Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

I first met Peggy Seeger on an autumn evening in London in 1979. The setting was the Singers Club, a folk club that Peggy and her husband, Ewan MacColl, had begun in the early 1960s. I was in London studying theater through that most American of adventures: the junior year abroad. Having grown up...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

My first thanks go to Peggy Seeger herself. No biographer could have had a more cooperative, generous, and honest subject. She gave me access to a myriad of private papers, allowed me to tape-record her memories, fed and housed me during research trips, and entrusted me with the great responsibility...

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Permissions

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pp. xv-xviii

Thank you to Ewan MacColl Ltd. for kind permission to reproduce lyrics taken from the following songs: “Bring the Summer Home,” “Daddy, What Did You Do in the Strike?,” “The Day of the Fight,” “John Axon Was a Railwayman,” John Axon’s final song, “The Joy of Living,” “Only Doing Their Job...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

There are moments in one’s life that, when viewed in retrospect, take on such a transformative importance that the slightest deviation from what actually happened would have altered the course of one’s entire existence. When viewing these moments through the glass of memory, one plays the childish game of...

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1. Very Good Stock

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pp. 5-22

The year 1935, the midpoint of what W. H. Auden called a “low, dishonest decade,” was a good year for Charles Seeger. After years of financial insecurity and pieced-together part-time work, Seeger had landed a steady job with the Special Skills Division of the Resettlement Administration (RA), a New...

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2. The Early Years

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pp. 23-38

The Seegers’ first home was in Clarendon, Virginia, in a rented house so close to the District of Columbia line that letters mailed to “Washington, D.C.” got there. Ruth rejoiced in the space after years of cramped New York City apartments. In early 1936, Ruth wrote, “The baby? She still has curly hair and...

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3. Coming of Age in Chevy Chase

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pp. 39-53

“We moved when the lilies of the valley were out and the lilac was in bloom,” Peggy remembers.1 The Seegers’ new home was a large three-story house with an extensive basement and a wide, tree-filled corner lot. Chevy Chase was (and is) Montgomery County’s most prestigious neighborhood, a planned...

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4. A Rendezvous with Death

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pp. 54-71

The population density increased and the signs of autumn grew more pronounced as Charles and Peggy drove north from Chevy Chase. In the industrial towns that hugged the New Jersey Turnpike, Peggy was horrified by the man-made destruction she witnessed: the oil refineries that spewed...

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5. The Rover, Part One

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pp. 72-81

Penny stayed east to attend Camp Killooleet for the summer, while Charles, Mar, Peggy, and Barbara set off for California. The cross-country drive was a time of unaccustomed leisure, and Peggy used it for intense self-examination. It was not always a pleasant process; she was relentlessly self-critical...

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6. The First Time Ever

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pp. 82-92

March 27, 1956, was a day that would be forever burned into Peggy’s memory, but she had no such premonition when she arrived at London’s Waterloo Station in the early hours of the morning, tired and unkempt, after a twenty-seven-hour journey from Copenhagen. Alan Lomax enfolded her in a bear...

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7. The Rover, Part Two

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pp. 93-106

Peggy had purchased a Lambretta motor scooter, and Charles suggested that it could provide an inexpensive way to explore Europe. In August 1956, Peggy put this plan into action. First stop was Scotland, Ewan’s historical—if not native—country. Ewan helped plan her itinerary and traveled with her...

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8. New Day Dawning

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pp. 107-117

In the first half of the twentieth century, radio became the primary means of disseminating information and providing entertainment. It gave birth to new art forms, such as radio drama and radio documentary, devoted entirely to the sense of hearing. Just as film had evolved from a means of recording plays into...

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9. At Home Abroad

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pp. 118-132

Ewan and Peggy’s first home together was a small two-bedroom apartment at 55 Godstone Road, in the London suburb of Purley, not far from Hamish and Jean’s home in Croydon. In a letter to her father, Peggy reported, “[Ewan] helps with everything he can, shopping, cooking, washing up etc.,” though...

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10. What Is a Folk Song?

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pp. 133-143

“What is a folk song?” was the question that Ewan MacColl, Peter Kennedy, and Sean O’Boyle pondered on a BBC radio program on May 5, 1955. It was a question that had puzzled folklorists and musicians for centuries. MacColl, Kennedy, and O’Boyle reached no definitive conclusions, but they...

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11. High Noon

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pp. 144-159

In the 1950s, when Peggy was still ensconced in France, Ewan had written despairingly of the poor quality of singing in the skiffle clubs. He complained of singers who sang with a mixture of “South London, stage-Irish and Bronx” and wondered:
What is the answer? Training? Good models? To some extent...

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12. Beginnings and Endings

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pp. 160-172

On the closing night of the Singers Club in 1991, Peggy sang, “As Moses led the Israelites, we led the folk revival,” words that she had added to Ewan’s long retrospective song, “The Ballad of the Travels,” about the many venues where the Singers Club had met.1 But in 1963, it might have been more...

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13. Different Stages

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pp. 173-186

Peggy’s meticulously detailed program book for 1964 shows an impressive number of activities at a large number of venues. Ewan and Peggy toured extensively throughout Britain and sang at the Singers Club nearly every week. Peggy particularly enjoyed performing in folk clubs, where “the audience...

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14. Things Fall Apart

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pp. 187-198

The winter of 1969 was a hard one. Ewan suffered ill health after the Festival of Fools and took to his bed for weeks. “He came very near to a nervous breakdown,” Peggy told her father.1 In March, he suffered a slipped disc and was in constant pain until an osteopath provided some relief. The burden of his...

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15. Late in the Day

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pp. 199-215

In the years to come, there would be reconciliations with some members of the Critics Group, and Peggy would reconcile with still others after Ewan’s death in 1989. Frankie Armstrong, who remains a respected folksinger and teacher, was grateful that Brian and she did not have to deal with the aftermath...

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16. The Day Is Ending

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pp. 216-238

“The eighties were not like anything that happened before,” recalls Peggy. “It was a shift in power.”1 Ewan’s many illnesses were taking their toll. On tour in Seattle, mock malaria sent him to bed with a high fever and delirium, which resulted in Ewan creating a Joycean stream-of-consciousness monologue...

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17. The Long Road Home

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pp. 239-247

Ewan had been working with the BBC on a television documentary about his life until the day before he went into the hospital. It became a posthumous celebration: The Ballad of Ewan MacColl aired on BBC 2 in 1990. The music of Vivaldi, the most joyous and life-affirming of composers, played at his...

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18. Heading for Home

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pp. 248-267

Peggy’s decision to return to the United States was the result of several factors. As long as she remained in England, she was continually reminded of her life with Ewan. Eventually, she would be able to recall that part of her life without distress, but at the time she was locked in the habit of grief. On the positive...

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19. Old New England

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pp. 268-277

Peggy and Irene moved to the Jamaica Plain section of Boston in June 2006. Their apartment was the first floor of a house in a neighborhood of handsome old homes, some of them still single-family dwellings, others divided into flats. By Boston standards, the apartment was relatively spacious, with a living...

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20. Everything Changes

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pp. 278-293

In September 2010, Peggy set down new roots in a rented house on the outskirts of Oxford, England. A small city of beautiful architecture and immense cultural attractions, Oxford had the sophistication of a major metropolis without the attendant bustle and high costs. Since the thirteenth century...

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21. What Is a Folk Revival?

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pp. 294-304

What is a folk revival? The scholarly literature on the subject is vast, but there is little consensus. Most definitions of “folk revival” attempt to be descriptive rather than all-inclusive; as Robert Cantwell says, we use the term “for convenience, but with an implicit sense of compromise or concession.”1 Alan...

Notes

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pp. 305-338

References Cited

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pp. 339-352

Index

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pp. 353-378

Illustrations

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