Wednesday, October 10, 2018
For Bob Dylan-The Folk Music Of The Hippie Generation (1962)-With The Music Of Erick Saint-Jean In Mind.
The Folk Music Of The Hippie Generation (1962)-With The Music Of Erick Saint-Jean In Mind.
By Zack James
Seth Garth and I, Jack Callahan, his closest friend in high school although we had been something like enemies in junior high over some silly girl named Rosalind whom I thought he had tried to cut my time with but had been wrong about, were as thick as thieves one frosty November Saturday night in 1962 when he conned me into heading over to Harvard Square, the Harvard Square that fronts Harvard University although we were not going to have anything to do with the University, not that night anyway. The conning wasn’t as bad as it sounds because what Seth had proposed was that we take in a show, I guess that is what you would call it although maybe concert or just performance would be better, at the Club Nana where this up and coming guy Erick Saint-Jean was going to sing some of his folk songs-some covers of other folk performers like Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs and some original work about par for the course in such things.
That Friday morning before Seth had cornered me in the first floor corridor of Riverdale High where we were both sophomores and begged me to take Laura Perkins as my “date” to go and hear Saint-Jean. Jimmy Jenkins, as usual, had chickened out, had no dough, had no balls, not enough to handle Laura, or something but whatever the reason he had cornered Seth in the Boys’ lav before school and gave him the somber news that he would not be able go to the concert. Who gives a rat’s ass what the reason was all I know is that I got cornered by Seth shortly after that. The “hook” that had me conned was that his date, Sally Soren, although everybody called her Sal once Seth started to call her by that nickname, could not go with him to Cambridge or anyplace else for that matter unless there was another couple going along as well. No questions asked. No company, no go and Seth was crazy to go, and crazy for Sal. And as it turned out she was crazy for him as well.
It seems that Sal’s parents were strict Brethren of the Common Life communicants and were having fits that Sal was going anyplace with a “heathen,” their term for anybody not a Brethren, not a Brethren boy although who knows maybe even that crowd was off-limits. The only reason they had consented to let Sal go with this particular “heathen” was that Seth, who really did have a bagful of knowledge about such things as hymns and other religious-type songs as part of his book of knowledge of such ancient music, had conned them into thinking all the trips to Cambridge were to take Sal to a social event where hymns and such were to be sung.
I said “no” at first because while I liked the idea of being around Laura Perkins although she had always been cool around me especially when she found out that I was the guy who gummed up the works with her taking dead aim at Jack Callahan when he had eyes for Kathy Kelly and I gave Kathy the word folk music made my teeth grind, the whole scene that Seth dug was so much soapy air to me. This had not been the first time that Seth tried to get me over to some folk venue either in Boston or Cambridge. The previous October he had forced my hand, had made a bet with me that I would like folk music as a pleasant change from rock and roll music which was nowhere just then. Said I needed a ‘cure’ from bitching about guy singers like Ricky Nelson, Fabian, Bobby Rydell and bitching about a bunch of girl singers like Sandra Dee and Leslie Gore who had made me almost swear off listening to my transistor radio. He said Doris Nelson who was starting to make a name for herself in the local folk ho-hum was appearing at the Turk’s Head in Boston and I just had to hear her to fall in love with her voice, her ballad-strewn voice. He added that she was a knock-out as well. Which I bought into in the end although how a sophomore in high school like me was going to get near a young woman who had recently graduated from Boston University was left unexplained by him, or thought about by me while he was about the business of conning.
We had that night, just he and I, no dates or even just hang around girls from school tagging along taken the subway after having a couple of drinks of Southern Comfort that Willie the Wino down at the river-front park where he hung out (that moniker was how he was known by every under-aged kid in town and how he responded to anybody who was in need of his services) who went to Johnny Glenn’s Liquor Store and bought the suck-ass booze for us because the stuff was cheap and got you high fast and on fire after just a little for us after we gave him enough extra money to get his tusk of Thunderbird as his fee). The one in town near the Greyhound bus station that took you to the nearest subway stop at Field’s Corner which then took you rumble-tumble, bumpy-bump toward Boston or Cambridge depending on where you were heading, what stop you want to get off at. This Turk’s Head was supposed to be the “hip” place where all the new talent, talent like Seth claimed this frail Doris had, that was taking up the folk craze just then got their work-outs, perfected their acts before moving on to bigger venues, really bigger coffeehouses which was where the action was then wherever Seth in his whacko brain thought the music was going.
So we got there after stopping off at the Charles Street subway stop since the Turk’s Head was on Charles Street itself so we didn’t have to walk too far. We were looking for number twenty-two and we couldn’t find it, asked a guy where it might be, number twenty-two first then when that came up empty we asked by name and the guy pointed across the street and we still couldn’t see any sign of a coffeehouse or a sign of anything. The guy said that the place, the cool place he added, was down in the basement. Jesus. Even Seth was thrown off by the idea of stepping down in some basement when he had built up this folk thing as the big deal. So we crossed the street, headed down to the cellar and almost bumped our heads on the cross-beam that seemed to be holding the place up and came to a young woman sitting behind a cash register asking us for two dollars each as a cover charge. I told Seth I didn’t have two dollars, had maybe a buck to get home and he fronted me the dough since he said he had caddied that morning up at Crosswinds Country Club, his main way to get dough since otherwise his family, like mine had no dough.
I should explain about the look of that gal at the cash register because looking around the then half-empty room since we had gotten there kind of early which had maybe a dozen or fifteen tables, two and four chairs to a table and while never totally filled up that evening half the girls, maybe more, in the place looked as for style like the cash register girl. As the place did fill up the look, the sameness of style got even more pronounced, I would come to see that look almost explode on college campuses by the time I got there myself. She, I think somebody said her name was Mimi something, had long black hair which went straight down her back almost to her ass and which I found out later when I had a girlfriend who looked like her that she had ironed with an iron to keep it straight, wore a colorful peasant blouse of the kind that I had seen in the movies that Mexican peasant women wore, or Jane Russell in Hell’s Angels, except she, Jane, showed a lot more shoulder and a lot more bosom, a tight black skirt which went to her knees like a lot of the girls at school wore and open-toed sandals even though it was November. (Later toward the end of the folk craze that comely peasant blouse showing shoulders and knee-length skirt would be replaced by a formless, from nowhere granny dress to the ground which reminded me of the potato sacks girls wore back in sixth grade.) At the time I was seriously into beehive hair blondes with tight, very tight cashmere sweaters, those okay tight black skirts and some kind of pumps I think they called them except on gym days when they wore tennis sneakers, at least at school. So that Turk’s Head girl while obviously pretty and a bit foxy every time she looked my way was strictly no heart beat for me-then.
Seth and I took our seats near the front of the place near this tiny stage just big enough for one performer it seemed and maybe a small instrument like a flute or clarinet since that was where the two seat tables were and because Seth wanted to hear Doris clearly while he was taking notes about her performance, how the audience reacted to her play list and what he called getting “color,” getting a feel for what the folkies as he called them were up to. After we had sat down a few minutes later a waitress came by to take our order. Naturally she looked like she could have been the sister to the girl at the cash register, maybe she was although she filled out that peasant blouse a little better and that was why I thought she was waiting on tables and the other gal was on the door. Like I told Seth before when they asked for the cover charge I only thought I had enough dough to get home, and maybe a few cents left over. Seth who must have gotten a couple of high roller good guys to caddy for that day and said he was flush said he would cover me because it was important to him that I follow this folk scene that had him all wired up.
It was at that moment that I was “christened” into the mores of the folk scene as it was emerging around Boston. See in order to keep your seat at one of these coffeehouses unlike the Waldorf in Riverdale where as long as you weren’t disturbing anybody you could sit and wait for the bus or just sit and watch the winos like Willie the Wino suck down some watered-down coffee after a hard day or night of twisting with a wine bottle or sitting in Tonio’s Pizza Parlor, our corner boy hang out then which Tonio was happy to let us do since it brought girls in you had to have something in front of you, a cup of coffee slowly sipped anyway. Otherwise somebody who might be waiting outside, fat chance that night, who could pay the freight should by rights grab your seat. That night the situation got resolved by Seth forking up the dough for two coffees and a shared brownie just to make sure we were covered. When the coffee came, steaming coffee with milk somehow foaming on top of it and I sipped it I liked the tastes immediately. I had never had coffee so strong even my mother’s percolated with egg shells thrown in for good measure.
After that I made my first mistake though. I asked Seth, just in passing, just to kill time until Doris came on the stage, just to seem like I was interested in case one of the girls at the adjoining tables was listening so they would think I knew something about the new trend whether it made me grind my teeth or not, why he was taking notes about the performer and whatever else he was writing about. Here is the mistake in asking Seth any kind of open-ended question like that because the opening allowed him to go on and on about the ten thousand facts he knows about whatever interested him even if not strictly on the subject. See as long as I had known Seth, unlike the other guys on the corner who maybe dreamed of working in an auto shop, maybe pumping gas for a living, maybe getting a job on the town work force, a fireman or public works department job, maybe a white collar job in the town hall Seth had dreams of being a reporter, although he always called it being a journalist, and usually prefaced that designation with the words “big time.” So as boring as those then thousand facts were to the corner boys, including me, as much as any of us could give a rat’s ass about whatever came into his mind his idea was that knowing all that stuff was his ticket away from poverty, away from that white collar town job his mother was always telling he should aim for as the highlight of his life.
So after telling me that Minnie Murphy, the editor of the school newspaper The Magnet, had promised him she would publish an article by him on this new folk music craze that she too was getting crazy about and which kind of surprised me because I thought Seth was the only goof in town who even knew about the thing he proceeded as usual to give me everything I didn’t want to know about, didn’t give a rat’s ass about the scene. Told me that there were lots of people who were tired of the goof stuff that was passing for rock and roll in those benighted times, tired of the bubble gum music that even I was tired off even if this folk stuff was making me grind my teeth. Told me a bunch of college students and other people with time on their hands had gone all over the country to squirrely places like Appalachia which I was not sure where it was and down in Mississippi which I did know because all hell was breaking out there with black people (who in our neighborhood we called the “N” word almost universally except maybe Seth, and maybe he did too when he hung around the corner and guys were bitching about what did the damn “n---gers” want anyway I don’t remember exactly). Said people were crazy to find stuff that a guy named Child, Francis Child, had put together from the old old days, back in the 16th century or thereabouts and that I would find out first-hand about that very night. Told me people, folksingers like Doris Nelson were beginning to make money, make a job kind of money doing.
Seth, although maybe on nights when Willie the Wino came through for us and we had too much Southern Comfort which really could rot, hell, fuck up your brain he would do so, never claimed he had discovered folk music, never claimed that he had the “Word” as he called it but after hearing a “fugitive” radio station (his term) from Providence one night, WBIL I think he said it had been, what later proved to be the Brown University radio station by mistake one night, started grooving on the sound he made a mental note to explore what the whole thing was about. Told me at the Turk’s Head that the reason he had cornered Minnie Murphy was that he expected to ride the wave of the folk scene to a “big time” reporter’s job using this folk scene as a stepping stone. This school newspaper article was to be the first step and if he played his cards right he might get noticed by guys around Harvard Square who were busy writing songs, songs which I will get to in a while, writing about their “discoveries” of some ancient ballad that song people in Prestonsburg down in Kentucky were singing, had been singing since their forbears were kicked out of England and then either couldn’t make it on the coastal cities of the East or got kicked out of there as well, and writing about the guys who were writing the songs and making the latest folk ballad discoveries.
That was what Seth wanted to do so badly that he could taste it. (My term and not meant as a compliment either.) This was pure Seth for as long as I had known him when he had his million facts hat on. He had a lot more to say or he would have had a lot more to say except that Mimi girl who clipped us for four bucks was now on stage getting ready to introduce this Doris Nelson. The usual emcee build-up for whatever act was in front of them, the role of “flaks” since they invented them. Some stuff about how she had been classically-trained from childhood and had given that up to sing the “people’s music.” Pure flak.
No question Doris was a dark-haired, tall, ruby-red lipped beauty although like I said before about girls in the room she was dressed and wore her hair like half the girls sitting at the mismatched tables around the place. (I found out later that her friend Joan Baez whom she had gone to school with at BU, had had a couple of classes with had started the trend, the “look,” or was one of the starters). After a few stumblebum hardly audible hem and haw words of introduction to the song, which struck me as odd since she was being touted by Mimi as this new breed singer-songwriter about how some guy named Cecil Sharpe had discovered the song, Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies, she started to strum her guitar which seemed too big for her and which given how small the stage was kept banging against the walls when she swayed to the melody of the song if that was what she was doing. She had a big voice, no question either, but every time she hit the high note on “fair and tender” she made my teeth grind even more. Made me almost long for some bubblegum music by any one of about fifty popular teenage-oriented female singers.
Get this and you will get just the slightest inkling why I was getting a big headache that night. The story line of the song, what Seth started to call “the narrative” after he had read some guy named Irving something used the term when dealing with these endless ballads was about some gal, a country gal who probably was pretty gullible and naïve anyway about men who had been two-timed by her man, which could only mean one thing-that she had given into his lusts or maybe hers-a theme I would hear constantly later except sometimes it would be the gal doing the two-timing. She wanted revenge or at least have the guy feel remorse. Christ who wanted to listen to that stuff from olden times for about ten minutes when you could get the Shirelles to sing a short and sweet story about a gal wondering if her guy will still love her tomorrow-done in two minutes and some change.
Then Doris did a series of high-pitched wails, hoots if you asked me, about some sea captain who was poking his cabin boy only he was a she and got pregnant. Jesus who gave a fuck. After that bummer she went gentle on some obscure song from that Child guy’s list, a ballad she called it, about a guy named Geordie. Seemed he was from royalty, had bedded, married or not, some fair damsel who had three kids whether by him or by some cuckolded husband wasn’t clear to me, had been short on dough when he cashed in by poaching some of the king’s deer, a capital offense if caught and he was, was sentenced and ready to be hanged and quartered or whatever they did to get rid of poachers in those dark ages days. The fair damsel rode to London and tried to talk the judge out of it but no soap and I guess old Geordie swung for his misdeeds. Again she made my teeth go cuckoo chattering when she hit the high notes, started going wah-wah. Seth kept trying to keep me quiet since the place was so small Doris probably heard every curse I threw her way. Jesus again.
I could keep going on about that dragged night and it would be more of the same but I would like to mention her last song, her encore song which Seth had jumped up and led the audience in asking for. He told me later that he saw he really needed a personal interview with her to round out the article he was thinking through all that night. Here is what you maybe don’t know, maybe you do, but let me say that the so-called “ah, shucks” folkies were as susceptible to such claptrap as any Broadway show tune performer. Almost immediately after Seth called “encore” she was tuning up that runaway guitar for her big ending. Later, a few years later, when I got hip to stuff about the music industry, I would find out that performers would do an encore even if not one soul in the whole place asked for it. I remember one guy didn’t even bother to leave the stage to be acclaimed by popular demand that they wanted an encore but just blatantly said he was too tired to go backstage and so here was the encore.
But back to the song, the ballad another one of those damn endless Child ballads that this Doris seemed to specialize in (and which Seth once he got his foot in the door would write endlessly about and expect people to take seriously). This one Barbara Allan, although she called it Barbarreeee or something like that Allan would try the patience of Job or one of those old time righteous prophets since she decided that she would sing it in Middle English, in other words, sing it like somebody in Shakespeare’s time, maybe earlier would sing the thing to whatever audience he was pitching to. After the first verse I almost walked out the door but Seth pulled me back by promising to pay my bus fare home if I just waited until the end. The story here which even Seth did not understand that night but only caught up with later when he looked in the library at school for the modern lyrics was some royal guy or some young noble who was in love with an inevitable fair maiden. Except she thought he had slighted her, had as has been going on since men and women started hanging out together, not been paying enough attention to her as against other women in their crowd at the tavern. Brushed off by his true love fair maiden he took ill rather than moving on. Started to take that road to the grim reaper. Sent emissary after emissary to see if she would come and see him before he passed away from a broken heart. No soap. No soap until she showed up pretty late just as he was about to expire. Sensing that she had wronged him she too “died for love” and they were buried next to each other in sanctified ground as far as Seth could tell. Get this as is the nature of things growing on the world on the guy’s grave grew a rose and on the fair maiden’s a briar which after some time passed intertwined. People applauded after Doris finished this downer. Can you believe in the year 1962 that some half-intelligent woman thought she could breakout in the music world singing that rubbish. (As it turned out Doris could although as part of a singing duo with Henrietta Hardwick as Two For The Road and with modern material just to let you know where I was at then as far as my predictive abilities went.)
So I was no stranger to “folk scene” when Seth barrel-assed his little favor non-favor at me to help him out with his Sal problem about going to the Club Nana over in Cambridge. I might as well tell you now that I never figured that Sal-Seth attraction, mutual attraction I might add because they stayed together until the end of Seth’s sophomore year in college when Sal went to try to make a name for herself in the folk scene in New York down at the Village and didn’t want to wait for Seth to finish school and then head down there. She said the folk minute might be over by then and she would lose her chance in get out from under her parents’ thumb, now was the time to prove what the local Cambridge scene aficionados were saying about her talent. Sal was closer to the truth than she knew since by then the British invasion with the Beatles and the Stones was sucking all the air out of any marginal kinds of musical expression, especially for people who were just then trying to break into the folk scene and Seth lost track of her although she had made a few records and opened for a few bigger acts before she disappeared from our radar out West somewhere, not California West but maybe Utah or someplace like that where they didn’t like people swearing either, were scornful of heathens as well.
We were never friendly not even that night at the Nana, even though I think I only swore once and then said I was sorry but she always seemed to have a permanent scowl on her face for me which made that beautiful face of hers seem ugly to me. And it wasn’t because of her religious background which other than her almost reflexive hatred for swearing in her presence she wore pretty lightly around school. I was kicking my own Catholic background so I could have given a fuck about her religious principles. You know I really think she was giving Seth something at least a blow job because Seth was the kind of guy around the corner who was not known for dealing with goof girls even if they were pretty, maybe especially because they were pretty. The only thing that got him anywhere with that proposition to me about double-dating was that he said he would cover my expenses. With that and with Laura as the lure he tagged me. Tagged me despite my reservations about going with him and Sal since like I said Sal was very prissy about language, about swearing so I thought that I would spent most of my time keeping my mouth shut. Tagged me although he greased the pole about folk music by saying that this Erick Saint-Jean was the new cat’s meow and very different from that Doris Nelson performance which even he admitted long after the fact was not to everybody’s taste-anybody in the 20th century I told him back.
The Saturday night we went to see Erick at Club Nana started out okay. Naturally since Sal’s parents had to be appeased we met at her house for the inspection and the interrogation which I got used to the few times later I wound up with double-date, hell, double-duty with Seth on one of his and Sal’s adventures to the coffeehouse scene. The inspection apparently was to see if I had two heads or something or if Laura was a loose woman or something. The interrogation part Seth had briefed us on, Laura and me, since Sal’s parents would be sure to ask us where we were going and we had to answer about going to a social where there would be hymns singing the praises of the Lord and such. We made it through the gauntlet okay as they kind of beamed that four young people were going to a good church social on a Saturday in this day in age and wasn’t it a sign, or something. Yeah, end times sign of something. We then headed toward Thornton Street where the Eastern Massachusetts bus depot was located in order to take the bus to connect up with the Redline subway at Field’s Corner in the roughneck section of Dorchester and head to Harvard Square at the end of the line (then). As we walked along Thornton Street Laura said to Seth that she had read his article about Doris Nelson in the Magnet and after complimenting him on the piece said she was looking forward to hearing Erick Saint-Jean whom she had heard about from her cousin who lived in New York where he had appeared as the front act for Pete Seeger at the famous Gaslight Coffeehouse.
That remark made me cringe, made me feel that I was doomed that evening because Laura had made the cardinal sin with Seth of expressing the slightest interest in whatever he was hot under the collar about which turned out to be this Erick guy. Moreover he expected all of us “non-folkies” he called us to give him our candid opinions of Erick’s performance since he was “on assignment” for the Magnet after Minnie Murphy had published his first article (after some heavy re-write by her which would plague Seth all his writing career like publications, small presses and journals mostly, had infinite space for whatever he had to say from the mountain and he could not keep it under five thousand words when the publisher had asked him for say three thousand). I told him right then and there, right in front of Laura who seemed to be gravitating toward folkie-dom since she was wearing a peasant blouse that evening, an outfit which I had never seen her wear before since she usually filled out tight cashmere sweaters rather nicely and thankfully had a great big head of bee-hive styled blonde hair, that he could save time and register my answer right there and say that the stuff made my teeth grind.
Hell, before I could take it back Seth started in again on this Erick so I turned out to be no smarter that Laura about playing to Seth’s vanities as he started to tell us why this Erick was the next big thing. Fortunately, I thought, the Greyhound bus arrived just then and we got on after Seth paid all our fares. But Seth when he got on his soapbox would not let it go and so all the way to Dorchester he droned on and on about Erick. Gave us his history seemingly from when he was a baby although that part I drowned out and did not pick up his story until Seth mentioned that he had gone to Harvard for a couple of years before he dropped out to “follow his muse” was what Seth called it. I found it strange that a guy who could make Harvard, had the smarts to get in which we all recognized in the poor ass Acre neighborhood where we grew up was a big deal would give up a ticket to success for some iffy music career which might last a minute or a century who knew. I mentioned this to Seth as we were riding the bus since we had talked about this whole college thing, the struggle to get into any decent school, when we were hanging around in front of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor one Friday night on a night when we had no dough and no dates, and no prospects of a date and he replied that Erick had already had one of his original folk songs recorded and on sale, Light Rain Falling, which he would play that night and was working on recording his latest song A Time Is Coming said to be a sure-fire hit according to the reporter from the Village Voice who was present at the Gaslight in the Village the night Erick fronted for Pete Seeger. I still was not convinced that he had made the right decision but I kept that to myself.
During the subway ride to Harvard Square the clacking and clicking of the trains kept Seth quiet although he seemed to be whispering stuff to Sal that made her laugh, probably some high heaven hymn about God’s righteousness and seeking mercy on wicked humankind. Laura was a bit cool to me for most of the evening until then especially after I made that crack (her term which she used when describing her coolness that first night later when we were on better terms-much better terms, okay) about folk music making my teeth grind since she had gone out of her way to buy a peasant blouse for the occasion after her cousin had told her the what’s what about looking cool on the emerging folk scene. I explained to her my experience with Seth at the Doris Nelson concert but she only said that this Erick was something different, was something of a star rising with his off-beat humor and his drilling the right spots on his lyrics which she called (citing her cousin) “protest music.” That Light Rain Falling had been a heartfelt plea for the government to stop making nuclear weapons, stop testing them wherever the hell they wanted, stop building up the stockpiles and let the world live and not worry our next breathes, if there were to be any. That last remark gave me much better idea of what Laura was about, told me she was more than a good-looking social butterfly who only spent her waking hours on all the silly school committees like the seasonal dances and sports’ pep club and I started to hone in on her a little more. Started asking what else her cousin told her about Erick, about this folk scene that we would enter just as soon as we got up the two flights of stairs to breath in Harvard Square air proper as we hit the last stop on the line.
As we surfaced Seth went crazy telling us about the Hayes-Bickford that was right in front of us. The one in Riverdale we avoided like the plague because it had steamed everything and if you got there say an hour after the food had been put on the steam table then it was basically inedible. The Hayes moreover was for winos like Willie the Wino when he was looking for a change of scenery from the Waldorf or had been kicked out for pan-handling or otherwise abusing the real paying customers. But this Hayes was, had been for a while, the afterhours hangout first for the now passé “beatniks” and their endless poetry readings and writings and now for guys like Bob Dylan who would write notes on the paper napkins provided by the place and tuck them in the pocket of his disheveled jacket probably to be turned into lyrics for a song. So everybody who heard about what was happening in Harvard Square made the pilgrimage to the Hayes to see who was doing what, what new songs were being gestated there among the steamed vegetables and weak-kneed coffee poured into those ceramic mugs that seemed indestructible. Seth noted that Erick, who lived in a garret up on the other end of Mount Auburn Street, had actually written A Time Is Coming at a table at the Hayes one rainy night when he was there with his muse, his girlfriend, Henrietta Hardwick (the same gal who would successfully team up with Doris Nelson as a duet with modern material), although Erick would mention her at his performance as his paramour which Seth said was the same thing when I asked him what that meant at intermission.
Even though Seth had snuck out of the family house in Riverdale several times by himself late at night to head to the Square and the Hayes hang-out trying to see what was what (and avoiding the after midnight winos, college drunks, hustlers and con artists who descended on the place late especially when it turned into the favored after hours hang-out of many local young up and coming folk artists) he had never been at the fairly new Club Nana since these places were popping up all over the Square so he asked somebody where it was located and it turned out that the club was in the building adjacent to the Brattle Theater a few blocks down from the Hayes. We found the place no problem since we saw a long line forming outside the club as it was not open then as we had along with those others in that line arrived early. Seth, seeing the line, was worried we would not get a table, would not get in for Erick’s first set and was bitching about how we should have taken the earlier bus and all that. I thought to myself that no way would the place fill up just like it hadn’t at the Turk’s Head because although a few guys like Seth and his kind were into this folk scene everybody else was still going cuckoo over rock and roll or stuff like that who were into music (hell, Laura, even that night mentioned that she still had a strong “crush” on teen idol Ricky Nelson, hell and damn him). As it turned out there was no waiting at the Club that night unlike later occasions since it was significantly larger that the Turk’s Head (and not in the freaking basement with a crossbeam to hit your head on to boot), had about thirty tables for twos and fours although the furniture was all mismatched just like at the Turk’s Head. Nobody was spending money on that stuff, on matching furniture, and nobody probably gave a damn what they sat on as long as they got in and were not positioned behind a pole so they couldn’t see the stage which was always the curse of every concert venue. The stage here was the same small dinky one like at the Turk’s Head just barely enough for the performer to perform if he or she was not too big and played the piccolo.
Here’s where I started to get a better frame of mind about this folk thing (besides that unspoken threat that Laura was getting dragged into the milieu and if I was to have a chance with her I had better think twice about my earlier opinions about the genre or do a better job of keeping it to myself-or be more public about how nice she looked in a peasant blouse although frankly she still looked tons better in a tight cashmere sweater and probably always would). No cover charge. Yes, unlike the Turk’s Head over on Charles Street in the Back Bay which pretty much had the field to itself and so could rob us of two bucks each to hear some old garbled ballads in some weird language from the Middle Ages plus having to buy coffees to keep in front of you and keep your place, the new Club Nana had stiff competition from the myriad other folk clubs and coffeehouses that covered about a six blocks in the heart of the Square.
Of course there was the even then famous Club 47 and the up and coming Café Blue leading the pack where the more recognized performers like Dylan and Joan played and where you waited, patiently or impatiently as was your wont, in line outside (or got there at some ridiculously early time to wait in that freaking line, forget it) so the lesser clubs like the Algiers and Idler and now the Nana had to pitch their tents in the shadows and offer some reason to take a left to Brattle Street rather than a right to Mount Auburn Street and so the “no cover charge” was the draw. As for the Nana, as the owner and emcee Barry Bowditch explained that first night before introducing Erich for his first set, that club was attempting to be the new hangout for the next run of up and coming folk artists to present their wares, to perfect their acts just like the 47 and Blue had done in their turn. Still you needed to keep that ubiquitous cup of coffee in front of you, maybe needed a sweet and low pastry out of smell necessity since Barry had a small bakery next door working up the smell factor, if you wanted to keep your place in the pecking order. But it was nice to know I would not owe Seth four extra dollars later on when I had some dough. (Come on you know guys were expected to pay the freight for the girl then-if he expected to get anywhere-otherwise somebody like Laura whatever she might have thought of the new breeze folk thing would have been a “no show” for this kind of date if it was Dutch treat. She told me once later after we had been going together for a while that if she had wanted to, or had been expected to pay her part she would not have shown-she could have gone out with her Dutch treat girlfriends).
Once we were seated, grabbed our coffees and cakes from the good-looking college girl waitress (from Emerson College who was slumming as a waitress to get close to the folk scene since she like what appeared to be half the Harvard Square world was a budding folk-singer) we sat listening to some piped in music. One song interested me, Viva La Quince Brigada sung by a guy named Woody Guthrie, a song that Seth told me was about the Spanish Civil War, was about Americans who fought there in the 1930s in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th International Brigade to save the Spanish Republic when it was attacked by the local fascists under General Franco who still ran the show there. (Seth gave me that military designation for the Lincolns which he had found out about when he was doing a tern paper in 9th grade for a Civics class and he picked the Spanish Civil War as his topic.) The beauty of the song sung in Spanish was that I could follow the lyrics because I knew enough Spanish from my second-year Spanish class to understand what the song was getting at. Of course the rest of the period before Barry came up on that small stage to introduce Erick was the usual folk ballad bummer. A song about some guy in Ohio who murdered his sweetheart because she would not marry him and what remorse he had after he did the deed (and about facing the hangman’s noose and/or God’s wrath as well for his indiscretion). Another song about a guy named Matty Grove who stole some nobleman’s wife, lived with her for a while, the nobleman came by and killed Matty then the errant wife after which he too had remorse-for the wife’s murder not Matty’s if you can believe that. I swear this song was the same one Doris Nelson sang at the Turk’s head except this version had a different name, was even longer, even endlessly longer going into the nobleman’s motivation for wasting Matty, his sense of honor abused which needed to be avenged, and the methods he would employ in order do poor Matty boy in. There might have been a few other songs but the only other one I remember was a silly song about some muleskinner who was sick of his work and wanted to break out, wanted to ride the range I guess, his desire to break out not half as much as mine as I was getting antsy waiting for the show to begin. Laura sensed that and started making small talk about how she liked that Matty Grove song, felt bad for the guy Matty who was taking good care of his lady but that when the deal went down that illicit affair was doomed anyway since nobles and commoners didn’t mix so well then whatever role love played in the scheme of things. When I kept silent rather than bursting out laughing she shifted to small talk high school social butterfly stuff, did I know about the Spring Frolic Dance and how hard her committee had been working to make it a success (and which I would wind up taking her too, actually proudly taking her too since that was the first public, meaning school the only place that mattered, appearance. I feigned interest (as I would many times later when she brought up one of her endless committee assignments-she would no matter how deeply she was involved with the Harvard Square scene never outgrow that butterfly thing-never saw a reason to do so I guess).
Finally Barry saved the day. Came up on stage and gave a few minute introduction about Erick after telling us about fire exits, about making sure we had something wink, wink to eat or drink in front of us for the duration since that no cover charge meant there was dough for food so don’t be stingy, be generous with the hard-working waitresses, and a few upcoming events including a Tuesday night “open mic” search for new talent to get featured on New Talent Thursday Nights (which would be the next time I heard Doris Nelson in person the first time she partnered with Harriet Hardwick). Then Erich showed up behind him.
This Erich was long and tall, angular, had to have some WASP blood in him despite the Gallic surname because he wreaked of Yankee brethren as only a kid who had been drilled to perdition about the bloody English forebears and their mad policies in Ireland before Easter 1916. He wore what for what would be for guys, folk guys, “the uniform.” Long hair, longer than what dear mother would have liked to see, a wisp of a beard, unusual and always associated with beatniks in our neighborhood hence by mother’s and others with uncleanliness and evil intent, a plaid flannel shirt, brown, black chinos, a red handkerchief hanging out of the back pocket and work boots against all weathers. (And yes I wore that same “uniform” for a while before I got a real uniform of khaki greens courtesy of the United States government in hellhole Vietnam.). He had a strong baritone voice and as he strummed his weather-beaten guitar I, and the others at my table and probably the house too, knew this guy was a serious guitar player from the first strums.
But enough of wardrobe descriptions and skills speculation because Erick didn’t speak too much but rather let his songs speak for him. Something in the force of his voice got to me. That Light Rain Falling had all the pathos of a song about the very real possibility of the world exploding on itself if the nuclear war we all feared to the marrow of our bones actually occurred. A Time Is Coming spoke of some new thing in the world, about the end times of the old stagnant world and its stuffy rigid order and falsity, not just folk music but a new way of people dealing with each other and you had better get on board or get left behind. Fair Winds Or Foul spoke to me in the same vein except Erick’s spin on the subject was that there was going to be opposition, that the bad guys running the show now were not going to let the new breeze take over, were going to fight back, fight back hard, would crush our spirits in the process. Our Hour spoke of the twists and turns ahead, that not everybody was going to stay the course when the new breeze hit, not everybody was made for the road, for all-night talking, for living very simply and for experimenting with everything from drugs to communal living, and his encore song Sabrina spoke of lost love despite him jumping through hoops for the woman named in the song, a song that seemed autobiographical and recent. (It was, was about a young woman from Radcliffe who couldn’t see Erick going the folk music root and who had her feet firmly planted on the ground. As it turned out Harriet Hardwick had come along just after that and eased the pain, as did writing the song as he mentioned at the end of the song.)
Of course since Erick was just starting out he did covers some by Pete Seeger he told the audience that Pete had showed him how to play on the guitar like Where Have All The Flowers Gone and a song by that same Woody Guthrie who I had heard earlier in the evening over the sound system, one that I really liked about going to California and having dough or don’t go which I was crazy to go to, dough or no dough.
Okay here’s the grift. When Erich was finished I was the guy who yelled encore and he gave us the melancholy Sabrina in return. As the lights came on to clear out the joint I mentioned to Laura that I thought the show was great. She smiled and agreed. Once we got outside and headed to the late hour subway I was the one who was going on and on about what Erick said about the new breeze coming, about how if guys and gals sang stuff like he did then maybe we would get the new breeze, would get a shot at making something of the world as we were coming of age. For once I outtalked Seth. Oh yeah, and told him that while those old time folk ballads still made my teeth grind guys like Erick had something to say. Oh yeah too, as I left Laura at her door I mentioned that maybe the next weekend we could go to Harvard Square by ourselves and see what was what. She smiled and agreed. Whoa!
[Post Script: many years later Seth Garth as he was ready to retire after what for him had been a reasonably successful career first as a music critic for various alternative newspapers and small press journals and then as a free-lance writer for publication big and small on a whole range of topics from culture to politics to self-help tips (don’t laugh those pieces got at least three kids from various marriages, three altogether through college and graduate school) he started receiving almost weekly CD compilations in the mail asking him to review the CD for a nice little check. Most of them he dismissed out of hand since that nice little check was little enough for him to dismiss out of hand now that he was no longer on his way to the poor house trying to put six, count them, six kids through all forms of higher education, although it was a close thing for a while.
But one from old friend Sid Daniels the producer of compilations of folk music minute songs for Roundabout Records geared to the baby-boomers who came of age on that material and had enough nostalgia and dough to make producing such materials financially worthwhile. After listening to the CD, Urban Folks Blues Seth started to wonder what had happened to some of those artists and agreed to do a review for Sid on that basis.
See everybody knew that the “king of the hill” Bob Dylan had embarked on what would eventually be a never-ending tour and that prior to his death Dave Von Ronk would show up regularly on the dwindling folk circuit, the few places scattered in the universe where there were enough old folkies to sustain a coffeehouse-you know Ann Arbor, Berkeley, the Village, Harvard Square- or if away from those old-time centers then some thoughtful monthly coffeehouses at UU churches or places like that. But Seth was not thinking about the fates of those guys which had been well documented but a guy like Erick Saint-James who back in the day looked like he would threaten Dylan for that “king of the hill” title.
Erick Saint- James had it all going for him, a strong baritone, good basic guitar skills, knew a dozen chords or so, which as one wag mentioned at the time was all you needed to get a place in the folk universe, better, have all the girls hanging around you. Erick in addition was a good-looking guy who graced many covers of Rise Up Singing Folk, the original “must read” publication that got many young folkies their first look see. He had big hits with covers like Railroad Bill but also with his own compositions like the classic A Time Is Coming, Falling Light Rain, and Panama Woman Special. Then a few years later he fell off the folk map. Seth had spent many hours starting out in the business tracing the whereabouts of every possible folksinger in order to keep up with the movement in order to grab free-lance jobs once editors like Benny Gold and Sam Lawrence knew that he had enough knowledge to write quick reviews when they were pressed for publication time-lines so he referred back to his backlog of notes for starters.
So Seth had worked his way back. Found out that Erick had had a streak of bad luck, bad management, a bum agent who took a lot of his dough, who lost a lot on bad deal buy-backs and at the track, both things besides talent which you need to have working for, not against, you. Had a few songs, a couple of albums that went nowhere. Of course that was around the edge of the folk minute, the point where folk rock was the place to be or get off the boat. That was the main musical fact of life of the time. Old time ballad went into the dustbin, went back to where someday a new crop of folk archivist would wonder what the fuck they were talking about. Part of Seth’s loss of Erick’s whereabouts had been that Seth had sensed another wave coming and he was on the envelope of what would later be called the “acid” rock moment and so had let whatever he knew about folk kind of fall off of his planet. That was where his career was heading, where he was getting assignments and so the fate of stray folk guys like Erick faded in the background. That too was a hard fact of life just ask Benny or Sam.
Then Erick hit some skids, got caught up doing too much alcohol and later too much grass, then heroin. As far as Seth could trace that decline into the late 1980s that was what had happened to Erick. One source said he went down to Mexico to study painting while he was trying to dry out. Another said that he was down in some Jersey Holiday Inn doing a lounge lizard act for coffee and cakes. In any case the trail ended around 1990 so who knows what happened to him. All Seth knew was that back in the day Erick could cover the old time folk songs, worked at it and added a few gems to the folk section of the American songbook. Yeah, if you want to know what it was like when guys and gals sang folk for keeps, when Erick Saint-James sang folk for keeps grab Sid’s compilation CD. Listen to Dave, Tom, Geoff, Tracey and Jesse too but weep a tear for Erick and your lost youth as well.]
The Answer My Friend Is Blowing (No Clipped “G”) In The Wind-The Influence Of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” On The “Generation of’68”-The Best Part Of That Cohort
Link to NPR Morning Edition 'The Times They Are A-Changin" Still Speaks To Our Changing Times https://www.npr.org/2018/09/24/650548856/american-anthem-the-times-they-are-a-changin
By Seth Garth
No question this publication both in its former hard copy editions and now more so in the on-line editions as the, ouch, 50th anniversary of many signature events for the “Generation of ‘68” have come and gone that the whole period of the 1950s and 1960s had gotten a full airing. Has been dissected, deflected, inspected, reflected and even rejected beyond compare. That is not to say that this trend won’t continue if for no other reason that the demographics and actual readership response indicate that people still have a desire to not forget their pasts, their youth.
(Under the new site manager Greg Green, despite what I consider all good sense having worked under taskmaster Allan Jackson, we are encouraged to give this blessed readership some inside dope, no, no that kind, about how things are run these days in an on-line publication. With that okay in mind there was a huge controversy that put the last sentence in the above paragraph in some perspective recently when Greg for whatever ill-begotten reason thought that he would try to draw in younger audiences by catering to their predilections-for comic book character movies, video games, graphic novels and trendy music and got nothing but serious blow-back from those who have supported this publication financially and otherwise both in hard copy times and now on-line. What that means as the target demographic fades is another question and maybe one for a future generation who might take over the operation. Or perhaps like many operations this one will not outlast its creators- and their purposes.)
Today’s 1960s question, a question that I have asked over the years and so I drew the assignment to address the issue-who was the voice of the 1960s. Who or what. Was it the lunchroom sit-inners and Freedom Riders, what it the hippies, was it SDS, the various Weather configurations, acid, rock, folk rock, folk, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Abbie Hoffman, Grace Slick, hell the Three Js-Joplin, Jimi, Jim as in Morrison and the like. Or maybe it was a mood, a mood of disenchantment about a world that seemed out of our control, which seemed to be running without any input from us, without us even being asked. My candidate, and not my only candidate but a recent NPR Morning Edition segment brought the question to mind (see above link), is a song, a song created by Bob Dylan in the early 1960s which was really a clarion call to action on our part, or the best part of our generation-The Times They Are A-Changin’.
I am not sure if Bob Dylan started out with some oversized desire to be the “voice” of his generation. He certainly blew the whole thing off later after his motorcycle accident and still later when he became a recluse even if he did 200 shows a year, maybe sullen introvert is better, actually maybe his own press agent giving out dribbles is even better but that song, that “anthem” sticks in memory as a decisive summing up of what I was feeling at the time. (And apparently has found resonance with a new generation of activists via the March for Our Lives movement and other youth-driven movements.) As a kid I was antsy to do something, especially once I saw graphic footage on commercial television of young black kids being water-hosed, beaten and bitten by dogs down in the South simply for looking for some rough justice in this wicked old world. Those images, and those of the brave lunch-room sitters and Freedom bus riders were stark and compelling. They and my disquiet over nuclear bombs which were a lot scarier then when there were serious confrontations which put them in play and concern that what bothered me about having no say, about things not being addressed galvanized me.
The song “spoke to me” as it might not have earlier or later. It had the hopeful ring of a promise of a newer world. That didn’t happen or happen in ways that would have helped the mass of humanity but for that moment I flipped out every time I heard it played on the radio or on my old vinyl records record-player. Other songs, events, moods, later would overtake this song’s sentiment but I was there at the creation. Remember that, please.