Talkin' Greenwich Village

The Heady Rise and Slow Fall of America’s Bohemian Music Capital

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By David Browne

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The definitive history of the rise and heyday of the revolutionary Greenwich Village music scene, based on new research and first-hand interviews with many of its legendary performers
 
Although Greenwich Village encompasses less than a square mile in downtown New York, rarely has such a concise area nurtured so many innovative artists and genres. Over the course of decades, Billie Holiday, the Weavers, Sonny Rollins, Dave Van Ronk, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Phil Ochs, and Suzanne Vega are just a few who migrated to the Village, recognizing it as a sanctuary for visionaries, non-conformists, and those looking to reinvent themselves. Working in the Village’s smokey coffeehouses and clubs, they chronicled the tumultuous Sixties, rewrote jazz history, and took folk and rock & roll into places they hadn’t been before.
 
Based on over 150 new interviews (Judy Collins, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Eric Andersen, Suzzy and Terre Roche, Suzanne Vega, Steve Forbert, Arlo Guthrie, John Sebastian, Shawn Colvin, the members of the Blues Project, and more), previously unseen documents, and author David Browne’s longtime immersion in the scene, Talkin’ Greenwich Village lends the saga the epic, panoramic scope it’s long deserved. It takes readers from the Fifties jamborees in Washington Square Park and into landmark venues like Gerde’s Folk City, the Gaslight Café, and the Village Vanguard, onto Dylan’s momentous arrival and returns, the no-holds-barred Seventies years (West Village discos, National Lampoon’s Lemmings), and the folk revival of the Eighties (Vega’s enduring “Tom’s Diner”).
 
In eye-opening fashion, Browne also details the often-overlooked people of color in the Sixties folk clubs, reveals how the FBI and city government consistently kept their eyes on the community, unearths the machinations behind the infamous “beatnik riot” in Washington Square Park, and tells the interconnected tales of Van Ronk, the seminal band the Blues Project, and the beloved sister trio, the Roches.
 
In also recounting the racial tensions, crackdowns, and changes in New York and music that infiltrated the neighborhood, Talkin’ Greenwich Village is more than just vivid cultural history. It also speaks to the rise and waning of bohemian culture itself, set to some of the most enduring lyrics, melodies, and jazz improvisations in American music.

  • ". . . a teeming history of Greenwich Village. . . . Steeped in music culture and lore, Browne offers a detailed, abundantly populated chronicle of a storied place and its creative, outspoken, driven inhabitants."
    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • “There have been numerous Greenwich Villages over the decades, several of them extant at any one time. David Browne knows them all, block by block, but he also knows their tales, told and untold, especially the musical ones, which his book divulges with unsentimental sympathy. It’s an amazing account of a singular place, a treat for every Villager whether in fact or in spirit.”
    Sean Wilentz, author of Bob Dylan in America and The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
  • “Deeply researched and deftly written, this entertaining chronicle of the Village music scene sheds light on groundbreaking performative genres: from the Beats’ spoken word to new forms of jazz, from the evolution of folk to plugged-in blues rock and punk. In the back rooms and on makeshift stages of coffeehouses and nightclubs, eccentricity and creativity flourish, while threats from city (and FBI) officials and disgruntled neighbors constantly hover. It’s a fascinating story!”
    Holly George-Warren, author of Janis: Her Life and Music and A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton
  • “I was one of countless Midwestern kids who grew up fantasizing about Greenwich Village, and David Browne reminded me why. Talkin’ Greenwich Village is a cultural, social, and—above all—musical history of the fabled neighborhood that’s known around the world as Ground Zero for generations of beatniks, hippies, and misfits. Thoroughly reported and lovingly told, Browne’s book chronicles the evolution of America’s bohemian paradise.”
    ALAN LIGHT, author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”
  • Talkin' Greenwich Village maps a matrix of artistry spanning generations and genres, with special focus on the ‘folk revival’ that launched Dylan and continues to revive itself in new shapes. You want to understand how deep and wide New York music history is? You need to spend time here.”
    Will Hermes, author of Lou Reed: The King of New York and Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York City That Changed Music Forever
  • “For most of the 20th century, Greenwich Village existed as a liberating antidote to mainstream American society. David Browne’s Talkin’ Greenwich Village is a masterful, incisive recounting of the fertile creative life south of 14th St. that transmitted cultural alternatives to the nation and the world.”
    Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead
  • “Not just a crackerjack music writer, David Browne is also a sharp-eyed cultural historian and social critic, and it's this combination of virtues that makes Talkin’ Greenwich Village such a bracing read. Browne's story of New York's folk and jazz communities, and the interwoven lives of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday and Shawn Colvin, among so many others, describes not just the music but the countercultural spirit that enlivened and then altered the course of American culture.” 
    PETER AMES CARLIN, author of Bruce and The Name of This Band Is R.E.M.

On Sale
Sep 17, 2024
Page Count
400 pages
Publisher
Hachette Books
ISBN-13
9780306827631

David Browne

About the Author

David Browne is a senior writer at Rolling Stone and the author of Fire and Rain and biographies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; the Grateful Dead; Sonic Youth; and Jeff and Tim Buckley. He lives in Manhattan.

Learn more about this author