I was a teenager in the sixties. I grew up in Queens, a borough outlying the heart of New York City, Manhattan. I went to the movies with friends, both girlfriends and boys. On special occasions, my parents took my brother and me to Broadway plays. But we never ventured into Greenwich Village with its folk musicians and poets whose sounds lealked onto its streets. So those dense square blocks in downtown Manhattan, called simply as the Village by New Yorkers, were unknown to me then.
As an adult, I’ve been writing a novel partially located there and partially located in my childhood locus of Astoria, Queens, where I am from. So I have learned about the goings-on in the Village at that time. Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs—all of those folk greats—got their start in the crowded and crumbling coffee houses which dotted the Village Streets. Perhaps it was the availability of inexpensive digs which made it easy to transition from the practice room to the makeshift stage at the Gaslight Café or the Café Wha, but the Village became the folk mecca—the place a folk singer had to come and be heard in order to make it on the national stage. The closeness of the folk community, the fact they turned out for each other, promoted their art.
It wasn’t only indoors that all this music-making took place. Every Sunday there were impromptu concerts in Washington Square Park open to all. So while folk music sang about the common person, they also played to those who happened to be passing by.
It wasn’t only folk singers who came to the Village to be heard. Poets and poetry readings abounded. In some cases, poets sniffed out the folk scene as when Alan Ginsberg spent time following Dylan around.
My main character gets to hear Phil Ochs, Allen Ginsberg and Audre Lorde. She isn’t me; she’s lots luckier than I was. I never got to venture out of the provincialism of my middle class neighborhood and hear these folk greats perfect their skills. I can’t undo the past. My teenage self never got to go there. I never heard a young Bob Dylan sing a song that he’d only jotted down the previous day. I can only give my fifteen-year-old character, Alice Kaplan, comparable opportunities.