Although polls show that over 75% of the American public believes that health care reform is a necessity, a rabble rousing shouting minority is actually endangering the possibility of a bill which would result in real reform. These rude meeting busters are being encouraged by Rush Limbaugh’s painkiller radio, and other right leaning radio and tv screamers planting absurd notions like Obama’s “death clinics” and “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare.”
Will somebody please explain to panicked seniors that of course Medicare is a government run program and health care reform wants to make it possible for everyone to have health coverage the equivalent of Medicare. These so-called “average American” meeting busters are following a playbook handed them by the Health Insurance companies which are fighting tooth and nail against any change whatsoever in the current system, a system which has them raking in sky high profits.
It is a playbook which calls for agitators to shout down a Town Hall meeting before the Congress person leading the meeting has a chance to delve into the realities of the bill, thereby insuring that no real policy education will take place. The purpose, kill any and all movement towards any kind of real health care reform. After all, the Health Insurance companies are raking in money hand over throat, and it will be over their dead bodies that any change to their money tree be fashioned into law. However, who in their right mind cannot say that a health care system which drops its payers when they begin to require treatment, is a healthcare system that is really serving our needs? It is madness, but unfortunately very lucrative madness, which of course makes it well worth fighting to the death for.
It’s a free country. True. And it’s also a country where the dollar tends to speak louder than reason and logic. In a notably unscientific telephone poll taken by CNN the other day as to whether the public feels that health care should be a right of all citizens the public voted over 82% in favor of that treatise. With all of that outrage against change being orchestrated by the health insurance companies at the Town Meetings, what do you think the odds are of coming out of this orchestrated mayhem with a really meaningful system of change? The present consensus seems to be that our citizens should be entitled to it, but no one wants to pay for it. Talk about challenge, if Barrack Obama is not questioning why the hell he ever wanted to sign up for the job of President, a job entailing no end of stress, the chances are he never will.
This basic conflict dramatically illustrates the marked differences in the beliefs of our American citizenry. There are basically two camps in America. One camp whose feet are firmly planted in the capitalist way of life, believe in little or no government. It hearkens back to Ronald Reagan who stated categorically that the federal government is not the solution, it is the problem. Reagan increased the federal deficit during his tenure, and helped to stimulate two political conflagrations, one in Nicaragua, the other in El Salvador.
But to this day many continue to propagate the myth that R.R. was a conservative, and therefore prudent in his spending. And of course, the Bush 43 administration came along incurred more debt in his eight year tenure than all of the presidents which had preceded him combined. He managed to accomplish this feat by first giving the wealthiest Americans a tax cut, in the delusional belief that it’s benefits would somehow trickle down to the middle class, and then it went on and started two wars. Hah! It is little wonder that in the 2008 election voters showed the party of Bush and Reagan the ticket to irrelevance.
The other camp consists of those of us who believe that the federal government should be run for the benefit of us all, not just for the interests of the business community and the wealthy. In 2008 we the people of the middle and left-of-middle finally stopped being afraid of the Republican bogeymen and actually voted in one of us. And in his first 200 plus days Mr. Obama has taken us further down the road towards sanity in government than anyone since Bill Clinton.
However, the conservatives have their jockeys in a twist, and are screeching their opposition. On the surface you might think that these gentlemen “care” about our tax rates, and on the rising national debt in spite of the fact that their party has been responsible for the most serious breeches in our history. They are trying to save money, even to the point of denying services. They don’t tell you who they are trying to save money for but we will. They want to save it for the rich. They want to make the rich richer. That’s why they gave the rich that tax cut just before sending our nation into war. And a corporate war it turned out to be, as our erstwhile president of vice enlisted his corporate buddies at Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg-Brown&Root to do the bulk of civilian jobs in the war in Iraq, adding incredibly to its cost.
And speaking of Cheney, the word is out that he is out shopping a book, which in spite of his longtime aversion to “tell-all” books written by retiring high level administration members, will be one that tells his side of the increasing policy differences he had with George W. Bush during his second term. Sources close to the “shopping” say that although the book will not go into personal detail about Bush or others, it will present Cheyennes side of things, including that of “Scooter” Libby who according to Cheney served notably, and who Cheney says should have been pardoned by Bush, rather than just having his sentence commuted. We may well be wrong, but we suspect that the real point of the great divide came about because during his second term W. was becoming conscious of the legacy he was leaving, and he suddenly realized that Cheyennes attitude of take no prisoners and the public be damned was not going to go very far in shoring up the Bush legacy.§
A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.
Mike Seeker (August 15, 1933 – August 7, 2009), brother of Peggy Seeker, and half brother of Pete Seeger, died August 7, 2009 of leukemia. If he had lived another 8 days he would have been 76 years old. The portrait above which has him holding mouth harps is from www.nashvilleportraits.com
I got an email from my older son Daniel the other day that Mike Seeger had died. I was totally shocked, and immediately Googled for the story. Mike evidently had leukemia (which I had been misdiagnosed as having several years ago, until the VA took another bone marrow test and discovered the error of the first diagnosis) and Mike had evidently given up on his treatment and checked himself into a hospice, where he subsequently died. Mike was always so careful of his health. He never smoked cigarettes, he was careful to eat only the right foods, and never to excess. Life is such a crap shoot. Why does Mike’s time run out at age 75, while my life goes on at age 83, in spite of the fact that I smoked like a chimney for thirty of those 83 years? And it has only been in recent years that I have been eating all that carefully.
I first met Mike when he was around seventeen, and his sister Peggy was fifteen. I was staying with Pete and Toshi Seeger, and their children, Danny, Mika and Tinya on their mountainside near Beacon, N.Y., and trying my damnedest to figure out where Pete had gotten his extraordinary talent and what made him tick. The family was going down to Washington for a Thanksgiving visit with Pete’s father Charles Seeger, and his stepmother Ruth Crawford Seeger and their family and they very kindly took me along. Pete was the youngest of the three born to Charles’ union with violinist Constance Edson. John Seeger, an educator was the middle child, and Charles III, an astronomer, the oldest.
Mike was the oldest of Charles’ family with Ruth Crawford, Peggy being next, then Barbara and finally Penny. I remember being shocked to discover that smoking was not allowed indoors at Charles’s household, both Toshi and I had to take our furtive puffs out of doors. Many years later I fully understood the logic of that, and I currently enforce the ban to keep my own environment smoke free.
Pete’s father was a well known musicologist, and just a few months before the Thanksgiving visit by the Beacon, N.Y. Seegers and me, Mike and Peggy had made a remarkable discovery. The Washington Seeger household had a maid who specialized in baking bread. Her name was Elizabeth Cotten, although in the family she was affectionately known as “Libba,” a name youngest sister Penny had tagged her with.
When Peggy was five years old she had wandered away from her mother in a crowded department store, and was found by this woman who clerked in the store’s toy department, and who insisted that they find Peggy’s mother and reunite the two. Ruth was so grateful that Libba was immediately hired as part of their staff. It was nine years later and Mike and Peggy were devouring learning guitar, banjo and folk music in general (which their father and mother annotated for the Library of Congress, and which their older half brother Pete was bringing to the country. L.L. Demerle has an excellent reminiscent piece here! According to Demerle account, it was Peggy who first discovered Libba’s talent.
"Peggy was learning to play guitar," recalls Mike Seeger, "and it was Peggy who discovered Elizabeth playing." Cotten was in the right place at the right time, with a house full of musicians on fire for folk music, and the Seegers swept "Libba" (Penny Seeger's nickname for her) into their musical circle. "She was the folklorist's dream: a true, authentic musician." Mike Seeger began recording Cotten in 1952 and produced her first album in 1957, now re-titled “Freight Train and other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes." “Mike said that I was good enough to perform," Cotten said in an interview, and in 1960, at the age of 68, her public career was launched. Cotten and Seeger performed their first concerts at Swarthmore College and went on to play clubs and festivals.
Here is the story of Libba’s discovery as they told it to me. Peggy had been practicing guitar in the kitchen one day, with Libba preparing loaves of bread, when Libba hesitantly said to Peggy, “I used to play a little guitar.” Peggy immediately handed over her guitar and called Mike in, and together both were amazed to see Libba turn the guitar upside down and backwards, and roll out her own distinctive style of two finger picking. And she sang a haunting song whose refrain went, “Freight Train, freight train, run so fast, freight train, freight train run so fast. Please don’t tell what train I’m on, so they won’t know where I’ve gone.”
My highlight of that Thanksgiving trip to the Washington based Seegers was a concert that Charles had arranged in his living room one evening. Libba was the sole entertainment for a house full of musicologists, folklorists, and budding folk singers. Charles introduced her, and Libba did close to forty five minutes of guitar and folk songs which held this very sophisticated musical crowd spellbound. She was the first real folk performer I had ever heard, and I have never forgotten that evening. Libba dressed in her Sunday best, sitting stiffly with her guitar rolling a bass pattern mimicking the rhythm of the freight train she was singing about.
I apologize that my memories of Mike got overwhelmed with memories of Elizabeth Cotten. But Mike was instrumental in bringing Libba’s unique talent to the world. Mike himself was a multi-talented perfectionist and master of many instruments. For instance although comfortably right handed, when playing Libba’s guitar style thanks to an almost super human degree of self discipline Mike was able to learn to play the guitar backwards just as Libba did, and he was absolutely right. There was no way playing a guitar the traditional way could you duplicate Libba’s unique sound, which had her playing the treble strings with her thumb, while her finger nails rolled with her bass pattern. In the course of his long career Mike mastered a number of string instruments, including autoharp, 5-string banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, guitar, mouth harp, mandolin, and dobro.
In addition to bringing Elizabeth Cotten to a folk waiting world, Mike formed a very influential string band called The New Lost City Ramblers. Mike’s portrait can be found here where his portrait sits alongside that of another of my favorite guitarists, Merle Travis. The link to Mike’s Wikipedia page lies here!
Another memory from that first visit to the Washington Seegers, Mike and I were driving somewhere with the radio on when we first heard of the death of Hank Williams, who was perhaps the greatest country music singer, songwriter of his time. We were both very moved by that announcement.
Mike’s sister Peggy lived in England for a number of years as the life partner of songwriter-performer, Ewan MacColl. The song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was written by MacColl in Peggy’s honor. MacColl is also noted for a comment he made at the Newport Folk Festival, when he referred to folk music with a twist on the old saying of Boston Politics. “Folk music,” said MacColl, “is that area where Seeger’s speak only to Lomax’s, and Lomax’s speak only to God.”
A remarkable pictorial panorama of Peggy’s life from small child to the present may be found at here and includes photos of brothers Mike and Pete, and Ewan MacColl. It runs the gamut from childhood pictures to recent ones, including one which appears to be Peggy skydiving. The one thing in common with every one of those photos, from all aspects of her life, is the warmth of Peggy Seeger’s smile.§
In 1970 I finally got it through my thick skull that I had limited skills on guitar, and no talent at all as a singer, and decided to return to Houston to be around my family as they continued their trek towards the end of this life. Because of my nature of diving completely into whatever I am doing at any given moment, I lost touch with the folk music crowd. I miss them, they are a remarkable bunch.
My father succumbed in 1980, and my mother six years later. My sister Mary, eight years my junior, lost her battle with breast cancer two years ago. And now Mike Seeger has left us at age 75. And here I sit wondering what the hell is going on? Why am I still pounding away on my weekly blog instead of pushing up daisies in some nice, peaceful field somewhere. Every once in awhile it gets terribly lonely down here.§
Les Paul, a giant among men, musician, inventor, tinkerer, died last week. According to Gibson Guitar, Paul died of complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in N.Y. Without a doubt Les Paul changed modern recording like no other, having conceived and built the first solid body amplified guitar, pioneered adding reverb and echo to recording which before him was produced in a dead sounding environment, and finally inventing multi-track recording.
He had been hospitalized in February 2006 when he learned he won two Grammys for an album he released after his 90th birthday, “Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played. “I feel like a condemned building with a new flagpole on it,” he joked.
Les Paul made many hit records with his then wife Mary Ford. “I could take my Mary and make her three, six, nine, 12, as many voices as I wished,” he recalled. “This is quite an asset.” Les Paul was 93 years old.
And so another installment of the Little Eddy Blog bites the dust. Let’s just hope the dust doesn’t bite back. We return with a brand new blog each Saturday morning at an ungodly early hour Pacific time, though it is a more reasonable hour here where Central Daylight Time rules.
Like that famous Inn, we’ll leave the lights on for you next week, and of course you have all week in which to read our musings. In the meantime, in the words of that old Union song, “Take it Easy, but Take It.” Bye now.