Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New York Story #2

WASHINGTON SQUARE, GREENWICH VILLAGE

"Washington Square was a place where people you knew or met congregated every Sunday, and it was like a world of music... bongo drums, conga drums, saxophone players, xylophone players, drummers of all nations and nationalities, poets who would rant and rave from the statues. You know, those things don't happen any more, but back then, that was what was happening. It was all street. . ."

---Bob Dylan; quoted in Maps and Legends: Positively Fourth Street

From the day I was born, my father was forever taking pictures of me and the city. The photo you see here was taken in August 1957--a month after my birth--in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village, at the fountain in Washington Square Park.

Although my mom was born and bred in Manhattan--she grew up on the Lower East Side, which at the time was home to countless poor and struggling immigrants packed into tenements--my dad was born in Arkansas and came to the city in the 50s. I can only imagine what a culture shock it must have been for him.

Greenwich Village is on the West side of downtown Manhattan. Its layout is unique to the city, with narrow winding streets that diverge from the rest of the Manhattan's orderly grid. For well over a century (or two) , Greenwich Village was a haven for avant garde artists, writers, musicians, and bohemians of all stripes. It thrived for generations as an apex for progressive, alternative culture and political rebellion. Early feminists, socialists, intellectuals, beat poets, folk and jazz musicians, hippies, and gay rights activists all found a home in Greenwich Village. It is here that the Beats of the 50s and 60s hung out in the coffeehouses and held poetry readings, and where Lenny Bruce got arrested for obscenity at the Cafe Au Go Go. The Village atmosphere suffused the writings of such notables as Allan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Keroac in the 50s, as well as generations of writers before them. At the Cedar Tavern, on 8th Street, some of the great abstract expressionists of the '50s such as Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko hung out. In the 60s and 70s, countless performers, including Barbra Striesand, Joan Baez, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Maya Angelou, and Bette Midler got their start in the Village's nightclubs and coffeehouses.

At the time my dad took this picture, folk singers played in the Washington Square Park to hordes of like minded hipsters and beatniks. When Bob Dylan arrived in the city four years later, this is the the kind of scene he likely encountered at the park's fountain.

In the summer of '69, twelve years after this photo was taken, my b/f BG hitchhiked with a friend from Louisiana and arrived in the Village for the first time, with nothing but two rolls of dimes and his guitar. He was 18--a year younger than Dylan was when he arrived in 1961-- and the flower power/hippie summer of love was in full bloom. He hung out in the exact same spot where my dad had taken this picture of Washington Square Park. BG, too, was from another world--born in Oklahoma, though he'd also lived in Omaha and Louisiana--and the Village was like nothing he'd ever encountered before. Unlike my dad, who just took pictures of the Washington Square Park oddities, in the Village of the 60s BG dropped acid, consumed countless other drugs, and made love to hippie chicks.

Although the Village is no longer affordable to most struggling artists and bohemians, there are still plenty of jazz and comedy clubs, off Broadway theaters, bars, cafes, restaurants, coffeehouses, (tattoo parlors--lol), and other gems to visit. The Village Halloween parade, the largest Halloween event in the country, draws two million spectators.

28 Comments:

At 8:32 AM, Blogger fugusashi said...

I love your New York stories.

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger jessie said...

that's one big parade! especially for halloween. ours is a pathetic, dinky small town style parade which ends right before trick or treating is to begin.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Paula:

Thanks so much...and congrats again on your daughter's latest accomplishments!

 
At 12:45 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Jessie:

Well, um, if truth be told, I've never gone to the Village parade. It's just too huge, and it would be very hard to actually see much since it gets so crowded. They do have some amazing costumes though. The local TV news channel covers it every year, so I try to check out at least a little of it.

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger Timothy said...

I like your stories about NYC. You make it sound great. I would love to take my guitar and just go some place and place it in the street. We do not have much of that here. Maybe some day I should go and visit.

 
At 4:40 PM, Blogger Nikky Egland said...

I would love to visit New York someday!

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

What a great story...I feel like I'm there, in the sweat and heat of it all. What a different but amazing time to live in...

 
At 8:13 PM, Blogger Danny said...

So where DO the starving artists hang out and live now? LOL

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Duddits said...

There is nothing really like NY. You are good story teller!

 
At 6:56 AM, Blogger Brink Craven said...

i got my favorite nostril peircings in the villiage a few years ago during one of my vists. And let me tell ya--ya know i find that in general all the dudes who have peirced me have been pretty spectacularly sexy but this guy was the bomb babay. he had some troubles getting the stud in and it was taking a lot of time, poking and prodding and at some point I started leaning my head on his mid section and he was cool with that. what can I say? the pain became purty uncomfortable. Anyway, I digress.
I could never go to NYC without heading to the Village a some point or another. It just aint NYC without it. I used to feel compelled to go down there during the height of the punk movement in the late 70's early 80's. If it werent for the Villiage I dont know what i would have done with my radical self. It was the only place around I could go to find rare, "unpopular" music and punk paraphenalia--Bleeker Bobs. We patronized Bleeker Bobs Back back when records... well you know. Man do I sound old. Not so much cause I was just chatting with my painting teacher and he was saying that there was no TV when he grew up so, how bout that?
sorry-ha.

Thanks for the cool stories E.
Peace.

 
At 6:56 AM, Blogger Brink Craven said...

oh yeah I forgot to mention-boy did he smell good!

 
At 11:02 AM, Blogger jessie said...

have you ever thought about writing short stories? you seem to have a talent for it. who knows you may be able to get something published.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger Nikky Egland said...

OK elvira heres the story you all wanted - i hacked into my exes acct and found a very sentimental email that he had written to another ex of his, and now i feel very bad for the following reasons: one, i feel awful for hacking into his account, two, i feel bad for his wife, three, i feel crappy cuz i cant tell on him cuz hes my friend, four, i feel jealous cuz he doesnt feel like that about me and i was a way better gf and way more recent in his life. OK there i said it!

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger jane said...

I had no idea so many artists got their start there. The Village sounds like my kinda place. I went to 1 love-in with my parents.

Remember the sayings:
Make love not war

and...
War is unhealthy for children and other living things.

Your post reminded me of these.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger digibrill said...

I love it. Makes me want to visit again. I've been in that mood for travelling for a few days now. You really know your city though. My aunt and uncle live in Greenwich. The way they explain it though is that SoHo is now the place. Do you know much about that part of town? I will definitely come back to keep reading.

 
At 3:51 AM, Blogger Walker said...

It sounds like something I would have enjoyed.
I have friends that told me about that time because I just missed it by 10 years.
They said it was a time that no one could understand or explain. You had ti live it.
They have told me about having to leave it all because of the draft
and how things were so different here. Many had settled in Montreal because it was closer to tyhe way they lived in New York.
Some of their families sent them some money but most was made on the street playing musioc for pennies.
This is another great post on New York.
It always a treat to here about a place through the eyes of someone who was there or is there.

Have a nice weekend

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Timothy:

Thanks! People still play in the city--for example, in Central Park you can sit on a bench or on the grass and play away. Subways stations also have a lot of musicians--some licensed, some probably not--as well as freelance conga players, guitarists, and even break dancers who perform--some on the trains themselves. There's also a lot of free outdoor concerts in the summer here. And I believe performers still do their thing in Washington Square park on warm weekends.

 
At 6:20 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Nikky:

Yes, I think New York is one of the cities that's worth at least one visit. And thanks for the skinny on your mysterious post!

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Leslie:

Thanks...glad you enjoyed it! Greenwich Village is certainly a lot more bourgeois than it used to be, but there's still plenty of students (from NYU and surrounding colleges) and other young people jamming the streets. Sometimes I feel very old in that 'hood! It's still a vibrant place to be, and the neighboring East Village, which is a bit funkier, is quite interesting as well.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Danny:

Starving artists can't afford Manhattan anymore, though some brave souls might share a larger apartment and split the rent, but I imagine it's a little cramped. There's been a steady migration to the outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn and Queens, but many of these neighborhoods--esp. those closest to Manhattan--now rival the "city" in terms of high rents. As more young people "discover" each new, cheaper neighborhood, the area becomes more gentrified, and hence less affordable.

 
At 6:29 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Duddits:

Thank you...yes, I agree, there's nothing that can rival New York--then or now.

 
At 6:33 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Brink:

LOL--great story on your sexy piercing adventures! Yep, those dudes are usually the dangerously seductive type, aren't they? And oh yes, the NYC punk scene--I didn't even touch on that--that's a whole 'nother story! They're finally closing down CBGBs after all these years, alas. And yes, Bleeker Bob's--I think it's still there, though I like St. Mark's sounds for used CD's now.

 
At 6:35 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Jessie:

Thank you! Actually, I've published quite a bit for New York City newspapers, but right now I'm just enjoying blogging and the freedom to write about whatever strikes my fancy without worrying about an editor's length requirements, deadlines, and so on.

 
At 6:40 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Jane:

A love-in--wow! I think the sayings are still valid.

As far as artists, writers, musicians, and freethinkers, my piece only scratched the surface. Many nineteenth and early 20th century notables lived and worked in the Village as well.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Digibrill:

When you say Greenwich, I assume you mean Connecticut, right? Nice!

As for SoHo, it's really passed its prime. Like so many NYC neighborhoods, it's been through radical transformations. It lies just south of the Village, and decades ago artists started moving into old industrial spaces and converting them into living/working lofts. At first, the area was creepy and desolate. Then, the 'hood started to become "hot" and became the center of the art universe for quite awhile--I guess in the 80s especially. But now, though there are still a fair share of galleries there, much of West Broadway--the main drag--is now more of a shopping district, and the rents are unaffordable. The major big name galleries have since moved to Chelsea in the West 20s, which is now THE new art area. And so it goes...

 
At 6:53 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Walker:

Yes, the sixties were an incredible time. In '69 I was only twelve, so I was old enough to be aware of what was going on, but too young to participate in it, except through the music. Yes, many people did go to Canada to escape the draft. In many ways, I feel like we're now going through a very similar upheaval in this country once again.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Justine said...

this is my window into NY.
Cheers E.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Justine:

Thanks so much! I hadn't posted much about NYC, and I figured I might as well.

 

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