Once Upon a Time, The Music Really Mattered

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!”

5 Responses to “Once Upon a Time, The Music Really Mattered”

  1. Edith Says:

    I loved Laura Nyro, too. My mother died of fallopian tube cancer, a close relative of what took Laura. The Seeger family, an incredible story there, Peggy, Mike , Pete, the musicologist parents, Elizabeth Cotten . . .Ewen McColl . . .writing a song Roberta Flack would do . . .Kirsty McColl and Shane McGowan and the dirty old town . . . the dirty old town. . .my fiddle playing friend at the seisiun, coming up to me tonight asking if I have seen the Jim Carrol and Patty Smith picture yet . . .when they were young all over themselves w/ cigarettes in hand and Uncle John’s bands, both of them. The Reverend Gary Davis by way of Jorma Kaukonen teaching finger style guitar to a mother of seven, experts in biology and fisher poets from Alaska and New Bedford riding airplanes w/ Snoop Dog’s Uncle Reo, androgynous no more but poets not blinking or lisping as they read and to have dealt with being transsexual wondering about the Chockma Mechazeh hoping not to be swallowed and also wondering about my grandmother’s neighborhood in Clare and why it should relate to Mississippi John Hurt. Yes I am frightened by it all, all the time. Who could imagine.

    Beyond the gates of eden. . .a fitting title but go figure where you fit. I never would have guessed but maybe I should have before I got so old. Staying alive long enough to get old was the problem for me, I think.

  2. catkisser Says:

    Pete Seeger personally invited me to join the Sloop Clearwater Project as a folksinger when I was in my early twenties. Like a fool I declined because I didn’t think I was good enough.

  3. Andrea B Says:

    The music does matter to every generation.

    Back when you were young, the people from the previous generation critised you for your music taste and also said the music did not matter to you. It was the same for there generation.

    Today I hear people critising kids into Marlyn Manson, InFlames and other metal groups.

    It happens in every generation.

    This generation is a bit weird though. I found myself this morning speaking to several teenagers who had seen Iron Maiden, Aerosmith and Motorhead in the last few years.

    I had saw Iron Maiden, Aerosmith and Motorhead before they were all born. That was weird.

  4. tinagrrl Says:

    The music always matters.

    Different music elicits different memories — some is painful to listen to.

    I even remember some of the Swing Era music — my late brother was 11 years older and often took me places with him. When he and the other teenagers would listen to music, and dance (usually at my Aunts house in the Bronx) my job was to wind up the Victrola, to keep me out of trouble, and keep the music going. At that point in time, my favorite song was “Drinking Rum And Coca-Cola” by The Andrews Sisters.

    Later I discovered Jazz, and imposed it on my poor long suffering parents. Then Rock and Roll — Alan Freed as “Moondog” on the radio — etc., etc., etc.

    Elvis, Ike and Tina, Bo-Diddley, all the various Doo-Wop groups, “The Late Great Johnny Ace”, Carl Perkins, Everly Brothers, both urban rock and rockabilly..

    At the same time a growing appreciation for Bird, Diz, Miles, the “West Coast Cool” groups (the original Mulligan Quartet, Shorty Rogers, etc.).

    Then, just before the “British Invasion”, “East Coast” Jazz reared its head — later to be defined as “Hard Bop” — and, I fell in love.

    Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, combined with jazz and blues — along with some friends who LOVED classical music and got me listening to that.

    During the early 60’s I had a friend who was an itinerant folk singer — so he got me listening to folk music, told me about Dylan while he was still appearing at “hootenanys” at Gerde’s Folk City.

    My first real exposure to John Fahey was one night at a lower east side apt., stoned out of my mind on pot — The next morning, someone went out to get some eggs and bread for breakfast and came back saying a well known hippie drug dealing couple (right now their names escape me) had been murdered – this was about two blocks away. Many folks saw that as the end of any semblance of real “peace and love” on the lower east side (AKA:”The East Village”).

    Some music brings tears, some wistful longing, some joy, and some almost manic laughter.

    I can be 5, 12, 17, 22, 24, 28, etc., depending on what I hear — good times, bad times, lost loves, bad behavior, , honorable actions — all brought back to mind by a song, a piece of music.

    Heck, the morning of my SRS surgery in Portland, I went “out” listening to a good Jazz station they had there (one of the team had a boom box) — I remember counting backward to Bird and Diz playing “Now’s The Time”.

    What could be better than that?

    The music ALWAYS matters.

  5. Andrea B Says:

    I was at a Jazz night a while back. Had a really good time.

    The age groups there were from 20 to 90.

    These days I still listen mostly to metal, but occassionally to some classical by Beethoven, Wagner and recently Maksim. I think I am start to get an eclectic mix, that is weird by most standards.

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