Culture & Criticism Since 2003
In 1959, Izzy Young helped to put folk music on the map with his Folklore Center which sat on MacDougal Street, at the heart and center of New York’s Greenwich Village. MacDougal was a permanent magnet for poets and painters and musicians. Eventually, Young also gravitated there, opening the doors on the Talking Folklore Center – a place where artists could gather to read and write and think in perfect solitude.
Additionally, many sought out Young to help bring forward their music. Most notably, a young Bob Dylan found a second home at the Folklore Center, as Young allowed the fledgling poet to take cover in the back room to listen to music and read. As the two grew closer, Young ended up producing Dylan’ first concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York City on November 4, 1961. That show, coupled with Dylan’s soon to be released Freewheelin’ album, came to create the sixties.
The documentary, Talking Folklore Center, tells the story of this famous meeting place through the eyes and voices of the people who created it, stitching together sweet archival footage with interviews and commentary from Young’s contemporaries (Allen Ginsberg, Mayor Ed Koch, The Fugs, Pete Seeger). The result is a wonderfully intimate film that captures the innocence and depth of the era in absolute terms.
There are a surfeit of “can’t miss moments here,” with Eric Bibb’s performance of Dylan’s previously unrecorded “Talking Folklore Center Blues” taking center stage – Bibb sounding like the old minstrel’s long-lost cousin as he makes his way through the tune in Dylan’s best 1960s half-growl.
However, the true centerpiece of the movie is found in the 7 minute passage that features Allen Ginsberg. The segment begins with a chilling version of Ginsberg’s “Father Death Blues,” a poem he wrote immediately after the death of his father Louis (and which Ginsberg cites as being the crystallization of his Buddhist mind).
At the conclusion of the performance, Young and Ginsberg embark on an intimate discussion in which Ginsberg speaks directly about “karmic obligations” and his inability to distance himself from endless work, a fact he infers is related to low self esteem. This will be a brand new moment for many of the bard’s followers, helping his readers to understand the heart that sired his canon. Moreover, Young interaction with Ginsberg truly humanizes the master poet – two friends in the middle of a kitchen table discussion through which they’re able to intersect important revelations about the self.
For anyone interested in learning how the literary and folk music movements of the 1960s came to give birth to today’s social media culture, Talking Folklore Center will prove to be an indispensable ride – for these 50 minutes, we’re thrust back to New York City circa 1959, and time is standing still.