January 28, 2014

The Observer

My favourite story about Pete Seeger:

Back in the days when I was required to attend huge folk music events, I had an encounter with Pete Seeger. Between showcases, I had been advised to attend so called “workshops”. They’re not really workshops. They are kind of see and be seen affairs, schmooze a little, network, push your CDs into the hands of others, etc. Horrible, really.

Being a woman, and specifically being a woman in the music industry, I chose the workshop called  – predictably – Women in Music (well, it was the 90s).  The room held about 40 people, and it was filled to capacity. Regrettably, the gal chairing the meeting chose to open the session by inviting everyone in the room to introduce themselves and say a little about their career, concerns, complaints etc. “Let’s start here”, she said “and then just go around the room”. And thus it went:

One: Hi, my name is Willow. I’m a singer-songwriter from Some City, Some State and I’m also a purveyor of holistic tonics. I’ve been applying to folk festivals for years now and never get hired. I think this is because of sexism in the music industry because my work is really strong and powerful and woman-centric. I think they are afraid to hire me.

Two: Hi, my name is Moondust. I’m a singer-songwriter from Some City, Some State and I’m also the midwife. I am a single mother of three rescue dogs. I, too, have been applying to folk fests for many years now. I, too, am never hired. I think this is because I am a rainbow warrior and my work is too strong and powerful for the male dominated world to handle. They are afraid of me and the power of my music.

Three: Hi, my name is Storm. Well, my original name was Linda but I decided that I needed something strong and powerful. Because my music is strong and powerful. I am a singer-songwriter from Some City, Some State. I, too, am a  purveyor of holistic tonics. I, too, am a midwife. I, too, in a single mother of three rescue dogs, but I have two rescue cats as well. I, too, have been applying to festivals for years now. I, too, am never hired. This is because I do not fit into the feminine model that the patriarchy demands in this sexist business. I also make candles in my spare time.

Four: Hi, my name is the elemental sign for iron, Fe. I used to be just Fay, but I changed it to the elemental sign for iron, Fe (spelled F-E) because it is more powerful and strong. Just like my music. I did this when I was 26, which is really powerful because the atomic number for iron is 26! It took a long time for my family to get used pronouncing it exactly the same but imagining –  I mean, really seeing it in their heads –  as as capital F, small e.  I am a midwife, a naturopathic vet, a massage therapist, and a volunteer swami. I make candles and soap in my spare time. In my spare spare time, I write really strong and powerful songs – this is my real passion. All  my friends love my work but I never get hired. Why can’t strong women get hired? What are they afraid of?  Well, I’m here to say we will not be silenced. We will fight until we are hired. And we will go topless when we are hired. Right breast strong and left breast powerful.

Lots of applause and murmured approval after every speaker. Tick, tick, tick…..only 36 more introductions to go.

And on it went. Each woman standing to introduce herself with a longer and slightly more dramatic back story than the previous. The concerns went from mild wonderings to wild accusations, with every kind of whine and whinge in between. These introductions were tears and frustrated rantings that consumed the hour and a half that had been scheduled for the event. In recollecting, it seems to me that about 95% of the attendees were there to express their concerns about not being hired, despite how strong and powerful they were.

With about thirty seconds left, the last person to rise was a tall, lanky man with a downy, white  beard and crinkled, smiling eyes. He said: I’m Pete Seeger and I’m here to observe.

What had he seen, I wondered. And I wonder still.

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