What else’ve you got in your

Following the amazing success of my rediscovered John Lee Hooker tapes, (see page 10), Bruce Bastin of InterState Music of London, asked me, “What else have got in your cellar, Gene?” The answer to that question is the newly issued double-CD album, “PETE SEEGER IN PRAGUE 1964”
Pete Seeger and his family have been my close personal friends since 1946, but of course I am only one of many thousands who have been enriched by Pete’s friendship.. He thrilled us with a visit to our house in Hollywood one evening, with his folk songs and masterful banjo picking. Pete quickly became our idol, the image of the selfless, dedicated human being. It was the beginning of our friendship, which endures into the new millennium.
In 1964 the physical life of Czechoslovakia was near its bottom, but the tiniest cultural blooms were just poking their heads out of the socialist sod. Václav Havel’s first plays were beginning to appear at a tiny theater in a hidden courtyard. Pete, with Toshi and two of their kids, daughters Mika and Teenya, were on the return swing of a world tour – everywhere from Africa to the Soviet Union. It’s well known that Pete has always been a political idealist, in support of labor and racial rights movements, a leftist dedication that deprived him of radio, television or recording work during the McCarthy period in America. Low paying, but personally gratifying private appearances and tours were his endeavors of the time. By 1964, having already lived and worked for four years in this “socialist paradise,” I was thoroughly disillusioned, and when Pete’s arrival was announced, I was concerned that the shock of the reality here would be a terrible blow to his dream. Far from his idealized notion that socialism would provide a better life for the working class, at that time butter, eggs, or cheese could rarely be found in the grocery shops here. Scraps of yesterday’s editions of the communist newspapers had to do much of the time for toilet paper. But there were compensating glimmers of light for those Czechs who hungered for a freer cultural life, and one of the glimmers was the projected series of concerts by Pete Seeger. The main attraction was that 5-string banjo! It was the very first of its kind to be heard in this country. That and his powerful 12-string guitar, which Pete had inherited from Leadbelly, firmly planted the seeds of American country music. I was ready with my then already professional recorders.
The Prague concerts were held, to tumultuous applause. Pete was conscious that he was planting seeds in a withered garden, and he wanted me to be able to use his recordings here to stir up interest in singing these meaningful songs of great charm.

And it worked! Pete’s appearance here directly led to the amazing popularity of American country music among the Czechs! Unfortunately we had been unable to convince the authorities to record Pete at all, so it was up to me to privately preserve Pete’s musical legacy to
Czechoslovakia. I brought my big stereo recorder, and the best electret-condenser microphones of the time, and Pete brought his banjo and 12-strting guitar, and also a home-made banjo, a mandolin, and some flutes. This was Pete Seeger the performer, the musical scholar at his peak! It’s all finally been beautifully restored on this 2-CD album of the complete recordings. Along with Pete personally speaking his notes at age 82 in 2001.
The result of Pete's historic 1984 Prague concert, and my recording of it, which was originally issued on a Czech Supraphon LP, actually changed musical history in this nation, where American country music is now a significan part of the cultural landscape, Pete is 87 years old in 2006, and can no longer sing, but his songs live on with current American folk music master Martin Zak and his group Stara Almara.

The 2-CD Album is available from
Interstate Music Ltd.
20 Endwell Road, Bexhill-on-Sea,
East Sussex, England TN40 1EA, UK

Pete Seeger is 90!

As I write this in the spring of 2009, Pete is celebrating his 90th birthday. Hes been through a lot, eventually becoming an American National Treasure. Hes my treasure also, as a close personal friend for 65 years. We met when I lived in Hollywood, in 1945. In honor of his grand birthday, Id like to show you a little video he made for me last year when I was involved in a Prague music festival. It has a smash ending!

Take a look.
The God Gene

No, no, that’s s not me, but it is the cover story in TIME magazine’s November 29th 2004 issue. But many of the thoughts and questions raised in the story have occurred to me over the years.

“Which came first, God or the need for God? In other words, did humans create religion from cues send from above, or did evolution instill in us a sense of the divine so that we would gather into the communities essential to keep the species going?”

Those are good questions, but how come so much killing and destruction has gone on, and continues to go on in the name of God?

My feeling is that the mysteries of the earth, the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and falling, the seasons changing, weather catastrophes, earthquakes, locust plagues, were awesome and incomprehensible to most early humans, and perhaps the smartest among them had insights to the realization of power over the tribes, and offered mystic answers that ensured leadership and fealty. “The gods were responsible and I can show you how to gain the god’s favor.” Thus, I feel, God was created in the image of Man.

The TIME article is basically a centered on a book, “The God Gene” by molecular biologist Dean Hamer, who postulates that we were hard wired genetically toward spiritual inclinations, and makes the point that spirituality is a feeling or state of mind, but religion is the way that state gets codified into law.

Another professor, Michael Persinger, is more blunt. “God,” he says, “is an artifact of the brain.” I go with that. The need for religion, the article suggests, is that we, as the sole species – as far as we know – capable of contemplating its own death, need something larger than ourselves to make the knowledge tolerable. “A God experience is a brilliant adaptation. It’s a built-in pacifier.”

I suggest that to be the basic impulse to believe in religion: something that can promise us what we most dearly desire, eternal life. And every religion, as far as I know, promises exactly that. That promise is big business, has built marvelous temples, and controls the lives of billions of people around the world.

The world is another conundrum that this article or anything I’ve read – including the “Holy Bible,” – fails to address: All of our gods seem to be gods of the Earth. (And as there are so many religions on this planet, will the Real God please stand up?) But what about the vast cosmos? The Bible says that God created the Earth, but we now know what the writers of The Bible did not know. We know that the Earth is a globe, and but a mere speck in the vastness of space. Is this speck in space the only territory that interests God? Or are the various gods of the Earth’s religions mere lieutenants of the Big Guy, the God of The Universe? It may be, and I could be convinced, that by a series of amazingly unique circumstances, our planet is indeed the one garden of life in the entire cosmos, no matter how many billions, trillions of other specks are out there. It is possible, in spite of all science fiction and wishful thinking to the contrary, that we are indeed alone. That may bolster the belief that God had a hand in this remarkable uniqueness. Who knows? But as the TIME article points out, our brains’ large frontal lobes, which allows us the scary contemplation of forces larger than ourselves, has forced us to pay the price: the fear of God, a God that is our creation, rather than the other way around.

GD, The Gene gene, 28 November 2004

A rediscovered letter to my former wife, Marie, from 1969, which I came across in the process of moving, and which was not quoted in my book, “For The Love of Prague.” It is scanned from a copy of the typewritten original.

August, 1969
Dear Marie,

Thanks for your letter of earlier this month. I have already written Seth to Camp Rowel1, and sent him a couple of snaps from our vacation trip.

Also thanks for including the NYTIMES editorial, but I had already read it. I subscribe to the International HERALD-TRIBUNE2, which is published (in Paris) "with the Washington Post and The New York Times," and includes all internationally significant material and editorials from those papers.

The stinging truth in editorials such as the one you sent me has just yesterday resulted in the closing down of the New York Times bureau here in Prague, only re-opened last year in the olden Dubček Days.

Yesterday was indeed a terrible day. Perhaps the shock we had last year, to walk down "our" streets and see "their" tanks, was even outdone by walking down "our" streets and seeing "our" tanks!

Truth and honor have vanished everywhere in the world during these dark days. I am keeping my eyes open for the appearance of a tall, slim, black monolith.

My eyes are still smarting from tear gas, really a very unpleasant thing, and my spirits are indeed low.

It's ironic that in yesterday's mail, (miraculously, it did arrive in spite of all hell breaking loose), was another huge packet of American revolutionary and "underground" papers and magazines which Pete Seeger regularly sends me. Some of them, the strict Moscow-liners, even had singing class-struggle apologias, nay, acclamations of the Soviet occupation here. one was written by a (former) Czech woman who "knew what she was talking about," because she revisited the CSSR3 in June, 1968, after having escaped the starvation here in 1927. When she saw all of the "great new housing developments," etc. etc., she was thrilled by the great "accomplishments of socialism," She apparently didn't bother to look at Austria, or what is now West Germany, which were also starving in 1927. As I have now lived here continuously for almost ten years now, I think I know a great deal more about what the people really live with here, and what they really think, than this "Genuine Czech." It's strange that in none of the U.S. or local Communist hymnals does anybody talk about what the people want - only that the "intervention" was "needed to save socialism."

Needed by whom?

Incredibly, this very morning the Prague Radio had a comment on the immorality and inhumanity in the USA, where the army is “used against its own people.”

When I heard this with my own ears, it made me wonder at what it was I saw yesterday with my own tear-gassed eyes.

Bill Snyder insisted on timing his latest arrival in Prague just at this time, so as to make up for the excitement he missed by not being here yesterday, and he actually got rubber-billied on the ass right in front of the Alcron Hotel!

No kidding, right on the old duff! He claims that it's all black and blue, but I haven't inspected it personally.

There are many people walking through the streets of Prague today with flaming red-rimmed eyes, and they have plenty to cry about without the help of teargas.

Best, Gene

1 My youngest son, Seth, was in the army at the time
2 In those days, I had the Herald-Tribune sent to the American Embassy, from where I was able to retrieve it.
3 CSSR = Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the Communist name for the country.

Did you know that there are over 4 million civilian Americans living outside the USA around the world? How come we don't have our own representation in Congress, and an easier time voting? Americans abroad are expatriates but not ex-patriots, and we engage in many activities to the benefit of the USA. Most importantly, we have to pay taxes to the American IRS no matter where in the world we have income. "Taxation without representation" is what our Revolutionary War was fought for. We far-flung Americans are in the same situation that Britain once had us in!

The Occasional Deitch is 21 Years Old in 2009!
I started this thing as a silly New Years greeting in 1988, reminiscent of my boyhood amateur newspaper hobby.

Here is the front page of the first edition, printed out on a dot-matrix printer, with crude graphics, then copied on green paper,and mailed out to about 100 friends, colleagues, and relatives.I carried this on for at least 10 years, until the mailing list grew beyond my copying, enveloping, addressing, and mailing capacity. Now, this online version allows “occasional” updating throughout the year, and reaches out to bore thousands, perhaps millions!