I started to go down to the Greenwich Village area more often in Fall 1966 on weekend evenings to listen to other folksingers. The Pinewoods Folk Club was very active at this time and it sponsored cheap Friday night folk music events in churches and at NYU’s Loeb Student Center in Washington Square.
I continued to practice guitar and folk songs and write more folk songs in my dorm room, as a form of relaxation, self-expression and emotional release. I no longer wrote plays and my creative writing was limited to folk songwriting. Yet I still attempted to interest Columbia University Professor of Dramatic Literature Bentley in looking over my A Ball In A Basket and The Barrier plays, but he was too busy.
At this time, I wrote a song called “Mr. John,” which expressed my desire to break out of my anonymous, alienated, routinized student life into the more exciting world of folk music concert performer circles. And I wrote a song called “Girl With the Scarf” for Beth, which began with the following lyrics:
Girl with the scarf
I knew you from the start
‘Cause your eyes echoed mine in your search…
(Women college students didn’t object to being called “girls” or “chicks” at the time I wrote this song).
I also wrote a love song for Nancy which contained the following lyrics:
You’ve got such long blond hair
And a mind so rare
And the words you utter
Come through so clear
And I did realize
When you sat so near
That my heart was warning:
`Look out! Beware!’
I bought more guitar strings, a harmonica, a guitar strap, a new capo and a few songbooks at a music store on West 96th St., between Broadway and West End Ave. A friendly guy worked there who encouraged me in my musical ambitions. I mistakenly assumed that, with the songs I had already written, I was, instantly, going to be invited to cut a folk music record which would enable me to escape from the whole Columbia academic scene of bullshit, overnight. But I still lacked the contacts required to make that kind of jump into the U.S. music business and entertainment industry, as well as, perhaps, the required talent.
November 1966 came. I traveled out to Evanston, Illinois by car with my mother, father and sister to attend my first cousin’s Bar Mitzvah reception at the Hotel Orrington in downtown Evanston.
My mother had grown up in poverty in Chicago during the Great Depression. Her father, William Snitovsky, was a Russian-born ice delivery truck driver who worked on an irregular basis during the 1930s. In the late 1940s, he found a union job at the Chicago Tribune, loading newspapers onto delivery trucks between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. each night. He kept this job until the sickness of old age made it impossible for him to work anymore by the late 1960s.
Her mother, Jenny, was an Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Lithuania who had arrived in the States a few months after the Titanic sank. In Fall 1966 my mother’s sister, an elementary schoolteacher, was living in an old house in Skokie, Illinois. She had previously lived near Wrigley Field in Chicago. My aunt’s husband was a Bell & Howell factory worker.
I explored Evanston and Northwestern University’s campus when I wasn’t attending my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah events that weekend. I also spent some time in my family’s hotel room in Evanston reading for my political science course from an anthology of Lenin’s writings. It was in this hotel room in Evanston that I first read Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism work that he wrote during World War I.
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
8 years ago