By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
I was in my favorite hangout, Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. It was 1964. I was 17 and I had just seen Bob Dylan, up close and personal, you might say, at the Gaslight Cafe on Macdougal.
Dylan was a kid, just like me, and nobody that night was paying much attention to him as he pounded his way through his adapted version of Red Rockin' Chair, an Appalachian ballad, more of a bluegrass number. I looked at Dylan in his beaten up suede jacket and his 1930s Depression era cap and he was scruffier than I was and looked quite a bit younger. Not too many people that night were listening to him, so he sort of sang to me, or so I thought.
Minetta's was a cool place and my friend Jimmy MacFadyen and I ate there often. Jimmy was writing a novel called The Travels of Jaimie MacFadyen because he'd busked about the country living in a boxcar with country singer Hoyt Axton whose mother wrote the lyrics to Heartbreak Hotel popularized by Elvis. My friend Jimmy knew a lot of folksingers. "If we put our minds to it," he said, "we could meet lots of people on the folk circuit and then we could write about them and become famous in our own right."
Jimmy had a big ego but he was on to something. I'd already met Reverend Gary Davis, the blues and gospel singer, and he'd told us some funny stories and I could remember them. I told myself that even before our spaghetti and meatballs arrived, I was going to write a story about the good old Reverend. But right after we ate, Jimmy and I headed back to the Gaslight where Dylan was done and we met Ramblin' Jack Elliott walking in the front door with a pretty girl under each arm and his guitar slung across his back. For some reason, the great rambler liked us. Maybe because we liked him.
Anyway he sang Tennessee Stud because we asked him to and then he dedicated a couple more songs to our "youth and enthusiasm brimming all over the place" and everyone looked over to see the brimmers. Afterwards I went home and wrote a story about Jack and another one about Reverend Gary. I showed these to the editor of our school newspaper and he said, "Sure, we'll publish them but who in hell are these guys?"
It was then I realized that fame was a matter of perception. Then Jimmy called me and said, "Bob Dylan's back in town. We should interview him. You know, he'll probably end up being the most famous folksinger of them all." I wondered how that was possible – that little guy with the hoarse voice nobody listened to?
"Dylan's got this friend named Alan Aronowitz who got him to come and stay at Free Acres. Let's go over there and meet him."
Free Acres was a kind of old style 1920s kibbutz-like community where such famous people as the actor James Cagney and the writer MacKinlay Kantor had lived and also the Romany writer Konrad Bercovici. I made a note to write about them, too.
Dylan wasn't very talkative. He was supposedly writing a song about a tambourine. That's what Aronowitz said. The only personal thing we learned about Dylan is that he ate scrambled eggs for dinner and he looked younger than Jimmy and me and maybe didn't shave much because he had nothing much to shave.
Back in the Village, the following weekend, we met Buffy Sainte-Marie. She was friendly enough and she sang Now That The Buffalo's Gone and the drive of her lyrics worked into the memoir I was writing.
Then Jimmy and I got really lucky. We stayed up all night and got to hear Dave Van Ronk sing his version of WB Yeats' poem The Song of Wandering Aengus about the trout that turns into a sort of fairy goddess, and the way Van Ronk sang – all husky and smoky-voiced – "The golden apples of the sun and the silver apples of the moon", well, his words followed us all the way back home to Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.
My intention to write a memoir about people I really didn't know stopped short the following morning. I glanced at my manuscript and threw the pages in the trash.
Van Ronk had done me a great service when he sang the WB Yeats poem. It was a bardic echo from the ancient past and it stuck with Jimmy and me. The following year I went to college. I studied modern English poetry. Jimmy didn't go to college. He stayed home and did drugs. A few years later it killed him. The folk era was over by that time. Folk music as we knew it morphed folk into folk rock. Van Ronk stayed the same, Dylan re-invented music altogether, all by himself.
As I say, Jimmy was gone and I still miss him. His sly smile, his passion for folk. I saw Van Ronk a few more times and met up with Jack Elliott in Tesuque, New Mexico with his dog Buttermilk. I wrote poetry and published it. I wrote about Jack, and published that. Maybe I'd never come up to Yeats' big toe or Dylan's boot heel, but that didn't matter: I was a published writer, wasn't I? I still search for Jimmy's novel, The Travels of Jaimie MacFadyen, somewhere up there on some bookstore's long gone, lonesome traveler shelf, somewhere up there near to heaven.