In Delaware when I was younger, I would live a life obscene.
In the Spring I had great hunger, I was Brando, I was Dean
Loudon Wainwright III’s haunting "School Days" (1970) serves as summary statement for
the end of the folk era. The ballad, the penultimate track on this indispensable box, set sums up the idealism, hedonism, and innocence of a
generation about to move on to other things, other occupations, other dreams; it is one
last look back, a last reflection from the kaleidoscope that made up the social fabric of the
‘60s.Indeed, the entire collection gathered together as Washington Square Memoirs: the Great Urban Folk Boom (1950-1970) serves the same wonderful purpose. It is filled with the range, urgency, humor, and politics that characterized the burst of interest in the urban
music scene that followed in the wake of the postwar Beat Generation. It’s all here,
touched with an innocence hard to understand but glorious to remember, the musical testament of a time when we
all thought we were Brando, Dean, Keats, Blake, Buddha, and Christ (in Wainwright ‘s
words). Listen to Odetta, Houston, Reynolds, Terry, McGhee, and, of course, Guthrie.
The whole first generation is well represented, solidly intercut with the younger voices
that shaped the conscience of a generation: Baez, Ochs, Paxton, Anderson, Cohen, and that giant among peers, Bob Dylan. There's also plenty of fascinating collaborations: Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry on "Hard Travellin'" and Dylan playing harmonica behind Carolyn Hester on "Swing and Turn Jubilee," among them.
If you were there, this collection offers a welcome reflection, a mix of the
best. If you were not, this triple CD is as good a place to start as you are likely to find.
Urban legends, from Woody to Arlo, musically define a moment difficult to define and
impossible to forget. --Elena Simon