From the Pop Culture Dead Letter Office

By: David Jaggard

Guidance Office


New York, New York

May 17, 1936

Guidance counselor’s follow-up report for: Peter R. Seeger

re: Our meeting of May 15 about your plans for the future

Peter, it was good that we had that little talk the other day and I want to share a few thoughts about it with you.

First let’s take a look at your idea for pursuing a career in the manual arts. Here’s the thing, Peter: I have a hammer. And since you don’t, but seem so intent on acquiring one soon, there are a few things I think I should point out. For starters, hammers make a lot of noise, especially on the harder woods like oak. For the sake of your family and neighbors, I strongly encourage you, contrary to your plans, to exercise the common courtesy of not hammering too early in the morning. Or too late in the evening, for that matter. As for your desire to hammer “everywhere around the country,” or however you put it, I must advise you that there is very little work available for an itinerant carpenter. People prefer to hire contractors they know from their local area, and if you keep moving around you’ll never build up a solid customer base. Also, your ideas for your first woodworking projects are fine enough, but a little too ambitious in my opinion. Yes, an allegorical sculpture, in the hands of a talented and experienced artisan, can be a thing of beauty, but the themes you have chosen — “danger,” “a warning,” “love” (and incestuous love at that!) — seem to me too abstract and open to interpretation for a beginner like yourself. You have to walk before you can run. Why not start with something simpler, like a birdhouse?

Moving on, we come to your second point. Apparently you can’t yet afford a hammer — I know times are hard — and yet you’re already talking about buying a bell. Might I suggest that you build up your set of carpenter’s tools first before considering such discretionary purchases? And here again I have to caution you about disturbing your neighbors with too much ringing in the early and late hours of the day. Also, while I admire your reiterated and therefore I assume keen desire to travel, if you’re going to embark on a cross-country trip why not just leave the bell at home? If you really want to go “all over” it’s better to travel light.

But if you’re serious about this, have you considered joining a local bell choir? Maybe the other members will be interested in working out some routines based on what seem to be your favorite themes of danger, a warning, etc., but I have a warning for you: most bell choirs are associated with churches and I think your fellow “ringers” will not be kindly disposed to learning a number about incest. Peter, you really ought to try to focus your attention on something less, let us say, controversial, and more appropriate for a young man your age.

Now then, as to your musical ambitions. Yes, I know — these days everyone wants to become a popular singer and get on the radio, don’t they? Peter, you seem to think that if you can just get the right repertoire it will be easy going after that, but let me assure you that there’s a whole lot more involved in building a career in the entertainment business than you think. You say you’re willing to put in long hours practicing from the moment you get up till after sundown, and that’s great, but it’s probably too soon to start planning a nationwide tour.

And I see that once again the themes you want to explore in your songwriting are danger, a warning and love. Again with the incest! Peter, are you trying to come to terms with some dark secret from your childhood here? You seem to be preoccupied about something that may have happened between your brothers and sisters, and yet every time it looks like you’re about to confront the issue head-on you just trail off, saying “ooh ooh ooh.” I’m not making any insinuations here, but I strongly suspect that you might need counseling. I’m enclosing the business card of an excellent psychologist I know. Please promise me you’ll call.

Ah — just as I was about to mail you your copy of this report it was brought to my attention that you have, in fact, now acquired all of those things you wanted. Well, what can I say? Fast work, Mr. Seeger. If I understand correctly, you received the hammer as part of a legal settlement and somehow managed to get a bell for free. And it seems that this peculiar obsession of yours with the unorthodox emotional relationships in your family has indeed become the subject of your first record release. This is all well and good, but Peter, now that you’ve got those ideas “out of your system,” so to speak, please try to write some songs about other, more pleasant things, will you? How about something with flowers? Flowers are nice.