“The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village” by John Strausbaugh— The First Complete History of “The Village”

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Strausbaugh, John. “The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village”, Ecco, 2013.

The First Complete History of “The Village”

Amos Lassen

If there is an influential and infamous neighborhood of New York City it is unquestionably Greenwich Village. It is surprising that until now that has been no complete history of it. Beginning with the Dutch settlers we get here not only the history of the village but the history of this country as we read of Washington Square patricians, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and Prohibition-era speakeasies Abstract Expressionism and beatniks Stonewall and AIDS. Such names as
 Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mark Twain, Margaret Sanger, Eugene O’Neill, Marcel Duchamp, Upton Sinclair, Willa Cather, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jackson Pollock, Anais Nin, Edward Albee, Charlie Parker, W. H. Auden, Woody Guthrie, James Baldwin, Maurice Sendak, E. E. Cummings, and Bob Dylan all played a part of the Village’s history.

The Village is America’s bohemia and we become aware of how much the neighborhood has contributed to the arts and culture of this country and the book contains fascinating stories. The concept of individual freedom has come out of the neighborhood and we recognize it as the place that gave definition to the words freedom, self-expression, creativity, and activism. Non-conformity is the term best used to describe it and from the Village to the rest of the world came the gift of culture. Ideas were developed and art was created on the narrow streets and the lofts where genius was born and nurtured. Names such as Poe, Whitman, Cather, Baldwin, Kerouac, Mailer, Ginsberg, O’Neill, Pollock, La Guardia, Koch, Hendrix, and Dylan are synonymous with Greenwich Village yet they also belong to the world. It has been the home of those who did not fit into the fabric of America yet became the thread that sewed this nation together.

From “half-free” Africans to working-class immigrants, from artists to politicians—for almost four hundred years the Village has provided this country with ideas and art, music and literature. John Strausbaugh gives us from the time that it was a frontier in the 1600s until the present. Of course, we cannot forget that together with San Francisco, the gay rights movement began here. Part IV, “The Last Hurrah” is about just that. Now it is a bedroom community for the wealthy and a tourist attraction for visitors to the city. Its history is our history and Strausbaugh makes that history a fun and entertaining read. When you next hear that wonderful verse of Walt Whitman’s, “I hear American history” you will remember that the music to accompany it is made up of the sounds of life of Greenwich Village.

 

If you’ve lived in the Village or visited, your own memories will hold you at the epicenter a resounding tale that grows into a full tour-de-force hurricane of personalities and action so exactingly researched that only the choicest details seem to have made it to print. If you missed the Village, explore its winding, off-the-grid streets and alleys now, as its lowliest of characters and most highly acclaimed, relive personal moments under Strausbaugh’s vivid orchestration. And whether the concert takes place late at night at the Cedar Tavern, during Mailer’s debilitating mornings after (his book being declared a bestseller) and his labored birthing of the Village Voice, at the back door of the Golden Rule Pleasure Club, with Marcel Duchamp and friends atop the Washington Arch declaring the independence of the “Republic of Greenwich Village,” or entering a dark, rat-infested west end shed at the end of crumbling pier 46, you’ll become… overwhelmed by experiences rendered in so off-the-cuff a style that they always take you by surprise”.

 

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