Tuesday, February 22, 2022

MIKE PORCO Still in the musical limelight 89 years since his arrival to the States

 Wonderful article by Luigi Michele Perrifrom Italy recognized on 2.22.22.

Here's the link:


Here's the English translation:

(fact check: Mike arrived 2.2.33 not 1929. And his family first gave him work in the Bronx at Club 845 not at Gerde's upon his arrival)

MUCH LOVE to Sr. Perri for taking the time to collect the details for this story. We all miss MIKE PORCO

Mike Porco, the Calabrian who adopted Bob Dylan Leaving Domanico for New York to be a bricklayer, Michele takes over a small restaurant in Greenwich Village transforming it into a place that will make the history of world music. From there the older ones will pass, even a stranger minor fleeing from his parents, of which he will become the guardian before he takes flight up to the Nobel.

In the first volume of his autobiography, Chronicles (Feltrinelli, 2005), Bob Dylan remembers with grateful affection Mike Porco, the one who paved the way for his debut to the gates of success. "Mike was the Sicilian father – he writes – that I never had", Mike was the Sicilian father I never had. Actually Michele "Mike" Porco, was not Sicilian, as the American common sense defined southern Italian. He was Calabrian, Cosentino of Domanico, son of an emigrant to America, taken by the dream of reuniting his family in New York, where he was a bricklayer.

From the Serre cosentine to New York When the resumption of building activities began to loom, which the Great Depression of 1929 had blocked, Michele embarked in Naples to join his father and help him realize, as soon as possible, the anxious family aspiration. After three weeks of travel, the landing at Ellis Island, in the enchantment of the Statue of Liberty, at the access of the new world, open to the hope of a new life. On the quay, waiting for him, there was a group of villagers. 

But not the father. Death had crushed him, suddenly, a few days earlier. Mike, desperate, felt lost. Fortunately, he found hospitality from some relatives, who sent him to work in one of their restaurants, Gerde's club, in the center of Greenwich Village, a growing neighborhood in the heart of the Big Apple. From dishwasher to waiter, to trusted manager, Mike managed, nest egg after nest egg, to buy the place.

The Village and the Beat generation The Village was a village of irresistible appeal for intellectuals and bohemians, a composite microcosm of alternative culture, a New York synthesis between Montmartre and Montparnasse, teeming with pubs and bistros. It was the favorite destination of folksingers, pioneers of the beat movement. They were inspired by the autobiographical novel On the road by Jack Kerouac, the literary works of Allen Ginsberg, who was its guru, and the songs of Woody Guthrie, myth of the new musical course, revolutionary singer of the Other America, poet of social protest radicalized in communism, a solitary hobo monumented in life by his populous following.

The Village and the Beat generation Kerouac, in his wanderings, chose the Village, as a place congenial to his philosophy and his coherent way of life. Here he met Neal Cassady, a writer, who, like him, in existential unruliness, inspired the figure of the co-protagonist of his autobiographical novel for the common vain search for an indistinct lost father, suffered as they were, the first, for the death of the natural parent, the other, for having had him chronic alcoholic, reasons these, for them, of inner imbalance and existential crisis. Here, in the Village, Woody, also fatherless, fleeing from his unfortunate adolescence, found the ideal destination of his restless nomadism, the right atmosphere to fix his definitive domicile along Hudson Street, a tree-lined avenue between the river of the same name and the central Washington Square.

The Village and the Beat generation Driven by Kerouac's engaging message, by Ginsberg's poetic impulses and – more, much more – by the irrepressible desire to meet his idol Woody, Bob Dylan (born in 1941), not yet twenty, regularly penniless, guitar on his shoulder – his only available capital with some songs composed by him – he abandoned, en route with his father, the family to reach, on the road, the mythical Village, in search of the father of his artistic training and the weather suitable for his cultural pours, refined by the novels of Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, writers of rupture in their genres and literary messages.

The Village and the Beat generation Il Gerde's Folk City Mike, now trained in the art of restaurateur, sniffed the emergence of the folk genre in the tastes, yes, of young people, but also of those intellectuals, those entrepreneurs and the many New Yorkers, who, moneyed, poured into the neighborhood to escape from the metropolitan hustle and bustle, in the neighborhood to experience the climate and, preferably, the nightlife. His intuition led him to renovate the restaurant, where he set up a box instead of the old piano bar to offer customers a musical tone, accompanying dinners, different from the usual.

Gerde's became Gerde's Folk City. He himself converted from a restaurateur – a role he entrusted to his brother Giovanni who, in the meantime, had joined him – to talent scouts of bands and solo singers, who, to make ends meet, during the day, performed on the street, trusting in the offers of passers-by, and, in the evening, went around the premises that exploited them, time after time, for a dollar plus a drink at the bar. He first had them tried, then selected them on the basis of customer satisfaction. If they worked, he made them rotate in turn, doubling the pay with consumption and dinner.

Bob Dylan and Mike Porco Bob Dylan happened to him. He allowed him the limelight for one evening. The audience applauded. He, on the other hand, was on the verge of rejecting him: "He has the voice of a crow," he told friends at his table – none other than Ginsberg and Robert Shelton, the first music critic of the New York Times – who, as regulars of the place, did not spare him the right imbeccate. The two certified the boy's talent. And they had to insist on convincing him to include Bob in the program of Monday hootenanny nights. It was a boom.

Bob Dylan became the protégé of Mike Porco, who, at that point, offered him a contract. Being still a minor, Bob should have had the union's clearance. The employee of the Musicians Union, to whom he turned, opposed him with the need for the consensual signature of one of the parents. To no avail, Bob, who no longer had contact with his family in Minnesota, replied that he was an orphan and alone in the world. To solve the problem was Mike, who signed as a tutor. Some excerpts from "Positively Porco", a docufilm about Mike and his restaurant: at minute 4'05" he himself tells how he acted as a guarantor for Bob Dylan.

From then on, the relationship between the two was that of father and son. Caring father and grateful son, no longer as rebellious as he had been with his real parent. Bob found the father he was looking for, unlike his idols who, not finding the meaning of life in the surrounding humanity, chased bliss by consuming themselves in drugs and alcohol. Bob Dylan didn't need it, even after having experienced the risk. He took his own path, to do so much, as he had promised himself in Song to Woody.

Shelton dedicated an exhilarating review to him. John Hammond, legendary record producer, grabbed it from Columbia Records. Hence the flight to celebrity, after having made the fortune of the Calabrian emigrant. Who, in the last years of his life, used to tell his children how his tenacity had been able to reunite the family in the well-being of the new world and thus crown his father's dream.

A place of worship Thirty years ago, on March 13, 1992, Mike Porco said goodbye to the world, the Calabrian who, in the thirties, from Domanico, a rural village in the Serre Cosentine, emigrated to America. And in New York he founded Gerde's Folk City – one of the three best music venues in the world, according to Rolling Stone magazine, along with Liverpool's Beatlesian The Cavern and New Yorker CBGB – and a cutting-edge driving force behind folk, rock, folk rock and a gathering place for counterculture intellectuals in turmoil in the Village. from the aforementioned Bob Dylan to Joan Baez, from Dave Van Ronk to Richie Havens, from John Lee Hooker to Jimi Hendrix, from Simon & Garfunkel to José Feliciano. A real launching pad for many musicians destined to enter the history of music.

The anniversary in the world vision In the limelight of the Newport Folk Festival, cyclically organized on the anniversaries of the venue, the artists promoted by Gerde's performed en masse, in declared homage to their discoverer. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Folk City, the concert was broadcast worldwide by PBS and BBC TV. In the 1979 one, the mayor of New York, Edward Koch, addressed to the owner of Gerde's a letter of warm congratulations for his "praiseworthy activity".

Often, the American media covered Mike Porco. He was ready to tell unpublished anecdotes about his singular experience and about the artists whose value, even without understanding an accident of music, he had instinctively grasped. He had become a character pleasing to the general public, who also had sympathy for his macaronic English. The artists themselves spoke of him as a great person, a familiar figure, certainly shrewd by the nose for business, but always available to help others.

Not only Bob Dylan: artists as sons In an interview for the book Conclusions on the wall: new essays on Bob Dylan by New York Times Magazine music expert Elizabeth Thomson (Thin man, 1980), Mike Porco told his story as an immigrant, as the owner of Gerde's, as a paternal supporter of Bob Dylan, in a special way, but also of the artists he set out on the road to success. "I feel like these guys were all my children. I have seen them grow up, he said, as people and as artists. Many of them have gone on to become real stars. I wish those times could come back, with Bobby, Janis Joplin, Steve Goodman, Phil Ochs. On the occasion of my sixty-first birthday, I saw them all coming, Bobby with Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Phil, Bobby Neuwirth, Roger MacGuinn, all my old people».

Mike Porco, an affable Calabrian Robert Shelton in his biographical book on Bob Dylan described Mike Porco as follows: "An affable Calabrian, with a thin mustache, thick lenses and an accent even thicker than lenses. He barely distinguished a ballad from a mortadella. He amassed profits on consumption. He relied on the reactions of the audience to choose the singers, often listening not to the music, but to the applause. The sympathy that Mike aroused was also due to the fact that he had never learned English well.

He called his club "a Folk a City". He once dictated an advertisement to the Village Voice on the phone, which was repeated for two weeks in a row, presenting Anita Sheer as a flamingo singer (the English equivalent of the Italian "flamingo", ed), instead of flamenco. Of another who sang in different languages he said that he was a linguistic singer. He was, however, very well disposed towards new talents. "Let's give it a chance", was his motto, while his management policy was based on "the newer it is, the less it costs".

A coat that you won't forget José Feliciano declared: "Mike was like a second father to me. He helped me in every way to overcome the moments of difficulty, making me earn money. As a good and generous man that he was, since I did not have him, he gave me a new coat, because the cold in New York is felt, and how. I didn't have one that could be called such. These are things I will never forget." Of the same grateful tone, dozens and dozens of other testimonies about a man who, evidently, never forgot his origins and the meaning of his sacrifices.

To America he was able to return the capital he had given him in banknotes with the invisible, yet concrete, capital of his altruism and intuitive intelligence. If New York was not the capital of America, it became the capital of the world for that musical limelight born in the Village and conceived – who would have ever imagined it – by a Calabrian.