Summer of 63 a snapshot
It was April and I was about to be outta work. What a bitch. The suits at Y&R had been taken for a ride by some of Dicky Avadon's assistants and they were cutting the pay to all advertising studios by 50 percent and none of the agencies were going to pay anything for ninety days. My boss, the guy who signed the checks, had a loan to bridge him over but non one was going to get paid the summer of sixty three. The agencies were sick of the spiraling upward costs and everyone was going to get hit. I told my wife and as an associate I was getting a whole month's base pay and then on my own for five months. Just when I was hitting my groove at advertising. Getting it right is a question of both skill and luck. I still had the night job with the West Side News but that was like thirty five a week and perks. Perks included a press card which in my end meant some entry into the world of editorial photography but not enough to make a living there.
Life was out to me except maybe the back page my 'rabbi 'was W. Eugene Smith and his star had wained at the Fun House. I was in the shits with Magnum for calling Cornell Capa a pussy for supporting the war in Viet-Nam that was getting hot. Civil Rights was an the march. There might be a story there but no one was going to print it except Life and Life was in crisis. The Luce kids and grand kids were taking over and were getting ready to micro manage the Mag into the dirt. They liked to fuck with the photographers and that would be their doom. Doom was long term, dinner was short term.
I took the problem to Chester Anderson my poetry rabbi.
“The Gas Light is about to sell and the Boston Mob is moving onto McDougall Street tuning this place into Cony Island. There is much short term need for coffee house managers who know the folk music business. And you dear boy know who is whom. What is interesting is that the Irish think they can out mob the Italians.”
“This will be crazy I'm Irish enough to know Italians shoot back.”
I had known enough to keep away from Dylan who had seduced more music critics than girls with long hair who sung on stools in front of people paying money to hear their off key offerings. Dylan and the creeps who ran with him were always having mini dramas as the master stole and they stole their way to fame and fortune for the pusher man.
Cocaine was marching though the folk world and the lady was just about to start taking sacrifices: first of minds then of bodies and a few years later of souls. I was proof against the Marching dust I was a stone boozer. Chester had helped me clean up and the world of pharm was not one for me.
Chester then warned me to take the first job to say yes to my offer to manage the stage and all things talent wise as well as working the dead shifts and the weekends.
What I had to offer were carpenters, cooks waitresses, and understanding of the New York music scene that an out of towner would recognize as shark infested waters. The people moving in from Boston were bringing their own teams in.
An interview was arranged with a guy from Chicago opening a Lebanese fast food joint. After letting him get to meet with some Lebanese folks I knew from the West Side News He decided to go with the folk venue after all an Arab cafe in Manhattan was not going to be an easy job to pull off.
He found a Hungarian Cook who would cook burgers as the special for musicians. I had hatched a plan to give meals to musicians who would payback with the a set over the weekends. Headliners got a straight deal but there would be four or five guys working for a tab. I would ask Mike from Gerdis if there was anyone who this would work for at his place which was ta block away. The musicians ate at the house table presided over by the boss.
The Boss was an affable Lebanese American quick to smile .Not the least be confused by the bustling scene and more than likely some sort of cop but one does not have a cafe on Sullivan Street right next door to the Viteronie Social club lightly. And being ex navy is always a recommendation in the world of commerce.
I keep an open mind and a paycheck is a good thing. I was very honest with the neighbors and stressed the ignorance and the danger of carrying tales about one's boss.
We opened in record time. The kitchen was done in twenty four housrs only the electrics took real time wiring stage and lights took two weeks. I invited all the neighborhood which was changing nightly from Italian to rich people who did not go to local places. The music was mainly acoustic not like the next street over which was electric. The Gaslight was being renovated and the guys from Boston took their time, which gave us a toehold.
Some how the Crocker Mob had purchased or used their federal connections,they were part and parcel of the Kennedy Honey Fitz Mob and were highly connected to take over the folk music world. The mob owned the music world outside of a very few creative independent venue owners and a couple of obscure record companies the whole entertainment industry was dominated by criminals which was why folk music would always be a side show.
Blues was dominated by White owned clubs and White owned record companies which depended on Saphardic owned record distribution companies to move the goods. They in turn reached into the musician's pocket to promote and discount the vinyl. The unions served as enforcers more than servents of the working musicians.
There were mavericks Peter LaFarge was one Old timey Paul Clayton another and Von Ronk. Phil Ochs, the Seegers John Hammond But for the most part the musicians went along to get along. Many very talented people choose not go along at all Fahey, Mike Stewart, Izzy Young. You had to know how it worked if you were trying to make the music happen.
Some thought Bob Dylan was a savor others, my self included, thought of him as a symptom of what was wrong. The television world was closed to outside talent here were whole networks who never heard of a Joan Baez or a Casey Anderson.
There were outbursts of talent. Like Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis. Odetta, Skip James. People we heard about and sought out due to the labors of the Seegers or tuning Tom Pailey, Tom Hoskins, Mike Stewart and Bill Barth.
Among those who loved hated Bob Dylan was David Blue who had just changed his name from Dave Cohen. Dave had stayed with me when I was living at Clinton and Delancey Street. David had stayed with me when I was crashing at Bob Campbell home for unwed father's in Tesla's old lab. Dave wanted fame in the worst way. We were a sort of photo commune before there were communes but David sort of fit in; with him came Bill Barth who was a better picker than Dave. Dave never had a good thing to say about Dylan which sort of disturbed me because Dylan was good on stage, sounding like Rambling Jack Elliot with a plum in his mouth and he lied well. Besides that talent he had the way of focusing on people that made them miss that he was absorbing their creative side. It would be several years before he realized his ability was far beyond most of the men he schmoozed.
On the night Eddie opened Abdos Dave came up in moment of confusion and asked to borrow my guitar and banjo to do a set at Gerdis. I called my wife and told her to give him the instruments. He'd bring them back in the morning she was worried but I thought David was too much of nebbisher to do something stupid.
Thursday afternoon when business was slow Bill showed up to work on a song we were rearranging James Alley Blues. Bill said that he'd seen. David off for the West Coast where he was joining Buffy Saint Marie on tour. And that Dave was into the heavy shit. Last I saw of a Larson guitar and Washburn Banjo from the eighteen nineties, Lady Margaret was pissed at me for being a friend to such a pig, Years later when ever his name was mentioned even in song it was about cons listen to Pilgrim Chapter thirty three. I was starting to be a long summer.
The photo world was still barren ground. The magazines were looking for conventional flash photos like today and the people taking the pictures had other ideas. We were influenced by Robert Frank, Bill Kline, Bradovitch and Smith. Smith was off to Haiti. I was looking for an excuse to go South but no one was opening that kind of door. So I carried on with the cafe just before the Fourth Terry Southern showed up Terry was looking for the model who'd done the hard cover cover of Candy. I warned him it involved Mel Lyman she'd joined the undead in Boston. He had already published his best story Red Dirt Marijuana and according to his coauthor Candy was a fraud but he was affable a hale fellow well met sort of perpetual undergrad.
I spent the Fourth with my wife on Fire Island at the the editor's cabin there. Margaret found the gay social life oppressive. I missed work.
The Street was getting freaky: the Bagel babies were overrunning the West Village. Mac Dougall Street was a sea of teenyboppers, pimps, johns all under eighteen, all doing drama, which did not make us rich, after all music required listeners.
The weather was first hot then rainy one Monday morning I got a call from Chester to meet him at eight AM at he old Bleeker Street exit on Fourth Street. I was living on West 57 opposite Carnegie Hall.
Chester was waiting in a doorway very strange. We proceed to fourth and Bleeker and there we waited in the drizzle turning to rain about five minuets. Rick Von Emson comes running out of the Cafe Wha like a gazelle right behind him is an old man in a raincoat with a pistol in his hand the old man stopped took a target shooters stance and shot twice Von is running falls stone dead. A Vespa with a guy towing a cross came up past the Renascence Liquor store where Rick Von Emson lay in eternal sleep. A tourist picked up the blood soaked beret I got the keys out to Sullivan Street joint. We sat in the window while the coffee ran though the Bunn.
The street filled with cops. We could just watch the corner and the Wha was a third of the way up the block out of sight.
“What do you know about the deceased.?”
“Not much, lets see: mid thirties, a karate brick breaker; a very bad flamenco guitarist. Ran a tourist trap, basket house cheated every employee, was into amphetamines had the personality of toad and a terrible temper, was into rape as sexual expression, his idea of foreplay was kicking in the apartment door and was sort of mobbed up Apart from that paid his vig and was a solid citizen .”
“You're getting better at this every day” Chester loved having some one play Dr. Watson. “However you missed the pound of heroin that was under the counter now headed uptown. And the Italian girl he raped the other night.”
I looked out the window at the poet, swampy, who we called Von's Igor who was walking quite fast uptown with a package in the pocket of his gray plastic raincoat. He was trying to look invisible.
At this moment there was knock at the window and the crazy Don from the Social Club was standing in my doorway, a scary sight in a bath robe. I opened the door.
“Something of ours is missing.”
I point to the fast moving figure.
“Thank you Coit.”
He knew my name.
Later Ed came in. “You said something to our neighbors”
The old man died after surrendering to the cops. The official story was Von had tried to bully the old man a retired button man out of his apartment behind the Wha? and his luck ran out. The shot was fifty yards with a .380 Beretta not bad for an old guy . His funeral was one of the largest in Little Italy. Two people attended Von's funeral his brother and his pusher.
I took a version of this story at the time showed it to WEE GEE another rabbi. He was working ad dye transfer guy sober .He read, the half chewed cigar moved across his face. “Tough.”
©Cordley Coit 2011, 211 Navaho Ave, Simla Colorado80835-0125 cordley@gmail,com