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 special culture of this corner of New York. I was still a teenager, in college. I was with my first boyfriend who was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.
From the Italian coffee shops that sold amazing coffee, and hot and cold chocolate, to the tiny, dark caverns where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. And it was just a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine. There’s a lot of good things to be said for growing up in the country, but it can’t compare with being young and having New York as ones playground.
The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.
Greenwich Village in the 1960s was the stuff dreams are made of. Everyone was there. Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell and Leon Bibb and Harry Belafonte. Everyone. The famous, soon to be famous and a few who would be infamous. All young, making music, and passing the basket.
I’d take the subway from Queens. 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 30 cents for the round trip — and maybe, if I could scrounge it up, a dollar for a chocolate at Caffe Reggio. A dollar and a half would carry me a whole day into evening in the Village. Because hanging out was cheap.
“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.
This may be the only place I remember that’s still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born. It’s now a protected landmark. Good thing, too.
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 a dozen years in my future.
People were friendly, funny, and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We certainly tried.
Out near Hofstra 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 at the AbMaPHd? 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.