cover image Chopping Wood: Thoughts and Stories of a Legendary American Folksinger

Chopping Wood: Thoughts and Stories of a Legendary American Folksinger

Pete Seeger, with David Bernz. Jawbone, $24.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-916829-02-2

Folk singer and producer Bernz gathers an endearing mix of “thoughts and stories” drawn from his conversations with folk singer and liberal activist Pete Seeger (1919–2014) from roughly the mid-1990s on. Seeger reveals the background behind some of his biggest hits (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was inspired by a line in a Soviet novel) and recounts career misadventures, including breaking a banjo while jumping off a freight train with Woody Guthrie. The bulk of these reflections center the singer’s activism, including the time he sang the antiwar anthem “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour during the Vietnam War in 1967, sparking a controversy that contributed to the show’s cancellation. Elsewhere, Seeger recalls how his activist ethos was catalyzed when, as a young idealist with a “Henry David Thoreau way of thinking,” a few other teens challenged his dream of living as a hermit in the woods: ”You’re going to be nice and pure yourself, and let the rest of the world go to hell?” In his own words and speech patterns—Bernz resisted “the temptation to edit everything into perfect sentences”—Seeger emerges as a humble lover of humanity who used his music to fight injustice and inspired a “new generation of political singers” and fans. It’s essential reading for folk music fans. (May)