Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the very special culture of this wonderful corner of New York.
I was still a kid. A teenager. In college. I was with my first boyfriend. He was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.
From the old Italian coffee houses that really sold coffee and other non alcoholic drinks (I was too young to drink and never liked the stuff anyhow), to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born. It was the Heart of Hip and everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine.
New York on ones doorstep if you are a teenager is fantastic, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s? That was the stuff dreams are made of.
From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.
I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.
All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.
“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.
“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”
“That’s it? You just sat around?”
“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you or told you to buy something or leave.
You could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”
No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was years in the future.
People were friendly, funny and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We sure did try.
Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was going to school and was a music major, my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.
What did I do there? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.
It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.
Once upon a time, music was very different. The Beatles hadn’t played yet. We hadn’t heard them. Sure, there was rock and roll … but not like now. Not like it became after the Beatles. They made sounds we’d never heard before, not anywhere. Maybe sounds that had never even existed on earth.
They didn’t only play instruments and sing. They played a recording studio. They literally introduced completely new sounds, mixing guitar, Dobro, drums, vocals, synthesizers to change music forever.
Younger generations … even my son’s generation, the Gen Xers … they were born after it all changed. They don’t get it, that before the Beatles, music was different. The world was very different.
Music was much more important to us … me, my friends, my whole generation … than music is now. We lived and died with the music we loved. Maybe you had to be there.
The Beatles changed our music and music changed our world. And we, my generation — we changed everything.