The Village

villageThe Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village
John Strausbaugh
HarperCollins, 640 pages
Kindle Edition  $13.59, Amazon Hardcover  $21.45

This is a substantial work, as you can tell from the page count. It is also fascinating and readable. Strausbaugh traces the history of Greenwich Village from its days as a rural village in pre-revolutionary New Amsterdam to the present day. He covers how the Village developed and changed from those first days through the American Revolution, the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Beat era, the Sixties and on to the start of the twenty-first century.

Most everyone who had a touch of the rebel in them spent time in Greenwich Village. He talks about Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman in the nineteenth century. He quotes extensively from Malcolm Cowley in the first part of the twentieth century. He describes W.H. Auden’s years in New York City in the World War II era (and before and after), and provided some tidbits about Auden’s horrid housekeeping habits not included in an entire book devoted to the subject. (I mean a book devoted to Auden’s years in the United States, not to his housekeeping habits.) He explains the relationship Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac had to the Village, and describes the rise of the Village Voice, and how it became a national publication, no longer focused on that specific location.

There were surprises. Jean Shepherd was a radio broadcaster in Greenwich Village long before hosting the mawkish (to my mind) PBS series Jean Shepherd’s America in the 1970’s. Shel Silverstein wrote the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue” based on Shepherd’s stories of the teasing he received as a boy with that name.

Strausbaugh makes clear that Greenwich Village was always a tourist spot, and that there were always entrepreneurs ready to exploit that.

A long book, but well worth the investment of time.

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