Izzy Young: Talking Folklore Center
Directed by Jim Downing
Starring Izzy Young, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Koch
I have often remarked that if I could find myself at any point in history, it would be the New York of the ’50s and ’60s. Greenwich Village was the epicenter of a cultural revolution, from the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, to the jazz of Miles Davis, Monk and more, and of course Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk and other folk music notables that ushered in a sea change of popular culture. And in the middle of it all was the Folklore Center, created by Israel “Izzy” Young, a Brooklyn native whose love of all things creative, but particularly folk music and arts, led him to become a mainstay of the Village until he departed for Sweden in 1973.
This hour-long documentary was originally made for Swedish TV in 1989, but has never been released here until now, and anyone interested in the origins of folk music, beat poetry and the revolution they made will find much to enjoy here. Starting with Eric Bibb performing an unreleased Bob Dylan tune “Talking Folklore Center”, Young is interviewed as he returned to New York in the ’80s. Of course the Village of the late ’80s was a far cry from the quaint enclave he left decades before, becoming a rich person’s playground and the resulting high rents that forced the coffee houses, jazz clubs and used bookstores to shutter their doors, leaving the world bereft of the culture they gave.
While brief, the film shows several of the notables from the times such as Allen Ginsberg, performing “Father Death Blues”, or The Fug’s Tuli Kupferberg reciting his “Who Calls The Tune Must Pay The Piper”, and Pete Seeger on banjo and guitar, illustrating the folk tradition of borrowed melodies. The film shows the 1961 “folk music” demonstrations, which were brought about by the city’s prohibition of live music in Washington Square Park, where Young and fellow natives protested for the rights of free assembly guaranteed by our Constitution- and won. I can tell you from personal experience that the singers – of some sort or another- are still there, with probably no idea of who to thank. Well, Izzy Young, now 87 and living in Stockholm, deserves thanks not only for that, but for ensuring that folk music and culture still exists and is nurtured today. Thank you Izzy. Wish I had been there.