Thursday, January 12, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxiii)

By performing at this coffeehouse near Jerome Avenue in June 1971, however, I was able to meet an African-American folk singer named Don, who also wrote his own folk songs. Like me, Don played the harmonica in his harmonica holder, at the same time he accompanied his singing of one song with an acoustic guitar before this coffeehouse audience of mostly neighborhood high school-age teenagers

Don’s harmonica-playing in June of 1971 was much more technically proficient than my harmonica playing would ever be. But the audience that had not paid much attention to me when I had performed my one song also quickly stopped listening to Don, who was as unknown as I was, when he was performing his one song—even though it was probably more unusual for an unknown African-American singer-songwriter to sing before the all-white audience of youths in this particular coffeehouse.

Although I decided not to get into the “open mike circuit” on weekend and weekday nights during the 1970s, when you’re under 30-- like most of the other “regulars” at open mikes generally are—performing at open mikes can sometimes be a way to meet, and perhaps befriend, other unknown musicians of your own generation, who you might not otherwise have bumped into at the time.

So after the coffeehouse open mike session had ended, I invited Don back to my apartment for a few hours to share some wine and sing to each other the folk songs we each had written, since it was still only about 10 o’clock on a Friday night.

Don was a gentle, good-natured bearded guy in his late 20s who then lived in Park Slope near 15th Street in Brooklyn—in the days before the Park Slope neighborhood became gentrified with white liberal or left-liberal yuppies from the suburbs. And the folk songs that Don had written were both melodic and lyrically more interesting than what was then getting played on either the AM or FM radio station airwaves.

Although the great songs Don had written seemed real in terms of being about real working-class neighborhood people and their real feelings, they were less political in their themes than the folk songs I had written and contained no rebel protest component in their lyrics, unlike most of the songs I had written contained. So, not surprisingly, although Don seemed to like the songs I had written as much as I liked the songs he had written, after I sang the protest folk song, “He Walked Up The Hill,” that was written following Martin Luther King’s assassination, Don also kidded me, while chuckling in a good-natured way, “You seem to write a lot of political songs, don’t you?”

Yet even though the great songs that Don had written were less political than the ones I had written and contained no protest folk lyrical component, Don was then no closer to getting any of his songs recorded on a vinyl record album by one of the New York City record companies in 1971 than was I. And besides agreeing that the coffeehouse audience, for whom we had both performed a few hours before, wasn’t the type of audience that would be inclined to respond to our type of songs, Don and I also were pretty much both clueless about how unknown singer-songwriters like ourselves, who lacked both money and music or entertainment industry contacts, could get their songs onto some vinyl record album in the early 1970s.

After a few hours of singing songs to each other, in-between sips of wine, it was time for Don to start back on the long subway trip from the Bronx to Brooklyn. But before he left my apartment, Don wrote down his phone number and his address on a piece of paper; and we agreed that we’d get together sometime to sing songs to each other again for a few hours in his apartment in Brooklyn, later in the month. And a few weeks later I actually did telephone Don and did make the subway journey with my guitar from the Bronx to Brooklyn on the D train to spend a few hours in his apartment singing to each other some more of the songs that we had each written, in-between sharing a joint of marijuana.

But given how long it took to travel by subway from where I lived in the Bronx to where Don lived in Brooklyn, Don’s lack of interest in forming a duo with me that would perform both his songs and my protest folk songs occasionally at some open mikes, and my post-July 1971 escalating financial difficulties, I didn’t follow-up on my visit to Don’s Park Slope pad. And, after late June 1971, I never bumped into Don again.