Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to Pete Seeger during his concert in Cape Town last night.
“I lost a great friend and a great hero [Monday] night,” Springsteen told the crowd at the Bellville Velodrome in his second of three shows at the venue.
He called Seeger “a very courageous freedom fighter,” and sang the social justice anthem “We Shall Overcome” in Seeger”s honor.
Springsteen”s admiration and ties with Seeger go back decades. Seeger served as a major inspiration to Springsteen in terms of how a musician can incorporate social issues into his work onstage and off and on and off recordings. Springsteen contributed a cover of “We Shall Overcome” to a tribute album, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone: the Songs of Pete Seeger” in 1997, and, most famously, released “We Shall Overcome The Seeger Sessions,” in 2006. The collection, which included traditionals made famous by and original songs from Pete Seeger won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album.
Springsteen and Seeger also performed “This Land Is Your Land” together at the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial celebrating Barack Obama”s first inauguration.
At a celebration for Seeger”s 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden, Springsteen described Seeger as “look[ing] like your granddad, if your granddad can kick ass.”
Other than Springsteen, no other artists seem to be offering to pick up Seeger”s mantel of social conscious (and, of course, that”s only part of Springsteen”s persona). Tom Morello, especially in his Nightwatchman alter ego, has also done so, but most of the artists who have something to say about the state of the world, like Billy Bragg, have been marginalized to the sidelines or to genres that don”t have the reach of the mainstream. And for all his influence, Seeger’s only appearance on the pop charts was when “Little Boxes” peaked at No. 70.
No mainstream pop artists seem inclined, or willing, to comment on social issues. The closest song on Top 40 that has been topical is Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” in its outspoken endorsement for same-sex marriage. Does no one else have anything to say or is that not the role of popular music?