I last night watched a show on the Smithsonian Channel about John Cohen, one of the New Lost City Ramblers. It featured Pete Seeger and photographs of a young Bob Dylan.
When I was young and very alone the music of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez filled my life.
I joke and say Pete Seeger made me a commie although my left wing roots are more in the labor movement and the anarchists of the IWW.
But the rebel music be it rock and roll or folk was always there and I was always an outsider more attuned to fighting for the oppressed than living the glamorous life.
I was drawn to Greenwich Village because of the music of Washington Square and MacDougal Street. Gerde’s and the Gaslight. Ban the bomb buttons, long hair, poetry and art.
When my parents busted me at 13 they told me I should go live with the queers in Greenwich Village. Years later I would discover Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker books and know where my mother got that idea.
The music was intertwined with the politics. Woody Guthrie’s guitar had “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on it. They called Pete Seeger a red and blacklisted him.
I was a teenage commie queer according to some folks so the Village seemed the place to go.
Rambling around New York town,
The buildings go up and the subway down.
Fresh off the bus the first stop on the train for me was Sheridan Square, at the corner of Christopher Street. Right near Bleeker Street.
I found Izzy Young’s Folklore Center and Fretted Instrument too.
I saw Dave van Ronk play the Gaslight. The Fugs, Laura Nyro and the Mothers of Invention too across MacDougal Street at the Cafe Wha.
When I went to the coast it was because San Francisco was easier on kids like me or so I had heard from another transkid finding herself in the Village.
By now the Vietnam War was raging and I was part of a tide moving from protest to resistance. I danced at the Avalon, the Filmore, the Straight Theater. The music was the Dead and the Airplane. Phil Ochs and Country Joe provided the politics. The MC 5 gave us music to riot to.
Tonight I watched Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on a recent tour. From “Four Dead in Ohio” to “Let’s Impeach the President”.
Women’s music from Joan Baez and Laura Nyro to the 1970s Meg Christian and Cris Williamson and Alix Dobkin fueled my feminism and gave music to my lesbianism.
When I came back to my roots after getting seduced by the right it was Rage Against the Machine, Green Day and John Fogerty and yeah Neil Young too along with the Dixie Chicks who returned me to my senses.
Maybe the music always mattered and maybe like Grace Slick used to sing it was the way to “Feed your head!”