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Oceania-Has-Always-Been-at-War-with-Eurasia! Pete Seeger Blogging

Oh dear. I love Pete Seeger. But Cato Vice President David Boaz does not, has Pete Seeger in his sights, and assigns him to the Guenter Grass brigade:

Comment is free: Stalin's songbird: The New Yorker has another of its affectionate profiles... the folk singer Pete Seeger.... Somehow, though, they didn't quite find room to detail Seeger's long habit of following the Stalinist line.... Seeger tells Wilkinson that when he was at Harvard during the late 1930s he was trying to "stop Hitler" and he became disgusted with a professor who counselled appeasement. Maybe so. But after the Hitler-Stalin pact, he and his group the Almanac Singers put out an album titled "Songs of John Doe".... [W]ithin months Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The album was pulled from the market.... The Almanac Singers quickly produced a new album, "Dear Mr President", that took a different view...

After the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, but before the June 22, 1941 Nazi invasion of Russia:

Sunday Worker May 18, 1941: "SONGS FOR JOHN DOE" RECORDED

The ballads of a people are the songs of its working folk. Wherever people have toiled and struggled, ballads have been sung to commemorate their toil and battle.

The Songs for John Doe (Almanac Record Co., three 10-inch discs, $2) are the music of America's fight against the raging imperialist war. Remarkably sung by the Almanac Singers, an excellent group of young balladeers, these seven songs tell of the issue by issue campaign waged by the peace forces of our nation in the past year. Some of them are old tunes for many years, some are new, created by the singers themselves. All of them are authentic American ballads packing a real punch.

In "The Strange Death of John Doe", first side of the album, the Almanac Singers have produced a tragic fragment that will be sung for many a year to come. Told, as are all songs, in simple people's language, this ballad has as bitter an impact as any in the whole literature of people's songs.

Also included in the album are "Billy Boy" and "Liza Jane", both with a new set of words. The others are the Ballad of October 16, Plow Under, C for Conscription and Washington Breakdown. Some are light and savagely ridicule the rulers of America - Plow Under and Washington Breakdown - others speak of the problems of our people faced with the threat to drag them into war and all bluntly rip away the false whiskers with which the warmongers seek to disguise themselves.

The album is very suitable for performance before large bodies of people - peace rallies, union meetings and other gatherings. Simple songs of peace, they should be brought into every town and hamlet of this country, Everyone who would fight this war should consider this group of ballads a 'must.'

Songs of John Doe: Washington Breakdown:

Franklin D., listen to me,
You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea,
'Cross the sea, 'cross the sea, You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea.
You may say it's for defense,
But that kinda talk that I'm against.
I'm against, I'm against,
That kinda talk ain't got no sense.

Lafayette, we are here, we're gonna stay right over here...

Marcantonio is the best, but I wouldn't give a nickel for all the rest...

J. P. Morgan's big and plump, eighty-four inches around the rump...

Wendell Wilkie and Franklin D., seems to me they both agree,
Both agreed, both agreed,
Both agree on killin' me.

Songs of John Doe: Plow Under:

Remember when the AAA
Killed a million hogs a day?
Instead of hogs, it's men today -
Plow the fourth one under!
Plow under, plow under,
Plow under every fourth American boy!...


Now the politicians rant,
"A boy's no better than a cotton plant;"
But we are here to say you can't
Plow the fourth one under!

Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson, liner notes for "Songs for Political Action," Bear Family Records BCD 15720 JL, 1996, pp. 77-78:

Songs for John Doe (The Almanac Singers) : In early March 1941 a group was organized to finance and produce the Almanacs' first record album, "Songs for John Doe." Among its members were veteran record producer John Hammond, Earl Robinson and Keynote label owner Eric Bernay (nee Bernstein). The principals invited potential investors to a Sunday, March 19 Almanac performance at Peter Lyons' home north of Washington Square.

"We want you to come and hear the songs, give your suggestions, and contribute toward underwriting the albums," a letter explained. "Those who join us in pledging money will receive a corresponding number of albums which may be distributed to the cause of peace, and in the cause of a new music which has arisen out of the people." The event raised $300 -- a considerable sum for those days.

The day before the session, Seeger approached Josh White about joining them. Not only could White enhance the trio's music, but he would bring a welcome racial diversity as well. According to Lampell, Sam Gary, the Carolinians' bass singer, also joined the session. Six masters ["'C' For Conscription" & "Washington Breakdown" were recorded as one take] were recorded in a two or three hour session in a small Central Park West studio in late March or early April 1941....

Bernay released the album in May 1941. Fearing political repercussions, he was reluctant to release it on Keynote, so "Songs for John Doe" appeared on the "Almanac" label. On June 22, 1941, Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet Union. With the non-agression pact broken, pacifism was out of the question. Bernay quickly pulled "Songs for John Doe" and Paul Robeson's Spring Song from distribution and reportedly destroyed the remaining inventory...