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Articles about SQUAWK Coffeehouse Of the Naked City


 

“Interaction Takes the Stage at Squawk”

Harvard Crimson

by EDWARD F. COLEMAN
March 05, 2009 Crimson Staff Writer

Though oral poetry peaked in the 1990s as a revival of the post-war 1960s movement made famous by artists such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, its audience has greatly diminished in a 21st century world dominated by scripted and self-conscious, rather than spontaneous, performance. At Harvard, where most art—in the theater, gallery, or on paper—presents itself as a carefully polished final product, the spirit of the spoken word tradition and its interactive nature are rarely available to students looking for a consistently available venue. One stronghold at Harvard remains however; on Thursday nights, artists at the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church unleash the Unchainable Squawk.

Every week, an avant-garde, atypically bohemian crowd sporting overgrown hairdos and too-tight jeans gathers for a “session” at the Squawk Coffeehouse—an open mic remedy that banishes the stress of the long week. Unlike open mics geared to one form of artistry like music or poetry, Squawk opens up the floor to any and all types of performance. The organizers aren’t choosy, so long as performers deliver complete “phonetic liquidity.” By the end of the night the result of unrestricted performance is a blend of passion and spontaneity.

Formed in 1989, Squawk is the brainchild of poet Richard Cambridge, cartoonist and poet Mick Cusimano, actress Jesse Piaia, and performer Lee Kidd. Squawk began as a way for artists and poets to enhance their artistic experiences and has essentially remained faithful to its original intent.

“Some of us came from the 60s tradition and studied the Beat Generation,” said Cusimano, who along with the other founders still actively performs and manages Squawk two decades later. “We saw things they did and tried to take it one step further.”

Throughout the night, people trickle in, bringing with them their art of choice: guitar, poetry, short stories, skits, rants, and more. These people come from far and wide, both geographically and socioeconomically. The Coffeehouse has attracted visitors from all over the country and abroad.

No night is ever the same, as the performances vary based on whatever talent walks in the door. The unorthodox surfaces quite regularly, as jugglers, actors, and mimes grace—or shame—the stage. Even nudity makes appearances; while some performers tamely sing their covers or recite their original poetry, others are long on words and short on clothing. These wild performers have been known to shed their garb for their art, which calls for nudity… just because.

Whatever the routine, no one is merely a member of the audience. Squawk hearkens back to a time when performance was more interactive. A vacuum of infectious energy, the coffeehouse sucks in its viewers, who are persuaded by their friends to take control of the mic or goaded by those on stage to speak up in response to the performances.

At the end of the night, when no one has anything else to perform, Kidd bids farewell with a ritualistic closing statement. He beckons all to join him as he praises the Unchainable Squawk and all other manifestations of free and open performance. This unusual blend of artistry departs from today’s streamlined, stylized media and is a refreshingly thought-provoking take on what “performance” means—art that stresses interaction rather than mere reaction.

“I go home with all these images that are boiling up inside me and they are all unique images,” Kidd says. “They were not given to me by the TV or by the paper or by all the canned images around us. They were given to us by true people.”

More than anything, Squawk’s user-friendly atmosphere brings together a complete group of strangers, if only for a night.

“As far as open mic nights go, I think this is probably a level or several above a lot of open mic nights I’ve been too,” says John Davey, a musician from Indiana. “Most of the people are here for a similar purpose.”

That purpose? None other than unbridled and free Unchainable Squawk.


 

“Squawk Continues its Open Run at the Mike”

by Susie Davidson TAB CORRESPONDENT 7-5-02

From its origins as Naked City Coffeehouse in an Allston hallway in 1989, the venerable Squawk Coffeehouse has become a Thursday night staple for all manner of style, sound, substance and sustenance as well.

Housed since 1999 in the Harvard-Epworth Methodist Church at 1555 Mass. Ave. in Harvard Square, the venue has consistently provided the voice and sometimes the amplification for poets, musicians and performance artists to sound their wares, without censorship or constraint, save for the 3 minute open mike limit. Its span includes, in addition, the irregularly published, glossy-paged Squawk Magazine.

The eclectically creative institution is managed by the talented triumvirate of Harvard Square’s Intercontinental School of foreign language head Lee Kidd, actress Jessa Praia and self-described Professor of Surrealism” Mick Cusimano, a noted cartoonist who publishes his work in local as well as international magazines and exhibits. Local poet Richard Cambridge, who hosts a poetry series at Passim, rounds out the core team.

Kidd and Chris Dunn began the venture as a natural progression from their Harvard Square poetry readings and Desolate Angel Coffeehouse musical jams.

“We do believe,” said Kidd, a Harvard Divinity School grad who speaks 13 languages, “that it makes a great insurgent difference if you stand up and sing. We’re a celebrative, rowdy, rambunctious bunch. We want to put something of ourselves beyond death. We want to bop ’til we drop.”

“The history of Squawk is notable:” said Praia “But at the same time the venue continues to evolve as people drink deep from the fountain of the open mike.”

Members of the Beat and hippie generations certainly have a place at Squawk to play while in town. Among other ‘5Os and ’60s era notables who have performed there to capacity crowds, often on multiple occasions, are Ed Sanders, John Sinclair, David Amram, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs and Herschel Silverman.

“There were plenty of open mikes for poets, folksingers, comedians and other artists 12 years ago when we started in Allston,” recalled Cusimano, who added that “The poets would stand on one side of the room and the musicians on the other. It took a few weeks for them to meet. But what is unique about Squawk is that we have had so many diverse artists: poets, musicians; clowns, jesters, dancers, recently even a ventriloquist.”

Cusimano attributed his other artistic pursuits to the opportunities accorded him on the Squawk stage. “I wouldn’t have gone to London, joined the Zone Poets, or helped publish S7 issues of Squawk magazine,” he said, “if it wasn’t for the coffeehouse.”

Moments at the mike include legendary pinnacles within the folk and world music scene such as the first performance by Dar William’s, at Squawk’s interim location in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church basement. Jess Klein and comedic singer-songwriter Don White first played at the Squawk mike, which also inspired Jamey Smythe to take up African drumming and tour Senegal. Other early, integral acts include Mary Lou Lord, Vance Gilbert, Ellis Paul, Jim Infantino, and Jon Svetky. Cambridge storyteller Brother Blue and Boston mime Billy Barnum have called it home since its inception.

“When we started, our mission was to be ‘a coffeehouse for the 21st century’,” said Kidd “and we feel that we are to this day an integral force of the artistic renaissance on the threshold of the third millennium.” Squawk will host “A Midsummer Blues Bash: A Tribute to Mai Cramer and Blues After Hours” at 8:30 p.m. on July 18, Mai’s birthday, which will feature noted blues artists David Maxwell (keys), Shirley Lewis (vocals), and Peter Ward, Mai’s husband (guitar).

“Boston Blues Queen” Cramer, who hosted the WGBH-radio program “Blues After Hours” each Friday and Saturday for 25 years, died earlier this year of cancer. “It will be a tribute to Mai and her contribution to the blues scene,” said Praia, “not only in Boston, but throughout New England.”

“The legacy of Squawk,” said Cusimano, “is that over the years the coffeehouse has brought together many performers who would never have met otherwise. Squawk got White to come out and play in public and Smythe to take up drums. Many connections and collaborations, too numerous to mention, have arisen from this venue.”

It appears they will keep on ‘risin. The show goes on every Thursday night from 9 p.m. to midnight. The Harvard-Epworth is located between Harvard & Porter Squares, and is next to Harvard Law School’s Pound Hall. For more information, call 617-789-4107 or visit www.angelfire.com/music/squawk.


 

“A Talk with Squawk”

February 18, 2005 by Doug Holder

Somerville News

On any given day, at the Sherman Cafe, in Union Square, you are bound to run into any number of poets, writers, and artists nursing their respective cups of java.

On this particular Saturday I ran into the former owner of House of Sarah Books in Inman Sq. and June Gross who co-wrote the play “The Dangers of Empathy.” But, who I was really waiting for was Lee Kidd and Jessa Lynne, of the “Squawk Coffeehouse,” a long-time venue of music, poetry and performance housed at the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church just outside Harvard Square.

Since 1988, the coffeehouse has presented such folks as the poet/writer Ed Sanders, the singer and 60’s activist John Sinclair, the jazz musician and Kerouac confidant David Amram, and a host of local poets and musicians. Their other brainchild is “Squawk Magazine” an art and poetry journal that they have put out with artist/poet Mick Cusimano and others. There are 57 issues of the print magazine, and now “Squawk” is solely online, but a new print run may be in the works.

Lee Kidd, one of the founders of the “Squawk” enterprise, is decidedly a Renaissance man. Since 1976, he has owned and operated a language school in Harvard Square that specializes in foreign language immersion. Kidd is not just a self-educated bohemian. He attended Harvard Divinity School; he is a Fulbright scholar, and has been published in “The New Yorker.”

Jessa Lynne has an equally fascinating background. Originally from the Milwaukee area; she moved here looking for a counterculture venue when she heard of the “Naked City,” an earlier incarnation of “Squawk,” which was located at the “Allston Mall” in Allston. “I was impressed with the warm and open environment,” she said. Since then, she has graced the stage at “Squawk.” She has performed skits, political satire, dance and other modes of expression.

Lynne works at Harvard, and also has a gig where she portrays historical figures like Susan B. Anthony, Emilia Earhart, and other notable women, at libraries and schools in the area. Kidd said that “Squawk” has changed a lot from 1988 to 2005. Before it was basically music and poetry, now there is anything from jugglers to book signings, he said. “We are more eclectic now. We have a coffeehouse consciousness, a mix of people from the homeless to Harvard professors,” he said. Kidd and Lynne are optimistic for the future of “Squawk.” Kidd said, “There will a great golden age of music and poetry in the third millennium, and we’ll be part of it.” “Squawk” meets every Thursday night at 9 p.m. at the Harvard Epworth Methodist Church, 1555 Mass. Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge. More information is available at www.angelfire.com/music/squawk.


 

“A Place Where Poets Can Show It”

Steve Morse, The Boston Globe, May 8, 1997

WHEN IT’S LEE KIDD’S turn at the microphone, he gets right to the point. “We all need a place,” he says, “where busting out systematically can happen every week.” He calls this “coffeehouse consciousness” and, moments later, has the entire room chanting the phrase like a mantra.
Welcome to Naked City (SQUAWK) Coffeehouse, an offbeat but supportive setting where music and poetry come together on Thursday nights (now at Harvard Epworth Church, 1555 Mass. Ave., Harvard Sq. Cambridge.) This place is unique in that both poets and musicians are encouraged to participate, while at other places they are often kept separate.

If you’re looking for alternative entertainment, then the Naked City Coffeehouse is a revelation. Jessa opened the evening by inviting all comers to the mike. Thus began one of the most supportive nights I’ve ever encountered. Kidd, the emcee for the night, blows blues harmonica and shares Beat-style poems such as “I’m Too Old to Be Elvis Presley, So I Guess I’ll Have to Be Sigmund Freud.” Kidd is one of the “Squawk Squad,” a group of poets and musicians who trace their allegiance to The Beats and The Fugs, and who host the Naked City Coffeehouse each Thursday. They share their own art, but also invite visitors to the mike and schedule featured guests, such as The Wolf Hour Poets.

In the open-mike set, when talented duo Chalk Circle played a couple of songs with a beguiling, Cat Stevens-like tone, but had sound difficulties, it didn’t matter. “You guys sounded great,” musician, Dennis Pearne said from the back of the room. “Can we do another song?” the Chalk Circle pianist asked. Of course, the crowd nodded.

After his encouraging words Pearne sang two spellbinding cover tunes: Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” and Iris DeMent’s “Keep Me God.” Other Squawk Squad members (the name comes from Squawk Magazine) followed.

Poet Mick Cusimano, also known as the Professor of Surrealism (and publisher of Underground Surrealist Magazine) recited a lively piece called “The Glasnost Shuffle.”

Poet Kitty Marrs then entered dramatically. Known as “The Misanthropologist,” says “an embittered girl is like a melody,” had the room laughing at her wonderfully jaded impersonation of an aloof William Burroughs.

Featured performers, The Wolf Hour Poets were a delight. They consisted of Joan Sullivan, Bluefisher, John Brennan, Diana Rootnik, and Sparrowhawk discoursing on the universe in tenderly hopeful style. They’ll also be featured at the weekly Stone Soup Poets’ night at T.T. The Bear’s Place on May 19th.

– STEVE MORSE


 

“Coffeehouse Culture: The Naked City Coffeehouse”

The Fine Print

by Elisabeth A. Parker, 1991

“I think a whole culture exists, called ‘Coffeehouse Culture,’ which is different, but still related to, the overall culture.”

— Lee Kidd, Coffeehouse Activist and co-founder of the Naked City Coffeehouse

The Naked City Coffeehouse was started in January 1989, by Chris Dunn and Lee Kidd.

“It was the same night that George Bush was inaugurated,”Dunn mentions. | “I challenge Bush to I compare records with us,” he adds jestingly. Bush would probably emerge defeated because (quite unlike our state of national affairs) the coffeehouse has enjoyed considerable success. Dunn and Kidd used to hang out in Harvard Square reading poetry to each other, and play music Saturday nights at the Desolate Angel Coffeehouse. Eventually they decided to expand and make it a regular thing.

Held every Wednesday night in Allston, the Naked City Coffeehouse draws anywhere between 30 to 100 people to share original poetry and acoustic folk and blues music. For a mere $3.00, you can enjoy coffee in an atmosphere of comraderie with creative, eccentric folk. A supportive attitude encourages everyone to get up on stage. Performers with varying levels of talent often impress and rarely fail to be interesting.

Watermelon Slim (a Cantab Lounge Blues Jam regular) sometimes drops by and plays authentic old-man-on-the-steps-of-the-shanty type blues on his battered metal Gibson. Lightning-fast, clattering spoons, wielded adroitly by Honor Havoc, comprise the rhythm section. Ryk McIntyre holds audiences with impassioned poetry readings laced with broad humor. Other guests include local storyteller Brother Blue; authentic mime Billy Barnum; and the scorching funk/jazz/fusion band, Bad Art Ensemble.

The Naked City Coffeehouse keeps its regulars and interested others abreast of activities through their magazine, Squawk. Featuring coffeehouse scene updates, personality profiles, original poetry and cartoons, this cleanly laid out, xeroxed ‘zine is put together by Mick Cusimano (whose cartoons sometimes appear in The Fine Print), character actress Jessa, and coffeehouse activist and poet, Lee Kidd. “It’s the emerging mouthpiece of the Squawk Generation,” states Jessa. “Newly hatched,” quips Cusimano. “It’s like the Beats in the 50’s who we will replace; it’s raw, fresh energy that’s still evolving,” Kidd affirms.

Squawk adds a unique dimension by including the perspectives of their Soviet Squawk Generation counterparts. Cusimano began corresponding with Alik Olisevich and his friends after reading about Olisevich’s magazine White, a St. Petersburg rock scene publication, in Factsheet 5 (Factsheet 5, Mike Gunderloy’s mammoth ‘zine of ‘zines, reviews underground publications and alternative music from around the world.) The letters passing back and forth between Cusimano, Jessa, Kidd, and their pen pals continue to generate an exchange of ideas. Check out their open mike venue!


 

“On the Road”

by Dennis McCarthy

November 9, 1995 – North Shore Magazine

“Jack Kerouac’s famous road trip now symbolizes a personal quest for meaning and adventure” from Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival!

While the journey as literary device is not new, Kerouac has added his own special imprint on literary treks Ñ and not simply because he “Americanized” the “Odyssey.” Twain beat him to that. And even John Steinbeck, in both the “Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” had successfully combined the American journey with his own unique version of a beat generation.

Yet defining “The Beat Generation” is not quite so simple. Mick Cusimano, cartoonist and co-editor of Boston underground magazine, Squawk, defines it as such: “When someone talks about ‘beat,’ they’re talking about knocked down, dragged out, beat against the wall. It was a lot different in the ’50s than today. It was still a very competitive society with a lot of pressure. They (the members of the beat generation) were just pushed to the edge. And they’d start writing, which was to them a very courageous act to go out and be a writer or poet. It made them total outcasts in the ’50s.”

But Kerouac’s view of the cross-country jaunt was far more celebratory than all the rest. The attraction that Kerouac fans have to such literature is apparent every time they open their mouths. Their conversational styles often reflect the loosely structure beauty of beat generation prose. The ideas of Lee Kidd, coffeehouse activist and co-editor of Squawk Magazine, for example, flow from him in river-of-consciousness outbursts. His clauses and phrases surge, twist, meander, gurgle, and eddy without once slowing or stopping. Consider both the manner and substance of this sparkling specimen of Lee Kidd, and you may begin to understand what being “beat” is all about:

“The only reason to go on the road is to get it started for you, to get your adrenaline pumping. If that’s what it takes, then do it. But you must become the road. You must be able to create the road in your head. I think that ‘on the road’ is a great image because it connects everything. Kerouac meant ‘on the road’ as sort of the adventure of being in your lifetime and skin and affirming everything Ğ and not to be deterred. So obviously that’s a great image. It’s thrilling to even think of it now.

“I started writing poetry just by getting on trains and watching everything flash by,” says Kidd. “It’s wonderful for the insides because you change the scenes so quickly inside your head.” Cusimano agrees, “Many young people want to find themselves. So one thing that they want to do is travel because you find out more about yourself by going into different situations and meeting new people. Your old ways of doing a thing doesn’t work, so you have to find something new.” Kidd adds, “But it doesn’t mean you have to get in a semi or hike on a railroad train. If you’re in your own little town or have a little coffeehouse with two people that on any night of the week, you’re starting to be on the road.”