I made my first foray into the exotic streets of Greenwich Village one poignant and unforgettable summer night in 1954. Sixteen, Bronx-bred and a junior counsellor at a summer camp in Connecticut, I had started learning the guitar some months before and was getting reasonably good at it. Some of the older counsellors had also discovered folk music, and I became the kid who could accompany them when they sang songs around the campfire or in the mess hall after the dishes were cleared away. These more mature college students (they were probably 18 or 19) were smart, rebellious proto-beatniks from Brandeis University, into poetry, politics, foreign films and “Catcher in the Rye.” I idolized them and longed for their acceptance; I suspect they made me into a mascot of sorts.
One night, after lights out, three of them decided to make a dangerously illicit road trip to the city, a two-hour drive from camp. They jumped into a late-‘40s Plymouth jalopy, pulled me into the car with them and took off into the night. Windows down, summer breezes blowing in our hair, we laughed and sang at the top of our lungs and thrilled to the joy of escape all the way to New York.
We pulled into the Village at 10:30 or 11, parked the car and ambled through the quiet streets. We ordered cappuccinos (my first) at Cafe Rienzi on MacDougal near Bleeker, peered into the darkened shop windows and breathed the fresh air of bohemia. Around midnight, we wandered into a near-deserted Washington Square. There, sitting on the edge of the dry fountain in the middle of the park, were two guys playing nylon-strung, classical-style guitars. They both wore horn-rimmed glasses and their dark hair fell over their foreheads in fringe-like bangs, a style that shouted “different” to me. A warm, fragrant summer breeze blew as they fingerpicked their two guitars in sweet harmony, playing drone-like basses and Scottish-sounding melodies to ballads I had not heard before. I was transfixed by the sounds and by the sight of the two friends playing only for themselves (and us) in the empty park. It never occurred to me to say anything to them. After a while we made our way to the waiting car and to the long road back to camp.
It was several years later, with the memory of that night still indelible in my mind, that I discovered who the two guys were: Raphael (Ray) Boguslav and Dick Greenhaus, two folksong enthusiasts and guitar players who were among the earliest folk revivalists. Their gentle sounds never made it big on the airwaves or concert halls as far as I know, but they still resonate in my mind, sixty years later.