Things to do in New York: The counter culture of the Greenwich village
New York is so much more than the statue of Liberty or Times Square. Things to do in New York: The counter culture and Bohemia of the Greenwich village
New York city is one of the most interesting cities in the world. It’s filled with amazing stories of dreams and struggles… It revolutionized art, music, architecture. It was home to some of the most interesting counter- culture, political and social movements in the history of America. Here lived activists, musicians, poets, writers, that changed the world.
Forget all about the mainstream New York city and let’s explore the alternative, the underground scene of the beautiful Greenwich Village, or West village. There are some really great walking tours that will guide you through all the historic areas of the Village. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
What is now considered one of the most expensive areas of New York city, was before the artistic center of the world. The “avant-garde” and “bohemia” of the Greenwich Village started during the 19th century and lasted for most of the 20th century, till the real estate speculation and exorbitant rent rises forced it’s inhabitants to move somewhere else.
I walked the streets of The Village with my heart filled with emotions and melancholy, observing the effects gentrification had on one of the most historical areas of New York city, where some of my idols lived, walked and developed as musicians or counter-culture figures.
THE ANARCHISTS AND ACTIVISTS OF GREENWICH VILLAGE
Polly Holladay was an anarchist who opened her restaurant when the Village hit it’s bohemian heights. The liberal artistic minded and politically active gathered there and the place was an immediate success. Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson and Emma Goldman were regulars there.
The Village was home to the first racially integrated club in the country, when the nightclub Café opened in 1938 at Sheridan Square, African American talented artists were welcomed. Barney Josephson intended this to be be a copy of the political cafe’s he had seen in Europe before world war II. In a time when the African Americans were segregated from the American society, this was an absolute revolution.
THE BEATNIK GENERATION OF THE GREENWICH VILLAGE
During the 1950’s the Village became the bohemian scene for the beatnik generation. Escaping what they considered the oppressive social conformity of mainstream society, a large community of writerS, poets, artists and students moved to the Greenwich Village and to North Beach in San Francisco, becoming the predecessor to the Hippy scene.
At Places like the Gaslight, the Village’s oldest coffee shop, the beatniks met to drink espresso coffee and hold philosophical discussions of life and art. Their messy hairdos, beards and different costumes expressed their rebellion against what was conventional at the time.
The Village and surrounding areas, would later play central roles in the writings of Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, Rod Mckuen.
The phrase “Beat generation” was first introduced in 1948 by Jack Kerouac, to describe the underground, anti-conformist youth of the Greenwich Village. Allen Ginsber Howl (1958), William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack’s Kerouac’s on the road (1957) are the best known examples of Beat literature.
THE REJECTION OF THE MAINSTREAM BROADWAY THEATERS
Off off Broadway, started in Greenwich Village in 1958 as a reaction to the Broadway Shows and as a complete rejection of commercial theater. One of the historical theaters was Caffé Cino, ran by Joe Cino, who would let actors play in stage without bothering to read the screens first.
THE MUSIC SCENE OF THE GREENWICH VILLAGE
The Greenwich Village is the birth place of Folk music . Bod Dylan was probably one of the most iconic folk singers who called the Village home for a long time and got inspiration from it’s movement.
Dylan dropped out of college by the end of 1960. In 1961 he traveled to New York city hoping to meet his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill. In February of 1961, Dylan played at various clubs around Greenwich Village. He pick up most of his inspiration and influences from fellow folk singers living in the Village, including Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, Odetta, etc…
Bob Dylan’s 1963 album, Freewheelin was his second album, and the one who launched this 22 year old singer to the world. This album contains some of his most famous songs, like “Blowing in the wind”, “Girl from the north country”, “masters of war”, “A hard rain’s A-gonna fall”, and “don’t think twice”. It shows the world his talent as a singer, writer and poet and it’s wrapped in a cover that features him and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo, walking down the Greenwich Village streets.
THE MUSIC SCENE
The Village had a cutting edge music scene. Some of the most famous clubs include Gerde’s Folk city, the Bitter end, Café au Go-go, Café Wha? The Gaslight café and the Bottom line. Dozens of popular songwriters got their start in the Village’s nightclub, theaters and coffee house scenes during the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s.
Besides the notorious Bob Dylan, there was Jimi Hendrix; Barbara Streisand; Peter, Paul and Mary; Bette Miller; The loving spoonful; Simon and Garfunkel; Liza Minelli, Joan Baez, The Velvet Underground, Richie Havens, Eric Andersen; The Kingston trio amongst others. The Greenwich Village of the 1950s and 1960s was at the center of Jane Jacobs‘s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which defended it and similar communities, while criticizing common urban renewal policies of the time.
The Mama’s and the Papas met here and their famous song, “California dreamin'” actually written in New York Greenwich Village, not in San Francisco as most people think.
RADICAL ACTIVISM IN GREENWICH VILLAGE
Greenwich Village was also home to one of the many safe houses used by the radical anti-war movement known as the Weather Underground. On March 6, 1970, however, their safe house was destroyed when an explosive they were constructing was accidentally detonated, killing three Weathermen (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton).
I had the privilege to attend a conference in Boston 13 years ago, and hear William Ayers, one of the Weather Underground activists tell their story. Yesterday, I had the chance to see their old safe-house in person.
GREENWICH VILLAGE AND THE GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENTS
In recent days, the Village has maintained its role as a center for movements that have challenged the wider American culture, for example, its role in the gay rights movement. It contains Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn, important landmarks, as well as the world’s oldest gay and lesbian bookstore, Oscar Wilde Bookshop, founded in 1967.
THE VILLAGE TODAY – THE SAD RESULT OF GENTRIFICATION
The Village is today the most expensive piece of real Estate in New York city. There seems to be a pattern all over the world. Artists move in to cheap areas forming thriving, young vibrant communities. Those areas become so hip the real estate speculators or local governments take over. Rents sky rocket turning it impossible for the local people to afford their propriety taxes or rent.. They’re forced to move out of their homes, while real estate speculators buy proprieties which are later on sold for millions.
Gentrification is the radical shift in an urban community or area, where the local residents are simply exchanged by wealthier residents. This is a form of economic eviction.
The death of the cultural and artistic vein of the Greenwich Village is evident. This is now the residence of millionaires and multi-millionaires. After the economic evictions in the 60’s and 70’s artists migrated to what is now called The East Village. The Beatnik and hippy movements are now over and punk rock emerges to give voice to the new social injustices.
ON OUR NEXT BLOG POST, WE’LL BE EXPLORING THE EAST VILLAGE, THE HISTORY OF PUNK ROCK AND SOME VERY INTERESTING LANDMARKS!