Sunday, January 24, 2021

It was 60 years ago 1961-2021


What if…

What if Bob Dylan arrived in New York this date 60 years ago and turned in for good night’s sleep? Lucky for his fans, Bobby had no where to go. So he went to the Wha? (Not a question. Café Wha? Has a question mark. Gerde’s has an apostrophe. We carry on.)

What if Bob Dylan arrived in New York City on a different date from 60 years ago today?

What if he pioneered his sound on the West coast instead? I frame it that way because decisions had to be made by many people in Dylan’s bio. His mother, his father and Dylan, of course. Then, many others in New York and East Orange helped him with future decisions. 

What if he traveled South from Minnesota and took a right instead of a left? He talks of having already decided before packing up to go to New York instead of the other way. He had heard about Gerde’s. 


Gerde’s Restaurant was up and running with music since late 1959. It became Folk City in May of 1960 right after Izzy Young and Mike Porco dissolved their handshake deal to originally run folk shows at Gerde’s. The Folk revival became a national sensation.

Dylan, like many others, got wind of opportunity and eventually hitched his way to NYC via Chicago. 

Izzy and Mike had many other things to do on their respective paths than to wait around for other people. 


Later that year, The Beatnik Riot

What if Izzy Young never saved free speech in 1961?

All those writers and poets that came would have to wait decades for Facebook to be invented to express themselves.

Civilization is predicated on what was once known as free speech. 

The first amendment in America includes free press, assembly and worship.

It has been noted by historians that anyone with a printing press has a right to print and express ideas protected by the 1st Amendment. Debate and discourse within the public arena or even within the mind of the individual would decide an idea’s acceptance.

The ‘idea’ itself had no box drawn around it by the Government as stated in the bill of Rights. It’s a personal interpretation. Create your own interpretation.

Later ‘yelling fire in a crowd’ was rightly declared unprotected and harmful speech.

Church, Temples, Mosques are all protected.

Copy machines, Facebook posts and open letters are covered.

Now that millions of people have cameras in their pockets, video ‘reports’ of events anywhere in the world are protected making the owner of that camera a citizen journalist. Publishing their experience is covered under freedom of press.

Singing is an extension of speaking, said Izzy on April 9th, 1961.

Fast forward to


Singing in a crowd is a super spreader event, says the team of experts in now.

How much more fucked can we be?

I hope we never find out. Yet we wait until…..


SUNDAY is an astounding document on the events of April 9th 1961. It’s offered by Drasin to the public here on Youtube.

Dan Drasin


This is journalism of its day. Captured then edited perfectly (listen closely) after the fact and released at the time to inform the viewer of the seriousness of the event. It’s become a museum piece. The parks Commissioner at the time- Morris- had declared free assembly and singing in the Square to be off limits on Sundays. Too noisy. Too much congregation. Too free.

The Square was Izzy’s for a day. He was the only real ‘grown up’ and adopted daddy.

They sang a ‘little folk tune’ called the Star Spangled Banner in unison because it was all about being able to sing in the first place. 

If you gather musicians outdoors they are going to play and sing just as if you took beavers into your living room they will chew your furniture.

After some court visits, Israel G. Young and pro bono legal ‘experts’ helped Izzy get legal permits to sing once again. Izzy told me that the City of NY just got tired of sending their own attorneys to appear over the matter. It took a reported 5 months worth of appearances.

In the end, Izzy saved the expressive RIGHTS for all Greenwich Village artists. That’s fact. Those fukkers with the chalk drawings for the last 60 years? Yeah them, as well. That includes the professional musicians who were just hanging out with the crowd. That includes the professional and would-be pro musicians who were creating in the clubs. That includes the message(s) that eventually spawned out of the clubs and onto the radio and into the streets. 

Izzy saved everyone’s ass. Said ‘everyone’ wrote songs to save America’s collective ass. Dr. King joined forces with the words of the musicians to create legislative change for the entire country. Again, that’s my interpretation of what happened before I was born. Make of it what you will. Blowin' in the wind had to be written by somebody. It wasn't going around the world on its own.


What if Izzy never saved free speech in 1961?

Perhaps it was only a delay. Perhaps it was only a 60 year long speed bump in the progression to where we are today.

Only later that day on the 9th of April 1961, Bob Dylan was probably doing a rehearsal for his first ever pro event. Quite possibly, he was with Mike Porco at the Local Union hall paying his dues and getting his NYC Cabaret card to perform professionally. Only Bob knows, now. Mike Porco signed as his legal guardian that day, fronted Zimmerman the dues and most certainly fed him for the next two weeks as Bobby (not yet legally Dylan) opened up for John Lee Hooker at Gerde’s.

It was a tiny room, Folk City was, but it was Hooker and Dylan’s for a week. Because of the packed house shows, they were held over for another week. Mike never charged musicians for meals. Dylan’s union dues and Cabaret fee is another story. Usually, musicians were welcome to eat dinners with the staff before showtime and expenses were trimmed off the top of the musician’s $90 weekly payday. My estimation, a $25 yearly Union fee and $8 for a Cabaret license was Dylan's haircut. This is not including the $3 given to Dylan by Mike to get a haircut for the picture. The 3 bucks was a gift. Haircut result…?…unknown.

If Izzy was busy doing all that Union set up with Dylan, he wouldn’t have been able to be at Washington Square Park on April 9th when he saved Free Speech.

It was saved once. Can it survive in 2021?


Exactly one year ago today, I had the privilege of hosting the Gerde’s Folk City 60th Anniversary Concert. We honored Dylan and Ochs and every musician that ever played Grampa’s Italian restaurant. 

Here’s my lot of footage from that evening:

Gerde’s Folk City at 60


Yes indeed! You see that right. The date of the show was 2020. Just look at all those super spreaders. Something positive came out of 2020, at least. It was a few days after the pandemic was declared globally. 

Notice the musicians were joking around during soundcheck about ‘this corona thing in China.’ Not to be dismayed we gathered anyway. Packed like sardines, singing out loud, spitting on the first two rows and their wives and dinner…it was GLORIOUS.


How far have we come since then? How far have we come since 1961?

How far has songwriting and public concerts come since Dylan arrived?

1.24.61 to 1.24.21

What would a time traveler do on West 4th and Mercer today?

There would hardly be anyone at Gerde’s. Mike was a carpenter by trade and would have, as many fine establishments do, outdoor shacks/yurts built for customers out on the sidewalk. Ya know, the sidewalks in the freezing cold of January serving one or two tables if at all. Today, Folk City indoors would be able to hold about 35 people, spread out, no music. Including kitchen staff and Mike, 42 persons would be legal. If caught with 43, he could be shuttered. 

The kitchen staff would be unable to social distance as they worked.No one really needs to see everything that goes on in a basement kitchen. No one is supposed to know what goes on down there as long as the food is 180 degrees. 

Need I remind you, there would be no singing indoors. It’s not illegal yet but it is deemed selfish, inconsiderate and dangerous to spread droplets around the room. 

That’s where we are as I type. Music can only happen if it’s incidental, if at all. Which is to say, the club may not advertise events but if the musician is able to alert 35 people to hear him play an incidental concert out around the corner by the fire hydrant on Mercer, the show may go on. 

That’s where we are until…until…until…


What if Izzy Young never saved free speech in 1961?

One tiny park in the whole country once tried to ban people congregating and singing on Sundays. Israel G. Young and 3000 Beatniks were’t having any of it.

IZZY- Well we’ve assembled for 70 years without a problem.

IZZY- We think the police are derelict in their actions. Commissioner Morris says that Folk Music brings degenerate people and it’s not so.

Where have we gone in 60 years, I wonder?

Free Speech not only refers to free expression of verbal ideas but written ideas, freedom to assemble, freedom to worship any god and freedom to report to others as in Press.

Free flow of data, emails, texts and phone calls. Free information. Free social calls, shopping etc. Free assembly is/was my favorite. We all remember a lifetime of not having to ask some unseen authority to visit our loved ones on Easter, Passover, funerals, Thanksgiving, Christmas, purim, New Year’s, Valentine’s day, birthdays, Easter, Passover, Yom Kippur, Christmas, New Year’s, Birth, death, birth, death. 

Singing outside of one’s own home. That was another favorite memory of mine. How they used to sing, and sing and sing… list, oh, list!

Now I sing to myself at home and watch too many others sing at home to their computers, also. I wish we could just begin again or go back in time and encourage the lysol and the vitamin D ahead of time on this one. There would be singing in the club and theaters by now if we did that. 

The general uncertainty of timeline and lack of reopening schedule are going to continue to hurt those without. I made a YouTube vid in March using Dylan’s lyrics to describe the troops on the streets and walls between us created by 2020. He wrote the words in the 80s but I heard 2020 in the description. The only passage missing is ‘they’re killing nuns and soldiers on the border.’ It’s the only thing missing, but the moment they start killing nuns on the border, I’ll consider myself correct! For now, the headlines write them selves. { ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF 15 DAYS TO STOP THE SPREAD FAST APPROACHING}

Dylan does talk about having to ‘take my temperature, baby’ and ‘climbing the walls’ and ‘uttering idle words’ all day long. This sort of dystopia was brought to life by the film Masked and Anonymous. Graffiti, gulags and Mad Max-ville towns fill the view of a nondescript country ruling its people through fear. Technology and advanced prosperity were absent in that film.

Today, our experience can be described 7 billion different ways. The shared witnessing of a global shutdown is unspeakably difficult to fully explain to a space alien. Can’t even make a good sentence out of it. 

Poems, maybe. That’s for the poets and writers to do. I’m only a witness.


Izzy Young, founder of music at Gerde’s, saved free speech. 

Since then…

Wha happened?

As sure as I sit here I can state that Izzy Young almost single handedly saved free speech and the right to assemble for all New Yorkers later that year on April 9, 1961. 

What if he didn’t?

Luckily for Dylan and every other songwriter, their ability to get their message out in song was protected. Their words could reach the radio and eventually reach around the world. Izzy saved Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton and every musician you can think of.

Imagine if Izzy and the Beatniks failed?

Imagine if carousing and singing out loud (without masks) was outlawed in 1961? Imagine if Phil Ochs never got his chance like he did in 1962?

What if he never had a chance to open his mouth and sing his song? Imagine his anti-war rants and raves and messages were never expressed. Imagine if he had lived til today and had spent 2020 writing songs about not being able to sing in public for fear of germs. Imagine if germs stopped Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez from gathering groups to sing and stamp out oppression and March for peace. Imagine Phil in 2021.

Imagine Phil Ochs. Imagine his anti-establishment phrases. Imagine his ideas not flowing from his mind into peoples ears. Imagine Phil never having a platform.

No Phil Ochs YouTube channel. No Phil Ochs Twitter handle. No Phil Ochs antiwar marches. No Phil Ochs Pentagon levitation. No playful digs by name to the sitting president. No political banter between his songs at Carnegie Hall. No statements at all. No concerts at all.

Luckily for Phil, he came around when he did in 1962. He began at Folk City with bluesman John Hammond doing two weeks at Gerde’s. He knew how many artists were being discovered there on West 4th and Mercer and he, too, had to go south out of college and hang a left and keep going until he became noticed at the Folk City Hoots.

The open mic/American idol model was invented by Mike Porco. That's a statement for the record. Once Dylan sprang into the spotlight, Mike Porco had zero problems getting talented song writers to play his club for free on Monday. All of them were bucking for an opening act time slot in the future.

For my money I’ll bet that Mike never lost Folk City’s magnetic field when it came to attracting musicians for 20 straight years. He relied on a continuous stream of musicians to pay the bills. Dylan arrived here (I write this in New York City) this date in 1961 exactly sixty years ago today. Phil Ochs and countless others followed. The rest is history.


What if Phil Ochs saw no reason to come to New York from Ohio? What would have been the point had Izzy Young failed and singing was banned?

What if Commissioner Morris succeeded? What if Robert Moses succeeded and built a bridge over Washington Square? (That’s another story!)

What if Bob Dylan went to the Troubadour instead and Mike Porco was relegated to selling pasta dishes until the 1980s?



Found this great footage on YouTube

A day in the life 1961

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