THESE WERE THE YEARS THAT WERE. REALLY.

In May 1969, I had a baby boy. I sang “Come a little closer to my breast” originally sung by the Holy Modal Rounders though made famous by other covering singers including the Incredible String Band, I bumped into them them at a local folk-rock club in 1963. I was fascinated and immediately thought they were the stonedest group of people I’d ever seen, on or off stage. Despite that, it was a great song and it made a wonderful lullaby for my 1969 infant. Given the very small size of the club — known as the AbMaPhd or Ab_Ma_Phid (a line out from an Arthur Miller play), it summed up our relationship to the university.

The Holy Modals were either very tall, or I was very short, or the ceiling was really low, (maybe all three), because they seemed to have to hold on to the ceiling to keep from falling over when they sang. It turned out they needed the ceiling to stay upright because they were taking vast quantities of methamphetamine. They gave some to Bob who was at the stage when he would take anything — and after he took it, he disappeared completely for a entire week. During this period, he never left his typewriter and wrote a poem that was more than 100 pages long without so much as a paragraph break or a single point of punctuation. I think he read too many copies of  James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a book I was supposed to have read and for which i got an “A” on the paper I wrote for the class, but I never read. I did read the book about the book — which by itself was almost 300 page long, so you can only imagine the actually original tome.. At a later date, Bob’s poem was edited down to a couple of pages. Maybe a few pages. Three, I think. But all began with what I swear was a full cup of liquid methamphetamine which probably should have killed him, but as a writer, it turned out to be anti-iambic poetry.

Meth wasn’t a “thing” yet. Pot was, of course. Marijuana was part of the music scene since the 1920s or maybe earlier. But no matter how much pot you eat or smoke, you aren’t going to stay up for a week and do anything, much less write 100 pages of anti-iambic poetry . You’d be sound asleep long before you got to page five.

Everything’s Fine Right Now
(Note: This is NOT the Holy Modal Rounders, but is the guy who wrote the song)
Who’s that knocking on my door?
Can’t see no-one right now.
Got my baby here by me,
can’t stop, no, no, not now.
Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
’cause everything’s fine right now.
 
And you don’t have to talk and you don’t have to sing,
You don’t have to do nothing at all;
Just lie around and do as you please,
you don’t have far to fall.
 
Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
’cause everything’s fine right now.
 
Oh, my, my, it looks kind of dark.
Looks like the night’s rolled on.
Best thing you do is just lie here by me,
of course only just until the dawn.
Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
’cause everything’s fine right now.

The club was owned by my first husband and his best friend, the aforementioned Bob. They thought a folk-rock-coffee house a short walk from the university was bound to be a hit. It made sense if you leave out information about how much the rent, food, and entertainment will cost versus how much you are going to bring in on any give night. Music was sizzling hot that year as it was for some years — maybe a decade or so — afterward. All this talent somehow found a place to grow and yes, make a difference. The guys were able to find a place just a few blocks away from Hofstra’s main campus — it only had a main campus. To this tiny (old) building, they added a kitchen in which to make hot cocoa and fancy coffee as well as basic food for hungry students weary of whatever they sold as food in the cafeteria. Remember: do NOT eat the green meat.

Mind you this was when Hofstra wasn’t the fancy school it has become. It didn’t have a big library, dormitories, or a stadium. The beautiful gardening they have since done, not to mention the Drama School, Law School, and some other elegant student architecture and for which you pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend, didn’t exist. It was a peaceful and rather wacky local commuter college. It wasn’t even a university.

Hofstra in 2014

If you wanted to live near the college — and many of us did — you rented a room locally. I originally commuted from Queens by bus and picked up “the blue beetle” bus at the Hempstead LIRR station. Not very romantic, but at $43 per credit, it was an education I could afford without having to take out a gazillion dollars worth of student loans. When Garry started attending — five years before me — it was only $17 a credit. Now, tuition costs are tens of thousands of dollars, though these days, who knows? I wonder — among the other things about which I wonder — what else besides the real estate market and cozy small restaurants are going to tank forever during 2020. How many private colleges will meet the same fate? It’s going to be a bumper year for non-graduates and unpaid tuition, especially since Trump won’t even let foreign students into the States … not that they would be willing to come. I wouldn’t come here — unless I was immigrating from North Korea. some of the less civilized parts of Russia, or maybe that part of Mongolia where Bubonic Plague has broken out again.

That was how I made my first group of college friends — most of whom are still friends and one of whom I continue (against all odds) to remain married. The first one I met was Jeff, my first husband who was the Station manager at The Radio Station. Garry was the Program Director. Oddly oddly enough, I wound up working there too. Funny about that.

It was WVHC — The Voice of Hofstra College running at a crazy 10 watts. Our motto became “Don’t tune us in, we’ll drift to you” and we did. Somehow, we developed an audience, possibly because we also developed an intensely creative bunch of people. We were the weird people, the nerdy people who didn’t join fraternities or sororities. Who had strange senses of humor — but we could make you laugh and we did. I believe you had to live within a mile of the school to hear us, but with all the the crazy bounces of AM radio, sometimes we were clear as a bell in Cleveland, Ohio — but not next door in East Meadow, Long Island.

Jeff Kraus WVHC, probably about 1967

Meanwhile, back at the AbMaPhd, Muddy Waters came and sang for us. I was so illiterate about folk, blues, and rock singers I didn’t have a clue who he was but I liked his music. I liked the music so much I never entirely recovered from it and it is still my favorite music. I bought a really nice guitar and learned to play it with the full mediocrity of a girl who really wanted to be Joan Baez.

WVHC 1963

Anyway, they decided to put on live folk-rock shows at the AbMaPhd. Great idea, but the venue was tiny. The entire place, including the kitchen, as probably about a big as our living room and a piece of the dining room — maybe smaller. In other words, tiny. It barely held half a dozen tables. The kitchen was sweaty in any weather. Bob’s durable wife Sonja did the cooking, though I’m pretty sure she could have thought of any one of a thousand other things she have preferred to do (like be a math teacher, for example).. One of the big problems of AbMaPhd was that the owners never learned to brew decent coffee. Really GOOD coffee wasn’t the “thing” it has become. The powdered stuff from the grocery store really didn’t quite do it.

But the lack of good eats was only one issue. More important, it was so small that even with overflow crowds, that was a bare 60 people if everyone seat was jammed together as tight as possible. Lacking splendid cooking and buying the groceries retail at the local grocery store — which was expensive — they had to seriously overcharge on everything to make even a minimal profit. It was the kind of cool club that managed to thrive in The Village (Greenwich Village), but somehow never translated to Hempstead, New York. Add to that two men without a lick of business sense and no money to put it into the operation, it wasn’t doomed to be a big hit. But they tried. For more than a year, they struggled to somehow make it a go. Nope.

Little Theater – WVHC 1963

Which is how come my first really good set of guitar strings were put on my guitar by Tom Paxton and I got to meet all these others who eventually became legendary (or at least pretty nigh famous). Back then, everyone was pretty happy to get $60 to sing for the evening.

So that’s how I met the Holy Modal Rounders. I was single, a stage in my life that didn’t last long because by the time I was 18, I had married Jeff. I knew absolutely nothing about the current “culture” of folk-rock which was a “coming up thing” in the music world. In a few years, these same guys would  have records with pictures on the covers and the lyrics on the back. Joan Baez was singing in Boston in Harvard Square — and Bob Dylan was making some great noise in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. And there were so many more. There was a boiling up of talent back then. It was amazing and a joy to be part of it, even in a minimal way.

You didn’t need to be a star because stardom was lurking. You could feel it. Not everyone made it, but a lot of people did. Mostly in the radio and TV world — because that was our special place. But we got to hang out with the great ones. We got to tell the stories, sometimes record their records, and do their radio and television interviews.

Imagine a time when no one had any money. When what most of us carried were a few dollars and a subway token. If you sang you got to pass the hat and if anyone in the audience had money they could spare, they’d give you some. Musicians carried their guitars — without a case — on their backs as they rode bicycles from place to place because who could afford a car? Or, for that matter, a telephone? And from this grew legends and producers and executives and performers. We talk — almost with a sense of embarrassment about being the “Boomer Generation,” but we did stuff. We worked hard, we played hard. We didn’t, sadly, solve the problems of the world, but who did? Who else even tried?

At Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Is this generation going to do better? So far, I’m not seeing the talent, drive, or enthusiasm. I’m seeing a lot of kids working hard to better themselves at the cost of everyone else or not doing much of anything. However little we did, this gen looks likely to do less — and they need to do more. Much more.

I can go back to my dreams now and remember that those good old days were good.The “old” is merely the passage of time, but the rest? We were talented people at a time when talent was valued. Now what? Who is next at bat? Who is going to drive a homer out of the park or grab the pigskin and dash down the field or stand on a stage, accept “the hardware” (that’s what Garry likes to call it) and tell others they can do it too? It’s not that there’s nobody around. It’s just there aren’t enough of anyone around.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

12 thoughts on “THESE WERE THE YEARS THAT WERE. REALLY.”

    1. Patricia, I used Bring Crosby’s “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” as an audio wrap around a little video I had shot for our anniversary. I think Bing’s magic still works.

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    1. They never got very famous. They were “sort of” famous and they made a few records. I think “Euphoria” was their biggest hit and has been sung by man others. I just got to meet them.

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