I feel a tremendous loss. I spoke to Archie for the last time about one month ago, and right now I'm very sorry that I did not check in every single day. He was a great intellect, a great friend, a great person, and he will be long remembered.
I met Archie in the early 90s when I was living and practicing law in San Francisco. I was bored with work. I was already a "folk music fan" (broadly defined), and I was beginning a strange journey that involved (initially) self-education into more academic ideas of tradition and heritage. I met Ron Cohen, historian of the folk music revival, and he encouraged me to call Archie Green. "He lives 5 minutes from you and he's in the book." I checked Archie's first book, Only A Miner, out of the library, read it, and called him. For what, I don't know. To meet and learn from a cool guy. "Come over tomorrow morning," he said.
I went over and we talked for three hours. Archie understood that I wanted to learn stuff he knew, and he said something like, "let's start with minstrelsy for the moment." Minstrelsy? What's this got to do with Phil Ochs?
I learned, and we had many such meetings. Sometimes we drove to the SF Marina, sat on a bench, looked out at the Bay and Archie--a WW II era shipwright--told me about the boats. At his home, we'd talk for a long time and then Archie would get restless, and announce out of nowhere, "well, this has been a great talk, time to go," and I'd be on the steps in 30 seconds. I learned to read the signals. One day I saw the restlessness and began to take my leave, when Archie announced, "I'm starving. Let's see what's in the kitchen." He cooked us omelettes filled with veggies. I felt as if I'd crossed a barricade.
A running gag among Archie's friends was, "have you seen the Archie Green doll? Wind it up and it introduces people to each other." He always wanted people to connect. He knew it made for better work and he just liked for people to be together. At an academic conference in North Carolina Archie grabbed me and introduced me to some grad student. He said "Michael, you have to talk to Joe here. Joe's doing great, cutting edge work." He then wandered off and left me with "Joe." "How long have you known Archie?" I said. "I met him about an hour ago," said Joe. "He has no idea what I'm doing."
When I told Archie I wanted to write a book about folk music, he didn't laugh or grimace, though the idea was preposterous. He asked what about, and then he read chunks of text that I'd send him. At the International Country Music Conference in Nashville, 2005, he cornered Judy McCullough, long time editor for the University of Illinois Press. "Judy, this is Michael," as he pulled me in front of her. "You have to publish his book." She squirmed, smiled, talked to me a bit, told me how hard the publishing business had become, and three years later, Illinois published my book.
Archie's public intellectual life reached back to the 1950s. He led the Campus Folksong Club at the University of Illinois, was involved in the earliest University of Chicago Folk Festivals. As Mark wrote above, he led the effort to establish the American Folklife Center. He was a champion of the working man and the labor movement, and a staunch anti-communist leftie. He used to say that the organized left didn't understand that working people were more taken with Hank Williams than with Woody Guthrie. In our last talk, he told me he wanted to involve himself in efforts to make certain that the Obama arts policy included recognition of vernacular culture. He was calling people to make sure everyone he knew would get on board.
He was a wonderful man, and a great man.
Sorry for the length.