Orpheus on the Air #1

Folksinger's Choice was the name of a series broadcast on New York's venerable Pacifica Radio affiliate WBAI-FM during the heady and lawless days of what came to be known as the Folk Revival. It was hosted by Cynthia Gooding, herself a Folk singer of some note at the time, and gave its listeners an up-close and personal glimpse of their favorite Folk personalities (assuming that term is at all operative in this context) as they reconnected en masse with the lost vernacular of American culture. This was serious radio, children; no Murray the K or WMCA Good Guys here; no remotes from Jones Beach or Roosevelt Field, no payola lest it be in the coin of a marketable integrity.

The featured guest for this edition of Folksinger's Choice . . . recorded on March 11, 1962 (there is some dispute, however, as to whether it actually aired) . . . was a raw youth of some 20 summers named Bob Dylan. In the course of its 58 minutes, he sang 11 songs, opening with Hank Williams' Lonesome Whistle Blues and closing with Hard Times in New York Town, his own rather charming theft of The Bentley Boys' 1929 Columbia recording, Down on Penny's Farm (no doubt cadged from the grooves of Harry Smith's landmark Anthology of American Folk Music). In between numbers, Dylan speaks with characteristic frankness about his life up to that point: his boyhood journeys across the fruited plains or pastures of plenty or wherever, his years working carnivals (Woody Guthrie by way of Stanton Carlisle), and on and on. In other words, the latter day Okie routine he was selling the minute his feet hit the Manhattan pavement.

But soft . . . let us not dally in introduction any longer. As this recording attests, Bob Dylan at 20 was as consummate a performer as he was a fabulist (even when working the Folk music racket). I'm sure you'll all agree that hard-scrabble showmanship has rarely been given such graceful expression.

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