Saturday, January 7, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxii)

Another way that I thought I could possibly break into the local New York City folk music sub-culture scene or into local record industry circles, in order to get the protest folk songs and male feminist love songs that I had written onto a vinyl record, was to start singing in June of 1971 at open mikes in coffee houses or at clubs in the Bronx, in Manhattan and possibly in the other boroughs of New York City. So one Friday night in early June of 1971 I took my guitar, my harmonica and my harmonica-holder to a church basement near Jerome Avenue, that wasn’t too far from Lehman College’s campus, where, at that time, there was a coffeehouse that had a weekly open mike for musicians who wished to sing one song apiece before a live audience.

Not surprisingly--since by June 1971 large numbers of people under 30 all played guitar and hoped to earn their livings as musicians rather than as 9-to-5 wage slaves—I wasn’t the only musician to show up at the coffeehouse who wished to sing and perform.

None of the other musicians seemed to be singing topical folk songs or protest folk songs. And since the audience seemed to consist of mostly straight-looking neighborhood high school students who didn’t appear to be anti-war folks who were into Dylan or Phil Ochs very much, I decided that the song I would perform would just be the “Open Up Your Eyes” love song that I had written for Helene in late 1969.

But after I started singing into the microphone, I realized that people in the audience at the coffeehouse really seemed more interested in chatting with their friends, while the musicians who performed at the open mike sessions just provided some background music for their conversations, rather than really being interested in listening carefully to the lyrics that a musician was singing. Unless a musician who performed at this coffeehouse’s open mike session was either a friend of some of the audience members’ or some kind of already-established professional musician or celebrity, it seemed that most of the 25 people in the audience felt that they would rather chat with their friends than listen closely to what was being sung by some unknown performer.

I felt that getting some experience in singing into a microphone in front of a live audience, instead of just singing in my apartment to myself or into a cheap portable cassette tape recorder, was of some value and somewhat interesting. But I did not find it very satisfying or worthwhile to sing in front of an audience that really wasn’t that particularly interested in listening to what the songs I had written had to say.

And it struck me that just as the U.S. mass media had created a false political consciousness among large numbers of white working-class youth in the United States (so that they would not quickly mobilize politically in support of an African-American or radical feminist-led New Left Revolution in the USA in the 1970s), the same U.S. mass media had created the kind of mass consciousness among large numbers of U.S. music fans which would tend to make them closed to responding in an enthusiastic way to any of the protest folk or folk love songs that I had written, when sung by an unknown musician in a coffeehouse or small club setting--unless they had previously been able to become familiar with the songs from having heard them previously on either a vinyl record album or on the U.S. radio airwaves.

It might be conceivable that if I was willing to spend all my spare time writing new protest folk songs and folk love songs, memorizing them and performing at open mikes in coffeehouses, bars or clubs around New York City for the next 5 years, I might possibly be “discovered” by somebody in the music industry who might be interested in putting my songs on a vinyl record. But a lifestyle of lugging my guitar around each evening on weekdays and weekends to perform for free at open mikes before small crowds of mostly apolitical musicians and apolitical rock music or singer-songwriter acoustic music fans seemed like an existential trap.

The point of writing the protest folk songs and male feminist folk love songs was to help change mass youth consciousness in the USA more quickly so that there might be an African-American-led or radical feminist-led anti-imperialist revolution in the USA as soon as possible during the 1970s. The point of my activity as a creative artist was not to let myself be co-opted into a working-class person who spent all his or her evenings--when not in the wage-slave cage--running around--in a careerist way--to every open mike that gave him or her the chance to just sit around for 2 to 3 hours listening to other open mike performers; before performing for 5 to 15 minutes before an audience that was not likely to respond very enthusiastically to the songs of an unknown performer.

What performing every night before an open mike audience for the next 5 years on a steady basis might do, however, would be to give me a heavy experience in figuring out the best way to sing into a microphone before a live audience (without forgetting the lyrics to a particular song) and the best way to possibly use my voice to get an audience to want to hear more songs from me. But since my main artistic objective in June 1971 was more to get my protest folk songs on a vinyl record (with the hope that an already-established anti-war singer--like Joan Baez, for example--might then record a cover version of some of these songs) and reach a mass audience with these songs, rather than spending all my evening time developing into a more skillful performer or entertainer, immersing myself in the world of open mikes for the next 5 years was not the road I was willing to take during the 1970s.