The Gaslight Cafe was an American coffee house located in the basement of 116 MacDougal Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York City. The Gaslight (alternatively known as "The Village Gaslight") opened in 1958 and was a well known venue for folk music and other musical acts, until it closed in 1971
There is currently (September - June, 2012) a revival of the Village Gaslight with Sheriff Bob's Gaslight Revival presenting concerts the 2nd and 4th Tuesday and Bob Porco presenting a concert series on Saturdays nights, dubbing them a "Friends of Mike Porco Production"
The Gaslight was originally a "basket house" where unpaid performers would pass around a basket at the end of each set and hope to be paid. Opened in 1958 by John Mitchell, the dark, steamy, subterranean Gaslight had showcased beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso but later became a folk-music club. Clarence Hood bought the club in 1961, and he and his son Sam managed the club through the late 1960s. Ed Simon, the owner of another popular Village coffeehouse, The Four Winds, reopened the Gaslight in 1968. The club was run by Betty Smyth (who is the mother of Scandal lead singer Patty Smyth), and blues guitarist/performer Susan Martin until its closing in 1971.
Among those who performed at the Gaslight were Bill Cosby; Bob Dylan; Luke Faust, a five-string banjo player and singer who sang Appalachian ballads; Len Chandler; John Wynn, who played gut-string guitar and sang folk songs in an operatic voice; Paul Clayton; Luke Askew; Wavy Gravy; and in 1972, Bruce Springsteen. 1964–1966 saw many early performances by Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, The Greenbriar Boys, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Dave Van Ronk.
The first public "electric" appearance of The Blues Project (with Danny Kalb) took place at the club. Mississippi John Hurt played there. Jimi Hendrix sat in one night at the Gaslight with John Hammond, Jr.
An array of musicians also performed at the club in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Odetta, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bonnie Raitt, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Mama Thornton, Link Wray, Mimi Farina, jazz musician Charles Mingus, Happy Traum and Artie Traum, Doug Kershaw, Bob Neuwirth, David Bromberg, David Buskin, Janis Siegel (who later joined The Manhattan Transfer), and others. Folk musician and actor Gil Robbins worked as the club's manager during the late 1960s.
The club was next door and down the stairs from the street-level bar called the Kettle of Fish, a bar where many performers hung out between sets. Some nights the bar the (Kettle of Fish) was "locked" down to the public because a young "reclusive" singer and poet was in attendance...Bob Dylan. Also next door was the Folklore Center, a bookstore/record store owned by Izzy Young and notable for being a musicians' gathering place and center of the New York folk-music scene. Live at The Gaslight 1962 (2005), a single CD release including ten songs from early Dylan performances at the club, was released by Columbia Records.
In the Folk Music Encyclopedia, Kristin Baggelaar and Donald Milton wrote "The Gaslight was weird then because there were air shafts up to the apartments and the windows of the Gaslight would open into the air shafts, so when people would applaud, the neighbors would get disturbed and call the police. So then the audience couldn't applaud; they had to snap their fingers instead."
Brian Fallon, lead singer and guitarist of The Gaslight Anthem has explained in several interviews that the band's name came from The Gaslight Cafe as he had heard it was one of the first places that Bob Dylan had played and liked the sound of the word and the imagery it brought about.
“The trouble with fashions is you want to fuck the women in their fashions but when the time comes they always take them off so they don't get wrinkled. Face it, the really great fucks in a man's life was when there was no time to take yr clothes off, you were too hot and she was too hot - none of yr Bohemian leisure, this was middleclass explosions against snowbanks, against walls of shithouses in attics, on sudden couches in the lobby - Talk about yr hot peace.” ― Jack Kerouac, Book of Sketches
Allen Ginsberg, “William Burroughs” (1953), gelatin silver print, 4 x 6 in. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved; all images courtesy Grey Art Gallery)From 1953 to 1963 — a period that corresponds with the publication of his most celebrated works — Allen Ginsberg snapped photographs of his cohort of soon-to-be famous friends. These shots weren’t intended for exhibition; they were mementos, thrown in the back of a drawer. He unearthed them two decades later and had copies made, in the borders of which he scrawled relevant details in felt-tip pen. It is these photographs, amended with shots from the ’80s and ’90s, that are on display at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.
For those of us who cherish the work of the Beats, there’s much to enjoy in this exhibition. William Burroughs turns up often: brooding, sagely, the “invisible man” who crossed the Earth a dozen times over in search of obscure psychedelics. Neal Cassady, the real-life Dean Moriarty, stands boastful and broad-shouldered, with the carved hyper-masculine face of a boxer; he is never looking at the camera and is always in motion. And Jack Kerouac: It’s remarkable how much of his woebegone writing voice is captured in these images. Those expecting to see a new side of the Beats, as I was, will be disappointed. The photographs do not challenge our impression of the subjects as gleaned from Beat literature; they confirm them.
In that sense, it’s difficult to divorce these pictures from what we know about their subjects. Exhibitions of this nature can easily become mawkish affairs; often, we feel nostalgia for a time we’ve never known, some golden chapter never to be replicated. And this is certainly part of the appeal of the show.
Allen Ginsberg, “Gregory Corso, his attic room 9 Rue Gît-le-Coeur, wooden angel hung from wall right, window looked on courtyard and across Seine half-block away to spires of St. Chapelle on Ile St. Louis. Gregory’s Gasoline was ready at City Lights, in attic he prepared ‘Marriage,’ ‘Power,’ ‘Army,’ ‘Police,’ ‘Hair’ and ‘Bomb’ for ‘Happy Birthday of Death’ book. Henri Michaux visited, liked Corso’s ‘mad children of soda-caps’ phrasing. Burroughs came from Tangier to live one flight below, shaping ‘Naked Lunch’ manuscript, Peter Orlovsky and I had window on street two flights downstairs, room with two-burner gas stove, we ate together often, rent $30 a month. I’d begun Kaddish litany, Peter his ‘Frist Poem.’” (1956), gelatin silver print, printed 1984–97, 14 x 14 in. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved)
Another delight is a wonderfully intimate picture of Burroughs and Kerouac on a couch in a cluttered New York apartment. They’re lit from the right of the frame by a few naked lightbulbs and are seated close together, nearly touching. Burroughs, several years the senior, is mid-sentence, gesturing with a hand with a cigarette between his fingers; Kerouac is pensive, listening with great intent. It’s a revealing shot: In it we see not only a time and place, but also a glimpse of the true content of their relationship.
Allen Ginsberg, “‘Now Jack as I warned you far back as 1945, if you keep going home to live with your ‘Memère’ you’ll find yourself wound tighter and tighter in her apron strings till you’re an old man and can’t escape …’ William Seward Burroughs camping as an André Gide-ian sophisticate lecturing the earnest Thomas Wolfean All-American youth Jack Kerouac who listens soberly dead-pan to ‘the most intelligent man in America’ for a funny second’s charade in my living room 206 East 7th Street Apt 16, Manhattan, one evening Fall 1953.” (1953), gelatin silver print, printed 1984–97, 11 1/8 x 17 3/8 in. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved)
A splendid shot of the poet Peter Orlovsky, in 1980, shows him standing at the gravesite of James Joyce, in Zurich. It’s snowing, and Orlovsky is wearing a baggy parka, peering over the shoulder of a sculpture of Joyce, which is partially out of the frame. The poet looks timid, afraid to interrupt the genius who helped create the literary tradition of which he was now part.
Allen Ginsberg, “Peter Orlovsky at James Joyce’s grave, Zurich Switzerland December 1980, we climbed up the cemetery and found Joyce’s statue snowcovered, brushed it off his head.” (1980), gelatin silver print, printed 1984–97, 7 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. Collection of Gary S. Davis (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved)
My favorite photograph in the exhibition is of Harry Smith, the eccentric archivist who compiled the “American Anthology of Folk Music.” He, too, is seated a table, which is littered with empty Chinese takeout boxes, dirty plates, Styrofoam cups and soy sauce packets. He looks impossibly old and exhausted; Ginsberg’s notes indicate it is 3 a.m. Smith’s forehead is in his hand, his elbow on the table, and without the pillar of his brittle arm, he looks like he would collapse.
Unlike the ’60s shots, there’s no joy here. Where once was drug- and religion-induced ecstasy, we now see quiet resilience. The storm has passed, and Orlovsky, Carr, and Smith have all made it in their respective fields, you could say. But each picture suggests something lost along the way. Whether they’re peering over the shoulder of a lost literary giant, or continuing to live after taking another’s life, or sitting exhausted in a graveyard of take-out containers, the years have taken a toll on these men.
Allen Ginsberg. “Allen Ginsberg” (1955), gelatin silver print, 2 3/4 x 4 in. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved)
These photos notwithstanding, the pictures from the ’80s and ’90s greatly enhance the emotional power of the exhibition. If it had only featured the shots from the ’50s and ’60s, we would be forgiven for thinking that everyone remains young and beautiful, that no one went bald or died. It would be hollow, telling us nothing of the reality of fame. The 20 years that separate the two sections are an eternity; no longer hungry for recognition or drunk on newfound acclaim, the Ginsberg of the ’80s has grown accustomed to being a beloved genius. But how many peers had been lost to the pressures and temptations of fame? Our last shot of Kerouac, from 1964, is harrowing; we see what that success did to him. Ginsberg, on the other hand, managed to endure, growing into his celebrity. This temporal quality, the evolution of a man, makes the exhibition greater than the sum of its parts.
Allen Ginsberg, “Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C., he looked by then like his late father, red-faced corpulent W.C. Fields shuddering with mortal horror, grimacing on D.M.T. I’d brought back from visiting Timothy Leary of Millbrook Psychedelic Community, Fall 1964.” (1964), gelatin silver print, printed 1984–97, 11 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis (© 2012 Allen Ginsberg LLC, all rights reserved)
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don't mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don't sing
all the time
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn't half bad
if it isn't you
Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen
and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to
Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling
I ran up six flights of stairs
to my small furnished room
opened the window
and began throwing out
those things most important in life
First to go, Truth, squealing like a fink:
‘Don’t! I’ll tell awful things about you!’
‘Oh yeah! Well, I’ve nothing to hide… OUT!’
Then went God, glowering & whimpering in amazement:
‘It’s not my fault! I’m not the cause of it all!’ ‘OUT!’
Then Love, cooing bribes: ‘You’ll never know impotency!
All the girls on Vogue covers, all yours!’
I pushed her fat ass out and screamed:
‘You always end up a bummer!’
I picked up Faith Hope Charity
all three clinging together:
‘Without us you’ll surely die!’
‘With you I’m going nuts! Goodbye!’
The Beauty… ah, Beauty—
As I led her to the window
I told her: ‘You I loved the best in life
…but you’re a killer; Beauty kills!’
Not really meaning to drop her
I immediately ran downstairs
getting there just in time to catch her
‘You saved me!’ she cried
I put her down and told her: ‘Move on.’
Went back up those six flights
went to the money
there was no money to throw out.
The only thing left in the room was Death
hiding beneath the kitchen sink:
‘I’m not real!’ It cried
‘I’m just a rumor spread by life…’
Laughing I threw it out, kitchen sink and all
and suddenly realized Humor
was all that was left—
All I could do with Humor was to say:
‘Out the window with the window!’
If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, "It's beautiful
here by this pond.I wish
somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
and ask yourself, "I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond?It seems like
a perfect place for them."