Outpost in the Burbs
Richard Barone, with Eric Andersen, Jeffrey gaines, The Kennedys,
Steve Addabbo, Tammy Faye Starlite, and Glen Mercer (The Feelies)
Friday, March 29, 8 p.m.
First Congregational Church, 40 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
The cars were the size of banana boats. The streets were littered.
The talk was always of music.
In Greenwich Village, you might bump into Phil Ochs, and recite your latest song to him. And he might say, “It’s too short.”
That’s how Eric Andersen (“Thirsty Boots;” songs recorded by Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, the Grateful Dead and others) remembers the Village during the folk music renaissance of the early 1960s. Andersen will appear with Richard Barone (of the ’80s band The Bongos, and a professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and The New School) in “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the 1960s,” a show at Outpost in the Burbs, on Friday, March 29, 8 p.m.
“Music + Revolution” is a development from Barone’s 2016 “Sorrows & Promises” CD, a project conceived by producer and journalist Mitchell Cohen. Cohen said the songs of those 1960s composers should be considered part of the “Great American Songbook,” along with the work of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.
Andersen is one of the original singer-songwriters that started that movement.
“Sorrows & Promises” includes songs by Ochs, Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, Fred Neil, John Sebastian and others. This past August, Barone hosted the show in SummerStage in Central Park, with José Feliciano, John Sebastian, Melanie and others. He also serves on the Board of Governors of the Recording Academy, the presenters of the Grammy Awards.
The SummerStage concert, Barone said, was “heavy on legacy artists.” At Outpost, the show will feature the “next generation cast,” including the Kennedys and Jeffrey Gaines.
And it is a “show” not just a concert: cast members portray some of the singer-songwriters of the period. For example, Tammy Faye Starlite plays Nico of the Velvet Underground.
MEETING YOUR KIN
“I got there in ’64. I was a latecomer,” said Andersen, speaking by phone from his home in the Netherlands. Andersen came to the Village at the suggestion of Tom Paxton, who saw Andersen perform in a bar in San Francisco.
“I was playing in a Beatnik club near City Lights, the bookstore owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti,” Andersen said. This past Sunday, he performed at the 100th birthday party for the poet in Brooklyn.
Paxton loaned Andersen his own apartment while he was in London.
“Phil Ochs introduced me to people, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others. I was hanging out in the Village, scuffing around with no real money. I could get in clubs free, hear the blues and jazz for free. I heard Mingus, Coltrane. They would play six nights a week. That was my finishing school.
“I did hootenannies with Pete Seeger.” He and his friends admired Woody Guthrie and his American folk songs. They were like “Woody’s children,” he said. Andersen’s 50-year career is the subject of the upcoming documentary “The Songpoet,” by Paul Lamont.
It was a scary time, with a lot of unrest. People were getting beat up over civil rights: “Voter rights didn’t come until 1964, 100 years after emancipation. The Kennedy assassinations jolted the social unconscious. It was a pressure cooker.”
And especially, “every kid on the block was scared of getting drafted [into the Vietnam War],” Andersen said. But despite that pressure, there was also a free-spirited atmosphere. The terror of the draft also leant a kind of dangerous romance to the times.
Nobody had much money, he remembered. Restrictive cabaret licenses meant the clubs served coffee (which is how the name “a coffee house” came to mean a place to hear music in those days). Musicians and comedians would pass the hat. Everyone from “Woody Allen to Wavy Gravy went through the Village,” Andersen said. “And there were guys walking around who looked like FBI agents, accountants in suits and ties. It was a real us vs. them visual, in terms of the way people looked.”
And moving there was like “being with my kin. It was my own likeness of people. It had a power. I liked walking around the streets, meeting all these people. Everybody talked about songs. Dylan would recite songs in a bar.”
You might think “revolution” in the show’s title means protest songs. It also means the new idea of songwriters writing from experience, Barone said. “Before that, songs were written for artists to sing.”
In the 1950s, groups such as The Weavers began discovering traditional folk and blues by artists like Leadbelly, Barone said.
In the 1960s, artists used traditional forms to write new songs, he said. And then The Beatles’ sound helped inspire folk rock.
“The Byrds were doing Pete Seeger songs. Without The Beatles they would not have done them that way,” he said. “The song structure was so good.”
Putting the album together was educational and fun, Barone said.
“There is always new material to find. I didn’t know the Janis Ian song ‘Sweet Misery.’ We dug around and found these great songs. For every song, I started researching the song itself, and the songwriter, and started seeing them as real characters in a play.”
For example, there was a famous rivalry between Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. There were well-known love affairs.
“John Sebastian dated almost all the women,” he laughed. “‘Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,’ about two women, was exactly what was happening. It was very honest.” Once he and Mitchell agreed on songwriters, they narrowed down to a selection of four songs by each writer, and Barone picked one that he wanted to sing.
Barone is too young to have been in the Village during the 1960s, but he had wanted to move there since he met singer/ukelele player Tiny Tim (“Tiptoe Through the Tulips”) at age 16.
“He told me, ‘Mr. Barone, you should live in Greenwich Village, where all the songwriters are. Mr. Dylan and Mr. Sebastian and Miss Ian, they walk the streets.’” For Barone, “It was as if they were on Mount Olympus.”
Barone moved there in 1984, and has lived there ever since.
“I still feel their spirit,” Barone said. The songwriters on the album all lived around his neighborhood. “This is the only place where it could happen.”
And though the songs are old, when he teaches them, it’s not as “dad’s music,” he said.
“It’s the voice of someone who’s 19 to 22 years old. It expresses how they felt about the draft, about not being treated like a full citizen. Younger generations have the same issues.
“I do believe protest songs are extremely relevant now. We have added another Velvet Underground song about a transgendered person. These are songs that are relevant now.”