Category Archives: Songs/Songwriters

New York/Bob Dylan

folk_city_1979
Close up of Folk City 20th anniversary flyer (1979)
4-11-61 Robert Dylan

In many respects, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in literature is an affirmation of what those in my songwriter circle have been doing for decades – crafting songs in which music and lyrics interlock in poetic balance. Is it literature, or something else? Certainly, Dylan’s lyrics were not meant to stand alone on the page, though many of his lines and phrases have become as familiar as Shakespeare or the Bible.

My old friend, the songwriter Jack Hardy, now deceased, would have probably sneered at Dylan’s Nobel accolade – after all, in Jack’s demimonde of folk music, Dylan was a sellout. He was/is a pop star of tremendous fame and fortune. That makes him a problematic figure to some, but I see his hyper success, to a great extent, as a product of the 60s, when songwriters and rock bands burst onto the scene promoted by an expanding record industry and the rich diversity of free form radio. He tapped into the cultural revolution of the moment – as did the Beatles – and his songs were disruptive and catalytic, both in social and aesthetic terms.

It’s harder now. There are a million more opportunities to get one’s work out there, which is a good thing, but the method of distribution is atomized, and audiences break down into smaller and smaller niches. The shared experience of a stunning new song crackling across the airwaves such as “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Tangled up in Blue” is largely a thing of the past. We now rely on youtube videos, streaming music, or other electronic forms of connective tissue.

For many songwriters that also means doing it the old fashioned way, playing to people directly, making tours of small clubs and even living rooms. And in fact, the kind of song that Bob Dylan mastered was the outgrowth of an oral tradition deeply rooted in western culture, cross-pollinated by influences from the African diaspora in North America. Jack Hardy would have called it the bardic tradition (minus the lyres and leprechauns, please), and he was right. The kind of song that Dylan cultivated and ultimately transcended was based on an ancient means of lyrical communication that pre-dates what we think of now as literature.

So, I’d like to think that the Nobel committee has recognized one of the greatest and most complex artists of our time not so much for extending the boundaries of literature, but for reconnecting us to the roots of literature itself.

New York/Open All Night

A reminder to myself — and others — that I am a songwriter as well as a photographer. The wonderful Lucy Kaplansky sings my song Open All Night on an early recording of the Fast Folk Musical Magazine. This is from August 1982, a few years after I’d written the song. It’s as much a visual image as a song — atmosphere more than story.

speakeasy

A blurry snapshot of me on stage in the early ’80s with Angela Page to the left, and Suzanne Vega and Jack Hardy on the right.

New York/Tom’s Diner

vegasmile
Suzanne Vega, 1980 — © Brian Rose

Tom’s Diner again…and again…and again. Suzanne Vega’s a capella song poem set in an Upper West Side diner is back on the charts. Brittany Spears, if you can believe it, is the latest pop star to cover it — or smother it — whatever.

Here’s the song (you’ve been warned):

And believe it or not — yours truly — is forever connected to this song.

Suzanne: I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall. He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.

I still see the world through a pane of glass, though I’m not sure how alienated I feel these days. But I remain committed to observation, the fleeting moment, reflections, glances exchanged, the meaning derived from things, places, people passing by, the “art of facts,” if you will. Just like Suzanne’s wonderful little song.

Here’s the way is was done originally:

Here’s some recent media about the history of Tom’s Diner:
Bustle
Mental Floss
Stereo Gum

New York/Colorful Past

There’s been lots of discussion about whether Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen brothers is an Oscar-worthy masterpiece or a dismal failure. Whatever the case, I’d like to briefly touch on the look of the film. The story takes place in 1961 Greenwich Village and the main character wanders the streets and cafes of the area, familiar terrain to those of us who were a part of the folk scene in New York. My participation came much later, the late ’70s and early ’80s, but even today, the look and feel of the place has changed very little.

INSIDE-LLEWELYN-DAVISA scene from Inside Llewyn Davis, East 2nd Street

To my eye, the neighborhood is a richly colorful landscape, in parts beautiful, in other parts tawdry. McDougal and Bleecker Streets where the folk scene was centered remains a tourist district with mediocre restaurants and cheap gift shops. But there’s also Porto Rico coffee, Caffe Dante, and Mamoun’s falafel, places that have survived decades. Even Ben’s Pizza is still there in all its fluorescent and formica glory. Caffe Dante was where I used to hang out with Suzanne Vega and Jack Hardy plotting to shake up the world with our songs. It’s still great for atmosphere, but the coffee at Third Rail a couple of blocks away is on a different level. But I digress.

People have criticized Inside Llewyn Davis for portraying the folk scene as a ghostly shadow of its true self. Suzanne Vega called the movie “brown and sad.” The movie, indeed, is visually muted and dark. The Coen’s obviously filtered the color giving it that old color look–like an Instagram filter.

bob-dylan-freewheelin

But the past is only Instagrammed in our minds Or in prints and slides that have faded and color shifted over the years. When Dave Van Ronk–who the movie is sort of, but not really about–and Bob Dylan inhabited the neighborhood in the early ’60s the look of the place was undoubtedly as brightly hued as it is today.  My guess is that the Coens and their art director were inspired in part by the iconic photograph on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan where he and Suzy Rotolo walked down the center of Jones Street on a snowy thinly lit day.

One can argue that the Coens wanted to remove their movie from the present and give it a dreamy long ago quality. But at this point, color filters are an overused device. Moody, slanting light streaming through windows, has also become a cliche supposedly evoking the past. Think of Spielberg’s Lincoln.

In my book Time and Space on the Lower East I tried to make the point that the past and present are  not mutually exclusive realities. They are part of a continuum of experience. They are both here now in vivid color. And the sky on a sunny day is blue.

e4thEast 4th Street 1980 — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

 

 

 

 

New York/Greenpoint

lou_reed_adManhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (digital) — © Brian Rose

It’s the end of the year and I’m feeling somewhat wistful. A year of accomplishments — the success of Time and Space on the Lower East Side — my show at Dillon Gallery — the completion of Metamorphosis, my Meatpacking District book to be released this coming summer .  But also a year punctuated by moments of poignancy as is inevitable with the passage of time.

Earlier today I tested out my new camera, a Sigma DP1, a much improved refresh of the somewhat balky second generation of the camera. The former took incredible pictures in ideal light conditions — better than other point and shoots I’ve used. But it was a difficult camera to handle, even for me. Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with it because of its large image sensor size and stripped down design. The new version is better in almost every way, and now produces image files large enough to make decent size prints.

The picture above was made in Greenpoint, Brooklyn while waiting for my family to meet me at a nearby restaurant. I came across one of the ads seen around town with Lou Reed in headphones. I’ve been unsure how I felt about them coming so soon after his death. But the image of Reed is beautiful, and when I came across one of the posters caught in a stream of low winter light, I felt a pang of sadness for the loss of one of rock and roll’s greatest figures.

Yesterday evening I went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s latest. I’ve generally been a fan — from his rough and tumble Little Italy films to the magical “Hugo.” But I walked out of this one barely an hour into it. I’ve never been so beat down, so bored, so exhausted by a film. Bah humbug! Happy New Year!

 

New York/Statue of Liberty

sol04
Inside the Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

– Bob Dylan

 

 

New York/Dillon Gallery Opening

dillon02

Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose

It took much of the afternoon Wednesday to lay out the show and get the frames up, but I already had a pretty good idea where I wanted things to go. The opening Thursday evening was well attended, despite wintry weather, and it was great to see lots of old friends and meet new people. Ed Fausty who collaborated on the 1980 pictures was there as was Suzanne Vega, who wrote the foreword of Time and Space along with music friends, Frank Mazzetti and Norman Salant. Bill Diodato, my publisher, was there along with Warren Mason, who designed Time and Space.On the photography side, my friend and mentor, architectural photographer Cervin Robinson was there, and Mark Jenkinson, fellow Cooper Union grad, and Jan Staller, another color photographer who goes back to the late 70s and is still doing strong new work. Very pleased to see Sean Corcoran, the photography curator from the Museum of the City of New York. And it was particularly nice to have my painter friend Tim Raymond down from Buffalo.

I’m leaving out lots of people, but I’m appreciative of everyone who made this a festive occasion on an otherwise “dark and stormy night.” And thanks especially to Valerie Dillon for making it all possible.

Did anyone take pictures? I don’t have a single image from the opening.

 

dillon03

dillon01

Time and Space on the Lower East Side at Dillon Gallery — © Brian Rose

 

 

 

New York/Jack Hardy

kennys

Joe Henderson, Jeff Hardy, Jack Hardy, and Howie Wyeth, late ’70s — © Brian Rose

I’ve written before about Jack Hardy, my songwriter friend, who died almost two years ago. I recently attended a memorial service for his father, Gordon Hardy.

An earlier post here. And jackhardy.com here.

Jack cultivated the role of the self-taught itinerant folk singer living hand-to-mouth even as he proudly told the story of the Studebaker family—his mother’s side–in the song Wheelbarrow Johnny. What is less known is the importance of his father, former dean of students at Juilliard, and president of the Aspen Music Festival. Jack grew up in a household steeped in classical music. One photograph displayed at the reception showed Gordon Hardy and the composer Aaron Copland. That’s the world Jack came from.

Shortly after Jack passed away I wrote a fairly long chronicle of the early days of the songwriters exchange, the arrival of Suzanne Vega on the scene, and the creation of the Fast Folk magazine. It was intended for the Jack Hardy tribute album organized by Mark Dann, which is still not widely available, and I doubt that many have read it. The death of Jack’s father spurred me to reread the piece, and I’ve decided to post it here on my blog. Some of the story may be familiar to those who knew Jack well, other parts new, even surprising.

Please forgive the many names left out, and other oversights. It’s a personal recounting, not a comprehensive history.

Travelers Passing Through: Boulevardiers and Fast Folk

 

 

 

New York/BreakThru Radio

It’s not often that I get to showcase my photography and music together. This is an interview on BreakThru Radio about my book Time and Space on the Lower East Side. Thomas Seely, the DJ, typically mixes indie rock songs with his interviews with visual artists. He does the same in my case, but also plays my song Tenement Stairs, which was written back in 1980 when I first photographed the neighborhood. I originally recorded the song for the Fast Folk Musical Magazine, but this is a newer recording. 

I really love how the whole thing turned out. It’s internet radio, so you can listen at your leisure.

BreakThru Radio interview

Brian Rose’s new book of photographs, Time and Space on the Lower East Side, is all about  how we experience change, or lack of it, in the urban environment. The book is a collection of large format color photographs taken on the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side in the years 1980 and 2010. Over those 30 years the Lower East Side has gone from being a symbol of urban blight and decay to a poster-child for urban renewal and gentrification. But,  Brian’s  book is not a collection of side-by-side comparisons contrasting two different eras of the neighborhood, like the books in which a picture from one location is juxtaposed with a picture taken from the same spot many years later. Instead, the photographs in Time and Space on the Lower East Side reveal the year in which they were taken through small details like a pedestrian’s bellbottoms, the design of a parked car, or the typography on a billboard. That is, if the photos reveal their age at all. More often than not  you can’t really tell what year any given picture was taken in without a thorough examination.

This is what makes Brian’s book so  unique:  it looks at what stays the same in a city as much as it does the things that are gentrified, torn down or rebuilt. It forces us to move past simplistic story-lines about a neighborhood’s transformation and look more carefully at the urban landscapes we move through every day. This approach provides a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s most over-photographed cities in a new way.

Recently I visited Brian at his studio on the Lower East Side. We talked about the neighborhood’s apocalyptic feel in the 1980s, why he returned to the Lower East Side in 2010 to photographs, and how for him, sometimes doing nothing is the best way to make a photograph.

New York/Vaclav Havel


Czech/Austrian border 1987 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It is with great sadness that I note the passing of Vaclav Havel, playwright, political dissident, and former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. When I traveled the Iron Curtain in 1985 and 1987, Havel and others who resisted the communist/Soviet hegemony of eastern Europe, was always in my thoughts. I skirted the Cold War border from the relative luxury of my rental car while Havel languished in prison or house arrest smuggling out statements and manifestos.

One such fundamental experience, that which I called “antipolitical politics,” is possible and can be effective, even though by its very nature it cannot calculate its effect beforehand. That effect, to be sure, is of a wholly different nature from what the West considers political success. It is hidden, indirect, long-term, and hard to measure; often it exists only in the invisible realm of social consciousness, conscience, and subconsciousness, and it can be almost impossible to determine what value it assumed therein and to what extent, if any, it contributes to shaping social development. It is, however, becoming evident-and I think that is an experience of an essential and universal importance-that a single, seemingly powerless person who dares to cry out the word of truth and to stand behind it with all his person and all his life, ready to pay a high price, has, surprisingly, greater power, though formally disfranchised, than do thousands of anonymous voters.


Czech/German border 1985 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

It is becoming evident that even in today’s world, and especially on this exposed rampart where the wind blows most sharply, it is possible to oppose personal experience and the natural world to the “innocent” power and to unmask its guilt, as the author of The Gulag Archipelago has done. It is becoming evident that truth and morality can provide a new starting point for politics and can, even today, have an undeniable political power. The warning voice of a single brave scientist, besieged somewhere in the provinces and terrorized by a goaded community, can be heard over continents and addresses the conscience of the mighty of this world more clearly than entire brigades of hired propagandists can, though speaking to themselves. It is becoming evident that wholly personal categories like good and evil still have their unambiguous content and, under certain circumstances, are capable of shaking the seemingly unshakable power with all its army of soldiers, policemen, and bureaucrats. It is becoming evident that politics by no means need remain the affair of professionals and that one simple electrician with his heart in the right place, honoring something that transcends him and free of fear, can influence the history of his nation.

Yes, “antipolitical politics” is possible. Politics “from below:’ Politics of man, not of the apparatus. Politics growing from the heart, not from a thesis. It is not an accident that this hopeful experience has to be lived just here, on this grim battlement. Under the “rule of everydayness” we have to descend to the very bottom of a well before we can see the stars. 

— Vaclav Havel


Suzanne Vega performs for Vaclav Havel — © Brian Rose

Some years later I found myself in Prague. It was 1990, one year after the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was meeting up with Suzanne Vega who was playing there and in East Berlin–incandescent performances both of them, fed by the still uncontaminated spirit of liberation in the air. I wrote here about them in my journal. I remember walking from the train station to the central square of Prague behind a group of teenagers singing the dut dut duts from Suzanne’s song Tom’s Diner. Again, years later, I met up with Suzanne in Olomouc in what was now the Czech Republic as she performed Tom’s Diner for Vaclav Havel over a video linkup. Havel was a fan, as he was of the old Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.

Here is, perhaps, the finest tribute to Havel on the 20th years of the Velvet Revolution in Prague on 17 November 2009:

New York/Hudson Square


Hudson Street — © Brian Rose

Have been working on another grant application–this time with the Design Trust for Public Space. They have commissioned photographers in the past to explore different aspects of the urban landscape. This year the theme is “five borough farm,” a project to survey and document urban agriculture around the city. The stipend is only $5,000, but one is also assured of an exhibition and publication. Just one photographer selected. I’d be perfect for this.

Last night I went to the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Greenwich Village to see Suzanne Vega perform her musical play “Carson McCullers Talks About Love.” Years ago, Suzanne worked up a monologue based on the character of the author Carson McCullers–one of several female personalities that she has been drawn to, or taken inspiration from. It was, at that time, a minor but affecting performance.  She has now developed the idea into an ambitious portrayal of the writer with songs and music co-written with Duncan Sheik. The songs exhibit many of the familiar melodic and lyrical qualities of earlier Vega music; some are complete stand-alone songs; others are intended more to support the narrative of the play. At least that’s my take on hearing them for the first time.

Suzanne assumes the character of Carson McCullers, with whom she shares a striking resemblance. She walks on stage as herself, gives a short introduction, and then dons a wig and removes her makeup at a mirror to better resemble the tomboyish McCullers. Like her earlier McCullers performance, it is essentially a monologue, but now there is occasional verbal interplay with a pianist and guitarist who remain on stage throughout the play.

It is not necessary to have read Carson McCullers to appreciate the play, though it certainly doesn’t hurt to be familiar with her work and that of other mid-century American authors who she came in contact with, or compares herself to. One song, in fact, is full of boasts about how she, McCullers, is better than Harper Lee. Although there is sadness and tragedy in McCullers’ personal story, Vega portrays her with a good deal of feisty wit and bravado.

For Suzanne, doing this play is a labor of love, beautifully realized, bestowed upon the audience.

New York/Wyoming


Somewhere in Wyoming, 1981 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

First some disappointing news. My application for a grant from the Graham Foundation to photograph the New Religious Landscape, a project focused on Megachurches and their surrounding areas was unsuccessful. At this point, it is just about impossible for me to take on ambitious projects like this without external funding.

I’ve spent the last two days writing an article for a special edition of the Fast Folk magazine dedicated to Jack Hardy, the late songwriter. Scroll down for earlier posts on Hardy. It is basically the story of my relationship with Jack from 1977 to 1984 during which time we hung out in Greenwich Village folk clubs,, traveled across country together and established the Fast Folk, a monthly LP/magazine of the latest songs from our weekly songwriters meetings. I may post the article here later, but I don’t want to preempt the Fast Folk, which will be available online–probably through the Smithsonian Folkways record label. Stay tuned for that.

The photograph above was taken while driving with Hardy through Wyoming in 1981. There are many other pictures from that trip, and none have ever been printed. A slight light leak in my view camera caused streaking on about half of the images making them near impossible to print–the old way in the darkroom. The defect is easily remedied with Photoshop. So, stay tuned for a series of images taken all over the United States in the early ’80s.

New York/Lower East Side


Chrystie Street — © Brian Rose

My slide talk went well last night at the Mid-Manhattan library. I heard there were 58 people in the audience. Ed Fausty who did the 1980 Lower East Side photographs with me was there and participated in the Q&A. I sold a few books, and talked with lots of people afterward.

I stepped through Time and Space on the Lower East Side reading most of the text pieces and adding a few additional comments here and there. Since I was showing the images one at a time, some of the connections between images–on facing pages in the book–were not so easily made. I don’t mean actual before/after pairs, which are obvious enough, but other less direct relationships. But it was my choice to fill the screen with large single images rather than show pairs at a smaller size.

Here is a review of the slide talk.

***

Today I am recording one of Jack Hardy’s songs for a special project dedicated to the late songwriter. Jack died a couple of weeks ago–a great shock to all of us in the folk songwriting community in New York and elsewhere. Jack and I founded the Fast Folk back in 1981 with the intention of getting new songs on the street quickly while still fresh. I will write more about the Fast Folk in the future. Tomorrow there will be a memorial event:

Jack Hardy Memorial Gathering in New York City: There will be an evening of song in memory of Jack, hosted by David Massengill, on March 31st, 2011. It will be at the Christopher Street Coffee House, in St. John’s Lutheran Church, at 81 Christopher Street. There is more information on the Christopher Street Coffee House web site

A number of YouTube videos of Jack Hardy performances have been added recently including this one from the 50th anniversary of the former Village folk club Folk City. It was the last time I saw Jack perform on stage. I was doing still photographs for the event and that’s the back of my head interfering with some of the video–sorry. This is Jack at his best surrounded by terrific musicians including Kirk Siee on bass, Mark Dann on guitar, and Lisa Gutkin on violin. Jack’s daughters Morgan and Miranda sing harmonies, and midway through, Terre Roche joins them.

And here’s a video of Suzanne Vega visiting the songwriters’ exchange at Jack Hardy’s apartment on Houston Street. I wasn’t there that day, but I see several familiar faces–Tim Robinson, Frank Tedesso, and Erik Frandsen–three of the best songwriters around.

New York/Jack Hardy


Jack Hardy in his apartment on Houston Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Jack Hardy, the extraordinary song craftsman, and one of my most cherished friends died last night of cancer. New York Times obituary here.

From The Boulevardiers by Suzanne Vega:
(I am the tall lover of the city, Jack the quick and fair.)

He loves the city with the bricks and broken bottles
and the pretty little flowers as they grow against the wall.
He is dark, he is tall, he is the tallest one of all of us.
You are bright and quick and fair
and seems that you have lost some hair
but this is all right.
This is OK. We do not mind.
We write and fight and sing
and this is fine.


This is the cover of one of Jack’s earliest albums. I did the photograph. It was originally a blank LP  sleeve, and we called it the White Album. At some point a record company picked it up and a proper cover was made. I don’t remember the location of the photograph, but it was undoubtedly somewhere in Greenwich Village, or very possibly near my apartment in the East Village.

When I met Jack in 1977 he was a charismatic figure full of a sense of personal destiny. The picture above expresses some of that ambitious confidence–and an image carefully cultivated. Later, the trajectory of his career leveled off, but his songwriting skills did not. If anything, they grew and deepened over the years.


Jack Hardy — © Brian Rose

This photo found on the internet is from the same session as the one above. I do not seem to have the negatives, although I haven’t finished looking. I may have some prints. I am guessing that I gave the negatives to Jack shortly after they were made, and they may be in his archive. Nothing was digital in those days, of course.

UPDATE:

Arrived somewhat late to an impromptu memorial concert at Banjo Jim’s, a small club in the East Village. I sang The Skyline, my song about 9/11, which was partly a response to Jack Hardy losing his brother in one of the Twin Towers. I did it  a capella, less than perfectly, but I give myself some credit for bravery. Several people did wonderful versions of Jack’s songs, and we ended with Go Tell the Savior led by David Massengill with one of the verses sung beautifully by Jim Allen. I hear that a bigger, more formal memorial is being planned.

MORE PHOTOS:


The Folk Brothers, David Massengill and Jack Hardy, 2010 — © Brian Rose


Folk City 50th anniversary, Mark Dann and Jack Hardy, 2010 — © Brian Rose


Jack Hardy and David Massengill, Houston Street apartment — © Brian Rose

 

 

New York/Tom’s Diner

Received a DVD in the mail the other day with the video embedded below. It’s about Tom’s Diner, the song by Suzanne Vega, and an unlikely hit. The video was done for Norwegian TV, but the interviews with Suzanne, Lenny Kaye, and others are all in English, so it’s easy to follow. I make several appearances talking about the song. There’s even a snippet of my song Burn Burn Burn, and some of my photos are in there as well.

Vega from the New York Times:

I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall. He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.

Photographs of Suzanne Vega and Jack Hardy

New York/Deep River, CT


The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the alumni of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums — arrow points at me.

Despite my failed attempts at a songwriting career, I remain a good, if largely unknown, song poet. It sounds a little grandiose, but it’s a craft I have taken seriously for many years. Some of my friends have, indeed, made careers of it. But what I did as a teenager still overshadows my later musical endeavors. I was the Sergeant Major of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums for four years, from age 13 through 17. The last six months or so of my tenure was spent as Fife Sergeant, having been demoted to the top fifing position to accommodate the changing adult leadership of the corps.

Our music master, George Carroll was leaving. Under Carroll’s tutelage we had become one of the pre-eminent fife and drum outfits in the world. In 1960, before coming to our corps Carroll had founded the Old Guard Fife and Drum,  a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry stationed at Ft. Myer adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery. In 1961, Carroll took over leadership of the fledgling fife and drum corps of Colonial Williamsburg. Three years later, I joined the corps at age 9.

In 1967, shortly after turning 13, I was promoted to Sergeant Major of the corps. Promotion was largely a matter of proficiency on your instrument, and nowadays one might wait years for an opening in the ranks. In my case, the corps was growing, and the first generation of players was leaving. So, a spot opened quickly.

In April of 1967 the corps travelled to Washington, D.C. to perform on the Mall in an evening “Great Tattoo.” The program featured the Old Guard Fife and Drum, the Marine Corps Band, and the U.S. Air Force Pipe Band. George Carroll had been asked at the last minute, as I recall it, to narrate the program, and earlier in the day he handed the drum major’s stick, or mace, to me and told me I was to lead the corps onto the field. It was a moment I will never forget, and I am still dumbfounded that Carroll had confidence in me to lead us in what was, up to that point, the most important performance in the corps’ history.

Weekend before last, the alumni of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums–many of us participants in the tattoo in 1967–once again took to the field with the Old Guard Fife and Drum, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, this time to honor George Carroll. It was not on the Mall in Washington, but on a baseball field in Deep River, Connecticut, the location of the Deep River Ancient Muster, the largest fife and drum gathering in the world. Fortunately, Lance Pedigo, the current CW Fifes and Drums leader was available to drum major. I settled in comfortably among the fifers.

New York/Folk City


Folk City crowd in 1978 as seen from the stage — © Brian Rose

When I first arrived in New York in 1977 as a budding photographer and songwriter, I discovered Folk City, the club that was the center of the New York folk scene in the 60s. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave van Ronk, Phil Ochs and a host of others played the club and established its reputation. By the time I showed up looking for other songwriters and a chance to play, most of that older generation had moved on.

After playing the open mic (called the hoot) for a few weeks, and not hearing much to be inspired by, I began to wonder if the folk scene was permanently dead. One Monday at the hoot, while waiting for my number to come up, and my chance to perform two songs to a bored audience of other performers, a string of a dozen amazing songwriters went on stage and blew me away. One of them was Jack Hardy, the leader of the New York folk scene, and I recall that David Massengill and Rod MacDonald played as well. The inexplicable run of talent, I later discovered, was due to the fact that the hoot numbers were  not exactly picked randomly, and once I became part of the Folk City family, I, too, benefited from the system.

The hoot numbers were distributed under the benevolent dictatorship of owner Mike Porco, who had started Folk City in 1960 at its original location on East 4th Street. Even after becoming a fixture of the Monday night hoot, Mike wasn’t sure I was ready for a gig –“you need a following”– but Jack persuaded him to let me play. So, my first gig was at Folk City, and I subsequently opened for a number of acts there, but never headlined. After Mike sold Folk City, I began to play at the Speak Easy, a falafel joint around the corner with a backroom performance space.

It’s been fifty years since Folk City was established. A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Bob Porco, Mike Porco’s grandson, about photographing an event he was organizing to celebrate the club’s anniversary. That event happened two nights ago, and the pictures that follow are random highlights from the show, a little skewed toward my generation of performers. The show took place in the basement of the last location of Folk City on West 3rd Street, a club now known as the Village Underground. Before the night was over, I was asked to play, and I took the stage and played my song Roll with the Wind (which I performed in my first gig at Folk City) accompanied by the incomparable Frank Christian and Mark Dann. I had a blast.

Check out these blogs:

http://www.folkcityatfifty.blogspot.com/
http://www.beachamjournal.com/journal/
http://ronolesko.blogspot.com/


Happy Traum performing Dylan’s Buckets of Rain
— © Brian Rose


Sylvia Tyson performing her song You Were on My Mind
— © Brian Rose


David Bromberg — © Brian Rose


Suzzy and Terre Roche performing their song Face Down at Folk City
— © Brian Rose


Willie Nile — © Brian Rose


Erik Frandsen performing his song Unique New York
— © Brian Rose


Rod MacDonald performing his song Amercan Jerusalem
— © Brian Rose


David Massengill performing his song On the Road to Fairfax County
— © Brian Rose


Jack Hardy with Mark Dann performing his song Go Tell the Savior
— © Brian Rose

New York/Slogan and a Song

We’re all a bit jumpy here in New York since the discovery of an SUV in Times Square with a makeshift bomb in it, though it was a fairly crude device that had very little chance of working in the way it was intended. The ease with which something like this can be placed is unnerving, but the fact that people (a t-shirt vendor for one) responded alertly was gratifying.

In this morning’s New York Times there is an article about the phrase “If you see something, Say something,” which has become ubiquitous on ads in the subway system. The slogan was penned by Allen Kay of  Korey Kay & Partners on assignment from the Transit Authority. It’s meant as an unintimidating prod, post 9/11, to stay watchful for potential terrorism. For many, however, the phrase, which has seeped into the consciousness of the city and beyond, is one more sign of a growing paranoia that is eating at our souls and our sense of confidence as a society.

Not long ago I wrote a song based on the phrase, played it once at Jack Hardy’s songwriters’ exchange, but have never recorded it. This morning, after reading the article, I pulled out a cheap microphone, fired up Garageband, and the result can be listened to here:

if you see something say something

the man in the coat looks uncomfortably hot
he prays from a book he rocks back and forth
the train rumbles through the rock blasted earth
eyes shift in sockets there’s a bulge in a pocket
ipods play private reveries

roll on roll on subterranean train
through the blind tunnel of fate
roll on roll on with a fearful freight
if you see something say something
before it’s too late

school kids swarm in and swing from the poles
a mariachi band plays besame mucho
a family from somewhere not anywhere near here
clings to their map of the world underground
ipods play private reveries

down in the glare air conditioned hades
fire and brimstone in an unattended package
each sudden lurch and with each random search
eyes pry deeper into unattended musings
ipods play private reveries

© Brian Rose