The Cafe Why Not didn’t stand; it lurked below ground level opposite the Cafe Wha in New York’s Greenwich Village. The Wha took in crowds and lit up that corner of Bleecker and McDougal, the Why Not was, just what it appeared to be, a dark hole in the ground. I checked only a few years ago, and the location remains much the same as it was the last time I performed there in April of 1965. The stairs down just as dingy and dark.
There were three rough tiers of Folk coffeehouses in the Village. At the upper range were places like Gerdes Folk City. The next level included the Wha. Near the bottom were places like the Why Not.
Performing at places like those was not a living, but it was a way of life. In my day gig, I tried to sell timeclocks and supplies in the Garment District. Among ourselves, we didn’t share the details of those other lives. They weren’t real. Only our seven PM to six AM reality mattered. Between gigs, we assembled at places like Cafe Rienzi, Figaro, Kettle of Fish, or the bar at the Minetta Tavern. Conversations never featured mundane life, only how the songs we were working on were going. Real-life crept in in the form of where we were going to squat for the night if we were currently homeless, money because, at our tier, we always needed it, and, for some drugs- gaining access.
The Folk scene in Greenwich Village was my life from the fall of 1963 to just after the Easter of 1965. One night at Rienzi, I fell a bit too much in love with songs about being on the road. And, I decided to slip into another life. Back in the music room, I sang my last song in Greenwich Village, Fred Neil’s Blues on the Ceiling. By three AM, I was on my way to Boston. I didn’t return.
One night about three years ago, I was noodling around with the guitar. My hands fell into a chord pattern and a pick that I once used frequently. What the hell was that song? The internet helped, and soon I was listening to Fred Neil’s album Bleecker and McDougall. Looking at the album cover, it seemed as though it was me walking with my guitar to the next gig in ’65.