FOLK LEGENDS PART I © 2010 Dakini Verona
It’s a tossup right now, do I write about the most boring folk legend I have had the pleasure of meeting or about the most humble one that I have met?
I can tell you they both left an impression on me. Funny, now that I think back on those encounters, they both occurred in either a hotel or motel room (NO.. none of it involved sex.) Drugs.. well, yes. In fact, hell yes! And of course, there was rock and roll. Or more truthfully, folk rock.
The two artist I am referring to are Arlo Guthrie and Art Garfunkle.
Yes, they were both stars in back the day (folk music), they both were young at the time, both did some acting on the big screen and both were extremely talented and successful musically. Both from New York, both living in shadows. Arlo had his father Woody and Art had his partner Paul Simon. Yet, the similarities end there.
I can’t pin down the date, but I do believe it was 1972. I had hitchhiked home to New York from California because I wanted to enjoy my 18th birthday by going into a bar and drinking legally, for the first time. The drinking age in New York was still only 18 during that time. My parents were vacationing in Florida and I was able to take over the house in Palenville, New York. Palenville is a very small town and its only claim to fame was that it is featured in the Rip Van Winkle story. The town, if you can call it that, is located at the base of the road leading to Hunter Mountain ski resorts. However, for me, the most important fact about Palenville is that it was a short drive down the back roads to get to the village of Woodstock.
I had been spending as much free time in the village as I could. I loved it there. The rich smell of the earth under leaves that are wet from the spring showers. I had been on the road for so long that I simply forgot about how rich the soil smelled. Woodstock was like a mecca for the lost souls like me. the ones that dropped out of society, the ones that rebelled against the social norms. The level of comfort and safety which I felt in that town was unparallel. It was unlike anywhere else I had traveled. Maybe it was because it was the one place that I only associated with good memories. No trauma. Only happy thoughts. I just wanted to paint the picture of this sleepy little town, that in spite of its appearance, was a gathering place for others just like me. A hang out. A place to fit in. I often walked the dark deserted sidewalks with only the stars and moon to light my way. Never once did I feel any threat, from man or beast.
It was on one of those days, and I just so happened to be sitting in a small coffee shop off of Tinker Street.
I was not much of a coffee drinker in those days, mostly I sipped hot spiced cider through a cinnamon stick. Loved the way the cider vapors tickled and warmed my nose and the way the cinnamon slightly burned my lips and tongue. Those sticks were great, they lasted the whole night and extended the time between me having to buy more drinks. I often was able buy only one cup for the entire evening. Sometimes I would indulge in an espresso. The coffee houses then did served the luscious and rich liquid in demitasse cups, the traditional Italian way. The only way I could get it down was to load up with brown sugar and cream. Trouble was, I could chug one of those sweet drinks down in under 30 seconds and then I was left with nothing for the rest of the night. So, the best bet for me was to stick to the cider.
Those days and nights in the coffee houses were so full of excitement and splendor, yet I felt an uncanny calm whenever I was in the village. The coffee houses were special gathering places. Freaks, hippies, artists, rock stars, folk singers.. all of us were ‘brothers and sisters’. We were family, simply by stepping through the door. As a young and naïve girl who so desperately wanted to fit in with that scene, I would spend hours sipping cider through my cinnamon stick straw and smoking my Marlboros. Yes, smoking was legal in the coffee houses and smoking was legal for kids too. The tobacco companies had a hold on us, mostly due to the greasing of the palms of those in power.
Anyway, back to the story. So, on this lazy afternoon, sitting alone, I watched. I spent a lot more time watching others than I did talking. I was quiet, actually that is not quite true. It was more like withdrawn. I kept to myself. Probably from all the trauma, as a way of protecting myself somehow. “If I don’t talk to anyone, they don’t see me and I therefore, I don’t get hurt.” Strange philosophy, but it must have worked to some degree, because I did survive.
I was alone in this crowded room, lulled by the drone of voices which filled the air, mimicking the smoky cloud which hovered near the ceiling. Suddenly, an unnatural silence spread throughout the entire room. I had been sitting with my back to the door, facing the small make shift stage, when I felt, more than saw, that all eyes had turned to the door in unison. I turned to see what or who was captured in their gaze. It was none other than folk legend, Art Garfunkle. He awkwardly stood in the doorway, flanked by two featureless figures that blended into the smoky haze.
The three of them entered the room, ignoring the electric energy generated by their appearance. They could not help but to slight brush against me as they walked by in the crowded room. I had been so lost in my own world I didn’t notice how the room had filled. There were very few seats left open. Just my luck, there were seats at my table. The older cat (I was 18) sitting next to me was apparently waiting for Art, at least that was what I was able to observe. They defiantly knew each other, which was demonstrated by the friendly greeting of shaking hands, followed by a the brother type hug, which broke the tradition of our fathers who had issues with personal space.
I was sitting close enough to follow the conversation, yet I was so overwhelmed by the mere presence of this “legend” that what was transpiring seemed rather trivial. The small make-shift stage was set up in the center of the room and a performer began to play guitar and sing. This distracted the business dealings and all conversation ceased in respect of the singer. I guess it was artist courtesy, something not everyone follows these days. When the music stopped for a short break, the business conversation resumed, but only momentarily. I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.
The cat next to me turned and asked me if I wanted to join them for a smoke.
I knew that they were not talking about Marlboro cigarettes! I was overly flattered. Looking back on that situation, I know there were rituals which we all followed. Always share was one of them. It was considered extremely rude to not share your drugs to those around you. Even with perfect strangers. Now, I was not perfect, but many would say I was strange. I also think they invited me because it would draw less suspicion. Two guys going into a hotel room alone can only mean something illegal was about to happen. Add a cute young chick into the mix and it seems more innocent. At least, to the uneducated bystander or local cop (which were sometimes one in the same). Regardless, I was not going to hesitate and eagerly accepted with a silent nod of my head as I rose from my chair.
My mind raced as I tagged alone behind: “why did they ask me? Far out? Really? Really? Me.. I am walking with Art Garfunkle, going to share some weed!”
I remember looking up from below at the old wooden structure that had been converted to a hotel to provide rooms for out of town travelers. The architecture was typical of that before the turn of the century. Very commonly found in communities which were settled more than a hundred years in the past. The front porch was just like that of my grandpa’s summer house outside of Palenville: a few steps leading up to a large covered patio with lots of room for guests. I spent many a days hanging out on the railings of that porch, watching the grass grow. I would have loved nothing more than to sit on this porch, holding the hands of someone special and listen to the music wafting across the road from the coffee house.
This old building was more like a boarding house than a hotel. When you entered the double doors in the front, you immediately were inside the foyer where you had a choice of climbing the stairs leading up to the guest’s rooms or entering any one of the doors which led to a few local business offices . The stairwell was dark and narrow and the steps themselves were the type you find in a home, not a hotel. This led me to believe that this was once a large home converted to commercial use. The stairs were very solid, in spite of their age, but they still creaked under the weight of our feet as we followed Art to the top.
The narrow hall was dimly lit with a few sparse wall sconces, it didn’t help that the mahogany room doors were darkened with aged lacquer. The light was almost sucked up preventing us from seeing clearly. Art turned to the right and fumbled with the room key. The door opened and the afternoon sun burst into the hall. We entered the room. The center of focus was two large westerly facing windows. The heavy drapes had been pulled aside letting the afternoon spring sunshine to drift in, creating a surreal, yet artistic setting.
Two twin size beds formed a broken L shape, one near the door and the other against the far wall. I sat down next to that cat from the coffee house on the bed closest to the door, and Art walked over to an old oak dresser, pulling out a stash from inside one of the drawers. He then sat on the other bed, preparing the joint. We smoked that joint and then, once the familiar blanket warmed me from the inside out with the glow only known to those that have indulged in smoking marijuana. Drugs, the great equalizer. Instant comrades. Connecting to others – bringing everyone to the same playing field.
Once we stoned we all were a bit more at ease. They talked about music, it was their business, I was just the tag-a-long. Just there to keep them company for awhile. I listened as they collaborated on some new ventures, Art talking about wanting to get out from under the shadow and control of his partner, Paul Simon. I was more interested in watching the interaction than to understand the words.
I considered myself a student of life and in welcomed the opportunity to be in this unique situation (unique to me, anyway). I had experience fitting in, or at least not making a fool of myself. Came from years of watching my dad use his special talents in sales. I found a way to be comfortable around people regardless of their position in life, be they a famous folk legend, or a bum in the street. I know how to connect. It is one of my god given talents, I guess. Again, I think it was more a learned skill. A great survival technique and got me in a lot of doors that I might otherwise not have been able to get through.
I was so impressed with Art’s gentle soul. His words were sincere and soft, even as his eyes showed a lot of pain. If you have ever listened to his music, you know his pain. It was his cross to bear, but also his greatest gift.
The next thing I knew, we were back at the coffee house. That was all it was. No more. No less. Just getting high with a very special soul.
Now on to the darker side of folk, in a town far, far away, in a very similar setting.. another hotel, another folk hero but a very different experience, the one I refer to as Bored with Arlo.