Category Archives: From the Lost Generation to the Punks

FTLGTP: Continued Collaboration

Final Stop: The Bitter End

Finally, a short walk west along Bleecker Street brings us to The Bitter End, at 147 Bleecker Street, the final stop on our tour. We end the tour here because this location is back in the heart of the Greenwich Village neighborhood. It is also a place where the punk rock artists like Patti Smith performed along with folk artists like Bob Dylan. It is a central location for the both the literary and music scenes in the Village during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It is where all of these different worlds and ideas combine and where they continue.

The Bitter End continues to play host to up and coming musical acts of all genres and on any given night you can see up to 4 or 5 groups play. The artistic and experimental vibe that was so prevalent in the Village during the early to mid part of the 20th century is still present. That history continues to influence the musicians and artists that continue to hang out in the neighborhood.

FTLGTP: Country Blue Grass Blues

Stop #12: CBGB’s

Moving south and slightly west, we come to the former location of CBGB, which stands for Country Blue Grass Blues, at 315 Bowery. This became the primary venue for the proto punk scene in the 1970s. Patti Smith and Television began playing here early on. Later, bands like the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Blondie also shared the stage.

Tom Verlaine (who named himself after Rimbaud’s lover, Paul Verlaine) discovered the venue when he walked by and saw it as a great new place to perform his music. Television began playing there regularly and eventually brought Smith and Kaye to the club in 1974 (Shaw, 79).

Continuing a connection between the Beat generation and the new generation of punk rockers, William S. Burroughs was a frequent visitor to the music club. Although he was much older than the performers and members of the audience, he sat up near the front of the stage and actively participated in the shows and supported the up and coming musicians.

In describing the musicians that played at CBGB and their connection to poetry, Kane states,

Musicians looked to poetry not just in terms of what the art had to offer them as a model for their own songwriting but also as a form that could provide them with ways of thinking about how to make actual lifestyle choices. That is to say, poetry was both something they read and, in one form or another, something they tried to live (191).

In a way, musicians like Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Tom Verlaine, and Richard Hell were trying live poetry through their music.

CBGB eventually became a rock n’ roll icon and began to grab bigger crowds and bigger names but it was the early punk movement that started it all for the small grungy venue. CBGB eventually closed in October of 2006.

Last Stop: The Bitter End

FTLGTP: An Outlaw Posture

Stop #11: Cafe Metro

After the Café Les Deux Megots changed ownership, the poets migrated over to Cafe Metro, another East Village café, formerly located at 149 Second Avenue, where they continued their experimentation with spoken word poetry and other artistic expression including the mimeographed magazines. It was at the Metro that “poetry and a kind of outlaw posture verging on nihilism became apparent” (Kane, 195).

The examples of poetry and experimentation that was prominent at Café Les Deux Megots and later Café Metro show the strong connection between this new rule breaking poetry and the rule breaking punk rock that was starting to happen a little bit farther downtown.

Unfortunately I have no picture to share because I could not find any old pictures of the place and there isn’t really anything at 149 Second Avenue anymore. So it goes.

Up Next: CBGB’s

FTLGTP: Mimeographed Magazines

Stop #10: Les Deux Megots

The New York School poets continued to move their hangouts east and began spending time at a place called Café Les Deux Megots, at 64 East 7th Street. Les Deux Megots is French for “two cigar butts” and is a play on words of a famous café on the Left Bank in Paris called Café Les Deux Magots, which was a popular hangout for many members of the Lost Generation expatriates that situated themselves in Paris during the first part of the 20th century as well as many European artists and writers.

Le Deux Megots in the East Village became what many of the bars on MacDougal Street and in the West Village had been for artists before them. It was a place for collaboration and presentation. Regular poetry readings were conducted at the café and much of the work was published in mimeographed magazines that were distributed throughout the artistic community.

Mellilo describes the Café Les Duex Megots and later Café Metro as “seedy and drug infested places…that hosted poetry readings where poets new and old could gather, drink, and play” (61).

Dan Saxon, the poet who created the magazines showcasing the poetry from Les Deux Megots, used the mimeograph technique for publishing his magazines because he could “create quick and cheap publications that avoided the inhibiting codes of taste and unofficial censorship that guided mainstream publishing” (Melillo, 61). Other members of the East Village poetry movement who published mimeographed magazines included, Ted Berrigan, Amiri Baraka, Diane DiPrima, Ed Sanders, Bernadette Mayer, and Vito Acconci.

By avoiding the mainstream publishing industry, these poets continued to push the limits of poetry and experimentation. Much of their work was sexually charged and purposely hard to comprehend. One particular example that Melillo discusses is The Fugs member Ed Sanders’s Fuck You/a magazine of the Arts. The work that was featured in the magazine was particularly sexual in content and a very aggressive example of breaking the boundaries of poetics.

Up Next: Cafe Metro

FTLGTP: Moving across town

Stop #9: St. Marks on the Bowery

During the late 1960s, the Beats began moving over to the East Village and began to mix with some of the new New York School poets who were spending time on the other side of town. The East Village was also where the poetry scene started mixing with a new music scene and the genre of early Punk was being formed.

One way in particular that the new poets congregating in the East Village differed from their predecessors in the West Village was the focus on performance and theatricality. According to John Mellilo in his essay, “Secret Locations in the Lower East Side: Downtown Poetics 1960-1980” for Lost New York, “meaning became a process that was literally worked out—in the air, in the community, on the actual page, on the body. A swirling interdisciplinarity defined this era in New York as artists rejected any and all stable boundaries” (60).

One of the most important places in the history of early punk and the poetry that influenced it, as well as an important performance space for this new interdisciplinarity that Melillo speaks of, was St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery, at 131 East 10th Street. The Church started a Poetry Project, which continues today, that brought beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs over from the west side, as well as up and coming poets, musicians, and other pop artists like Andy Warhol.

This is where Patti Smith debuted her mix of poetry and music in 1971 when she opened for Gerard Melanga. The performance was a turning point in the connection between poetry and rock n’ roll. She read and sang her poems while Lenny Kaye played guitar behind her. It was the first incarnation of what would eventually become Patti Smith’s first album, Horses, which was released in 1975.

Philip Shaw, in his book Horses, explains how her music was new and different:

The idea of performing poetry to musical accompaniment is nothing new; it began with the Beats in the 1950s and was carried over, via Ginsberg and Dylan to the counter culture in the mid-1960s. But two things…(were) different. To begin with Smith intends to sing as well as read, and the backing is not free-jazz sax, or languid bongos, but an overdriven crudely thrashed guitar (8).

The Church continues to be a place for experimentation with art, poetry, and music. Several other punk artists performed their poetry here as well including members of the band Television.

Up Next: Two Cigarette Butts

FTLGTP: Hanging Out in the Park/Recording on Eighth St

Stop #5: Washington Square Park

Walking up MacDougal Street, we enter Washington Square Park, which was and still is a meeting place for young and emerging artists of all sorts. In the 1950s, the Beats read their poetry out loud in the Park. In the 1960s, Folk artists began having weekly “songfests” in the Park on Sundays. Even now, there are bands regularly playing in the Park.

Stop #6: Electric Lady Studios

Up MacDougal to 8th Street is Jimi Hendrix’s recording studio, Electric Lady Studio, at 52 West 8th Street, which was built in 1970. It has featured a large and eclectic group of artists since it opened, but most notably to us, it was where Patti Smith recorded Horses in 1975, and where The Clash recorded Combat Rock in 1980, which featured Allen Ginsberg on “Ghetto Defendant.” The collaboration is a perfect example of the connections between literary culture and rock n’ roll.

Up Next: Art and Andy Warhol

FTLGTP: Folk Music on MacDougal

Stop #4: MacDougal Street

Cafe Wha

On the other end of the block is the Minetta Tavern at 113 MacDougal Street, which was a primary New York hangout for Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, and others of the Lost Generation. Minetta Tavern and San Remo were prime spots for literary collaboration and community.

There are several other bars in this area that are important to the overlapping of the Beat culture and the up and coming Folk music scene in the 1960s. Places like Café Wha?, at 115 MacDougal Street, Gerde’s Folk City at 71 West 4th Street, and The Fat Black Pussycat, at 130 West 3rd St. This collaboration between the beats and the folk artists along MacDougal Street is described by Jens Lund and R. Serge Denisoff in their article, “The Folk Music Revival and the Counter Culture: Contributions and Contradictions” for The Journal of American Folklore Volume 84, Number 334, “In Greenwich Village, the beats and the folk-aficionados came into contact with each other, resulting in a synthesis of attitudes and appearances” (396). Lund and Denisoff imply that not only did these writers and musicians hang out in the same area but that they started to emulate each other.

This area was the centerpiece for the urban Folk movement led first by Joan Baez and then later by Bob Dylan. These folk artists worked to move folk music from the rural areas of the United States and to make them their own. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were also vital to this process. Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl and brought the songs he learned with him to the city.

Café Wha? was famous for being one of the first places that Bob Dylan performed when he came to New York City. It is said that he showed up at the place out of nowhere and asked the owner if he could perform. His first performance there consisted mostly of Woody Guthrie songs.

Gerde’s was one of the most popular Folk venues in the area and everybody who was anybody in Folk music was playing there in the early 1960s.

Also along MacDougal Street, The Folklore Center, at number 110, was a place of inspiration and creativity for many prominent artists of the folk scene. Izzy Young founded it in 1957.  It was a central meeting place for folk artists, a place where they could experiment and collaborate.

Up Next: Washington Square Park

FTLGTP: The House of a Poet

Stop #3: 75 1/2 Bedford Street

I mentioned Edna St. Vincent Millay in my last post about Chumley’s and just down the street at 75 ½ Bedford Street is a very small townhouse where Millay lived for several years. It is also one of the smallest townhouses in the city. It is only 9 1/2 feet wide, about half the width of a normal townhouse. It was originally a carriage lane.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was famous even before she got to the Village because of a dispute over a poetry prize, but her poetry was significant during the earlier bohemian movement because she presented a woman who was not sensitive but sexually driven. As Melissa Bradshaw points out in her essay “Performing Greenwich Village bohemianism” for the Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York, “No one exemplified this spirit of daring New Womanhood, as sexually driven as any man and just as wary of entrapment, like the Village golden girl, Edna St. Vincent Millay” (153).

In many ways, she was a precursor to the more explicit questioning of sexuality and sexual norms that would come from the Village, through the Beat Poets with pieces like “Howl,” by Allen Ginsberg, The New York Dolls and their performances in Drag, and Patti Smith’s poetry and music which questioned gender and pushed its boundaries.

Millay was also able to capture the carefree attitude of the Village in her poem “Recuerdo,” “We were very tired, we were very merry–/We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry” (155). As Bradshaw points out, it argues doing something for fun is worthwhile, a common theme in the Village.

Up Next: Minetta Tavern and MacDougal Street

FTLGTP: Book-jackets on the walls

Stop #2: Chumley’s

The next stop on our walk takes us farther east and a little bit earlier in time.  Chumley’s, at 86 Bedford Street, now closed because of a chimney collapse, was a popular watering hole for members of the literary community in the early part of the 20th century. It was originally a speakeasy, established in 1926. For this reason, it never had a sign. The walls were covered with the book jackets from books that were written or worked on at Chumley’s.

This was particularly a popular spot with the Lost Generation and the Bohemians of the early part of the century such as E.E. Cummings, Willa Cather, Eugene O’Neill, John Steinbeck, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. But it also became a popular spot for the Beats later on in the century along with the White Horse Tavern.

Next Up: The Smallest Townhouse in the City