there’s a clip of Malvina Reynolds talking about how much she liked this version. She talks about how Victor Jara was a wonderful Chilean folk singer during Allende’s rule, and how later the junta broke his hands and said, “now sing for us,” before murdering him.
My daughter, who is eight, was stunned into a long and thoughtful silence upon hearing this. Finally she asked, “why would they kill a singer?”
I tried to explain about how there is music, and then there is music that is more than music, music that is social critique and commentary, music that is subversive, music that changes – or threatens to change – the world.
Now I can’t stop listening to Victor Jara. I wonder where he will lead.