• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Izzy Young: A folk man in Sweden defined by Dylan

Gabriel Stein · 15 Feb 2010, 13:44

Published: 15 Feb 2010 13:44 GMT+01:00

Forty-nine years after organizing Bob Dylan's first concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York City, Izzy Young still promotes, but he is a long way from the Big Apple, and the likes of Bob Dylan.

Right at this moment, he is sitting at a little wooden table in his Folklore Centrum near Mariatorget in Södermalm. He wears an old flannel shirt buttoned to the neck. He is looking onto the snowy street, his hands wrapped around a coffee mug. Young is considered one of the most important movers and shakers of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the sixties.

"I want to be recognized for what I do," says the 81-year-old, New York City native. "I work with Swedish music."

Back in 1957, he borrowed $1,000 to open the Folklore Center on MacDougal street in the bustling heart of Greenwich Village. It quickly became the hub for the American folk music scene.

Since then he has presented the debut concerts for hundreds of musicians, many of whom are now famous, such as Patti Smith, Emmylou Harris and Tim Buckley. On November 4th 1961, Young lost over $200 promoting Dylan's first concert, but he was able to persuade the 19-year-old to accept $10 in pay for his efforts.

Then in 1973, together with his French girlfriend, Young moved to Stockholm, in part, he says, because she wanted to, but also because he had fallen in love with Swedish folk music and he needed to get out of New York.

"When I was here the first time, I thought Sweden was utopia," explains Young. "I said, 'I don't want to die in New York, I'd rather die in Stockholm.' I mean look at these windows. It's a luxury to sit here. There's no bars, you can't get that in New York City."

Despite diabetes and a bit of a forward slouch, Young is full of energy. Every few minutes he percolates up out of his seat to show me a picture of his father’s bakery in the Bronx or a letter he has received from Dylan’s office.

He still presents concerts at the Folklore Centrum, which is the size of a small studio apartment. Here, floor-to-ceiling shelves overflow with folk music stuff; pamphlets, folders, books and who-knows-what-else. He has an extensive library on all types of folk, world, blues, Jewish and other types of music. He also publishes a newsletter seven times a year on the Swedish folk music scene. It costs 140 kronor per year and has about 3,000 subscribers.

In many ways, this son of Jewish, Polish immigrants picked the wrong country. He is a brazen New Yorker. He likes engagement, discussion and provocation, an attitude which clashes with reserved Swedes who avoid small talk, eye contact and confrontation.

"It's sad that Swedes don't come to see me...they can't deal with me," says Young. "Swedes come in and they say, 'what do you do here?' People don't understand. It's främmande. It looks strange to them. To have books on Sweden, in Sweden, they're not used to it."

If you can get beyond Young's complaints and his hard exterior -- and that is a big if -- you will find a good-natured man. Three and a half hours, two cinnamon buns and a pot of coffee into our one-hour interview, I realized that he likes to tell stories. He talked about the haze which emanated from his bathroom on MacDougal street, how he led square dances at resorts in Upstate New York (think Dirty Dancing) and how he was scared to death of Patti Smith when "she was a kid because she was such a damn revolutionary force.”

If only words and memories were money. Young is apparently broke in real life and is living in a 36 square metre apartment in Fredhäll. "You know, it's a first apartment for someone who just got out of high school in Sweden," he says, laughing. "For me, it will be my last apartment."

In one instant, like a Zen master who has figured out the meaning of life, he displays pride for never sacrificing his love of folk music to make a good living. But in the next breath he sings a sad song of regret and exploitation.

"Everyone wants to record me, have me speak for them, journalists want to interview me, but no one wants to pay me,” he says. “If I recorded everything I heard it would be worth millions of dollars today."

He does, however, possess a few material treasures. Somewhere in a bank vault in Stockholm lie two original manuscripts of Dylan songs which Dylan gave to Young more than 40 years ago.

He has been offered tens of thousands of dollars for the "Talking Folklore Center" manuscript, which he says was hanging on the wall by a tack in his store in Greenwich Village for twenty years. But he won't sell it. It is not his style. "I never earned $10,000 a year in my life, so it doesn't change anything for me to sell it now," he says.

The other manuscript, "Go Away You Bomb Go Away", is a talking blues song which Dylan wrote in 1963 when he was 22. Young rediscovered it in his archives and published it for the first time in 2007.

Story continues below…

Young is irritated with parts of the past and lots of the present, but he seems to live in the now, and appears to be happy. He doesn't romanticize the sixties, or his time in New York. To him life is a continuum. When you ask him about his favorite concert or musician he is uncharacteristically quiet. He prefers live music and does not listen to "records,” as he calls them.

"You see I have wild ideas but I do it pretty much at room temperature," he explains. "I am enjoying myself. That's what I should be doing."

For all of his accomplishments, Young's greatest achievement is perhaps the hardest for anyone to emulate. He discovered at an early age exactly what he loved and then he devoted his life to it. "He had a lot of resilience," Dylan wrote of Young in his book, "Chronicles: Volume One."

"I'm doing what I have to do," says Young. "I'm fighting, but I'm succeeding in my way. Without money, without getting paid. But I have freedom."

Gabriel Stein (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

23:04 February 15, 2010 by dizzymoe33
What an inspiration to live life how you want to and follow your dreams without sacrificing who you are. Good luck Mr. Young :o)
21:05 February 17, 2010 by saulbro
It's great to see Izzy here. I remember attending his Folklore Center concerts in New York, and was happy to get to know him better when we shared a motel room at a Tennessee gathering years ago when he was visiting the US. I send him warm wishes, and hope to see him again one of these years.

Saul Broudy (musician/folklorist)

Philadelphia, PA USA
Today's headlines
Blue flight: Swedish cops are quitting in droves
Police on standby at a political rally in 2014. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

And unions fear the situation is about to get much worse.

'KKK' flag mishap messes up Swedish petrol pump makeover
Uh oh! New Circle K flags at the Länna service station. Photo: Alexander Lindell/TT

Today’s lesson: Don’t put three K flags in a row.

The Local Music
Eleven fantastic Swedish summer songs for May
Northern Sweden's Goat are one of our picks this month. Photo: Goat Facebook

The Local's music writer, Paul Connolly, offers up the fab fresh Swedish songs to see you through the month.

It's happening! Sweden's bursting into summer
Stockholmers enjoying the sunshine on Thursday. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Sweden's capital is the first spot in the country to formally shake off the spring.

How Sweden is getting to grips with 'sleeping rapists'
Photo: Sandra Qvist/TT

'Sexsomnia' is a relatively new problem for Sweden's courts.

Innocent 'terrorist' shocked by paltry payout from Sweden
Photo: Anders Ahlgren/SvD/TT

A man falsely accused of terrorism has reacted with disbelief at how little Sweden will pay him in compensation.

Now AC Milan's named as option for Sweden's Zlatan
Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing in Paris last month. Photo: Francois Mori/TT

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic could consider a return to AC Milan, according to the Sweden striker's agent.

The Local Recipes
The Swedish strawberry drink that's perfect for summer
Strawberry cordial is a refreshing summer drink. Photo: John Duxbury

The sun's out! Here's our favourite refreshing Swedish drink.

Sweden’s Greens tumble towards open trapdoor
Åsa Romson has had a tough few weeks. Photo: Maja Muslin/TT

A crisis in confidence in Sweden’s Greens has put the junior coalition partner in freefall, a new poll shows.

Swedish city ‘receiving more tips about extremists’
Rosengård in Malmö is a troubled suburb with a reputation for crime and ethnic segregation. Photo: TT

More names of alleged extremist recruiters.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
Can these cartoon Swedes help foreigners blend in?
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
National
Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
International
Eurovision heads to the US (kind of)
Blog updates

5 May

Something to reflect on (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns In Swedish, and many other languages we find reflexive verbs and…" READ »

 

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
National
Sweden set for sunny weekend
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vollsjö, Sjöbo
Features
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
Gallery
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
3,298
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se