April 16, 2021

Izzy Young dies, the great propagandist of folk music | Culture

Izzy Young dies, the great propagandist of folk music | Culture


Israel Goodman Young, better known as Izzy Young, died on Monday, February 4 at his home in Stockholm, Sweden, at the age of 90. Young was the most fervent publicist of folk music in New York City, with his radio programs on the WBAI radio station, his writings in the magazine Sing Out! and its famous Folklore Center, imitated in numerous cities. In his role as promoter of concerts, he organized the first recital of Bob Dylan in a room at Carnegie Hall. As it used to happen with his initiatives, it was a ruin: "We barely sold a few dozen tickets, but over the years I have met thousands of people who assured me they were there."

Izzy was born in 1928 on the New York Lower East Side, in a family of Polish Jews. He tried different trades until in 1957 he opened the Folklore Center at number 110 of MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village, the famous bohemian New York neighborhood. It was the meeting point of the growing community of folkies, which offered a combination of library and store where books, magazines, records, instruments and accessories were sold. A free space, with few rules: there was the prohibition of consuming marijuana, although the most rebellious smoked in the toilet.

Poster of Bob Dylan's first recital in New York, in 1961, organized by Izzy Young.
Poster of Bob Dylan's first recital in New York, in 1961, organized by Izzy Young.

In the Folklore Center informal presentations were developed and jam sessions. Young also staged performances at the nearby Gerde's Folk City and other venues, although he never managed to capitalize on his role as, today we would say, influencer. His vocation as an activist led him to organize the call beatnik riot, a loud demonstration in 1961 against the veto of music that anonymous people were doing in Washington Square (after a long battle in the courts, Izzy got the derogation of that municipal ordinance). He also prided himself on being responsible for the first concert against the Vietnam War that took place in Manhattan.

Aesthetically, he was a purist, radically opposed to the entry of electrical instruments. Even though Bob Dylan gave him songs, including a nice one talking blues about the Folklore Center, they broke relations when the Minnesota one went to rock and dragged the rest of the movement. With time, there was an approach. Dylan portrayed him warmly in his memoir, Chronicles. And Young applauded the Nobel award, although he typically recriminated the Academy that it was too late, having already exceeded its creative peaks.

The boom of commercial folk he felt very bad: suffered unwanted effects, such as the invasion of strangers who stole from his store. He moved the Folklore Center to the less dangerous Sixth Avenue and, personally, devoted himself to exploring other musical traditions. Fascinated by Swedish folk, he caused the consternation of his friends when, at the beginning of the seventies, he left his New York apartment (an enviable bargain, with a monthly rent of 75 dollars) and settled in Sweden, opening in Stockholm the Folklore Centrum , with the same premises of the original premises.

Although late, the awards would come for their work. They met their writings, under the title of The awareness of folk revival. Swedish television shot a documentary, Talking Folklore Center, who presented him visiting New York and considering if it would be possible in the years of Reagan a similar initiative. Apart from musicians, he spoke on camera with former clients of the Folklore Center, from the poet Allen Ginsberg to Ed Koch, then mayor of the city. The latter recognized the gentrification of Greenwich Village, although he attributed part of the responsibility to the singers, painters and writers who, when they became millionaires, did not invest anything in preserving the spirit of the creative community.

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