chapter  5
21 Pages

Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purifi cation of Diffi cult Reputations Th e fi ft h chapter addresses the question of how reputations that had once been under attack can be preserved. Today Pete Seeger is widely considered one of America’s most beloved folk singers. Yet, throughout much of his career, Seeger was an active and outspoken member of the Communist Party, even during its most brutal Stalinist years. How could this left ist activist, controversial in his early career, become so widely accepted and why were conservatives largely silent as his reputation became purifi ed? Aft er debates are judged concluded, political activists are no longer committed to revisiting them unless there is a clear gain

In November 1994 Arlo Guthrie, son of the late folk singer Woody Guthrie, stood on the stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington and looked out at a house packed with politicians and other luminaries. Pete Seeger had been named a Kennedy Center Honoree. Guthrie, a presenter, recalled that when there was a move afoot to make his father’s song, “Th is Land Is Your Land,” the national anthem (McCarthy 1989), Seeger had vehemently opposed the idea. Guthrie remembered Seeger arguing that the worst thing you could do to a song was to make it offi cial. Th en Guthrie looked out into

the audience and said, “I wonder what we’re going to do now that you’re offi cial” (Pareles 1994:C11).