Hear the memoir that served as inspiration for a major motion picture written and directed by the Coen brothers.
Dave Van Ronk was one of the founding figures of the 1960s folk revival, but he was far more than that. A pioneer of modern acoustic blues, a fine songwriter and arranger, a powerful singer, and one of the most influential guitarists of the ’60s, he was also a marvelous storyteller, a peerless musical historian, and one of the most quotable figures on the Village scene.
The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a firsthand account by a major player in the social and musical history of the ’50s and ’60s. It features encounters with young stars-to-be like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Joni Mitchell, as well as older luminaries like the Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Odetta. Colorful, hilarious, and engaging, The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a feast for anyone interested in the music, politics, and spirit of a revolutionary period in American culture.
©2005 Elijah Wald and Andrea Vuocolo (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme.” (Bob Dylan)
“A wise and very funny book.” (The New Yorker)
“A hulking raconteur and iconoclast, [Van Ronk] fondly captures the spirit of the times.” (Q)
If you like folk music of the mid- to late 20th century, you'll probably enjoy this memoir, an insider's perspective of the folk music scene, mostly around Greenwich Village. Mention Dave Van Ronk to someone today and you are likely to get a blank stare. Van Ronk never was a superstar but was well known, especially among other folk singers. The narrative is first person, but this is more like an autobiography of his professional life than his personal life. For example, we learn that he was married twice, but you learn little more about his wives than their names. Wald has done a brilliant job editing the material left by Dave Van Ronk. In an epilogue by Wald, you can tell this was a labor of love.
Although the book was the inspiration for the Coen Brothers film "Inside Llewyn Davis," van Ronk differed in important ways from the character in the film. For example, Dave's first love was jazz, and he never abandoned it. Although he hitched a ride to Chicago and back once in hopes of playing at The Gate of Horn, there was never involved a jazz musician resembling Roland Turner nor the Kerouac-like driver/beat poet Johnny Five.
Honestly, I didn't know who Dave Van Ronk was until I listened to this book. I got this book because I was interested in learning about the 1960's music scene in Greenwich Village. The book taught me much more than what I had expected. Dave Van Ronk is hilarious and honest in his depictions of the period. I was fascinated by the period, disillusioned a little bit but overall really enjoyed the journey through his experience. I always thought Bob Dylan was an elusive character, but Van Ronk's description of him perfectly explained why this was the case. Greenwich Village in the late '50s and early '60s was such a unique place/time - so many of the musicians who flocked in the area influenced each other. Sure, Dylan had a talent, but he would never have emerged as he did without the unique window of space/time described in this book. I also learned what it was like to be a musician trying to be himself. Thank you, Dave Van Ronk. Thank you, Elijah Wald. I recently passed through the neighborhood and felt so sad that many of the cafes/bars described in the book were gone and replaced by chain pharmacies and banks...
Dave Van Ronk had the absolutely best window on the world that spawned the folk revival in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. His memoir is full of fascinating details (e.g., folk music was originally scheduled in Beat coffee houses to clear the room between sets, so that a new round of coffee drinkers would come in to hear the next poet). I wished this could have been 2X as long.
If you're interested in the Village, in folk music, in NY history (political radicals, musicians, hipsters), this will stand out as a unique record. Never boring, often funny and always well-spoken. Note for Dylan fans (of which I'm one): DVR was one of Dylan's earliest admirers/fellow-travelers. He writes with gentle insight about Dylan, worth hearing, but it's a minor part of the memoir.
Dave Van Ronk was far from the most famous of the Greenwich Village musicians that transformed American "folk" music in the 1960s, but perhaps the most influential. This book lies somewhere between an autobiography, an account of the life and times in the Village during that era, spiced with trenchant observations about society, musicians, politics, and songwriting. A great listen! My only quibble: the narrator mispronounces some words.
Always great to hear from someone that was actually in the thick of it. Van Ronk was a quirky fun guy that played some nice tunes. He gives a very objective view of what went down. Also kudos to Elijah Wald for getting it all together and making it very readable. If you are a folk fan it is a must read
Absolutely. It's the late 50's to mid 60's in folk. Fascinating stories, lovingly told. Based on my parents, who were actually a part of the village folk scene at that time, it was also pretty spot on.
I don't think there's anything exactly comparable, but I do love Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino, where he unkindly takes apart the "art scene" in New York during the same time period.
His performance was wonderful. Runnette does not sound like he's reading. He sounds like he's chatting, and for this type of book, the best way to do it.
It made me very happy. It was nice to go back in time to my mother's younger years. It was a very sweet feeling.
If you've seen the movie Inside Llewen Davos and want to read/listen to this because the film was based on Dave Van Ronk and this book, be aware that other than time / place / setting, they are nothing alike. Ronk was a good guy. In the movie, Davis is an ass. A loathsome person. Ronk was beloved. The movie really made me angry for saying that it used Mayor as its sourcebook because it ignored everything that was beautiful about the book and just threw in a bunch of unpleasant, cranky characters. As a movie it's actually pretty good, as a movie not based on Ronk or his crew.
I love this biography/mini-history of the mid-Twentieth century Greenwich Music music scene. It magically transported me to a very special time and place through the eyes and heart of a person who devoted his life to music despite all of the "slings and arrows". His sense of humility, intelligence and humor shined a great spotlight on "The Folk Scare" of the early Sixties. Two of the things that I liked a lot were how hard it was to make it as a musician and the cultural description of NY and other places when he was on road trips elsewhere and briefly living in California.
Keith Richards biography. Keith barely acknowledges his good luck and seems vain and thin skinned compared to this guy.
I have never listened to the narrator before but he did a wonderful job kind of becoming Dave in a way.
Although the Coen Brothers movie "Inside LLewyn Davis" borrows generously from this book, and I really love the Coen Brothers movies, it is not any kind of accurate reflection of Van Ronk's personality. You would be best served watching it afterward. I saw it both before and after with very different perspectives. If you have already seen it it won't diminish the book in any way.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Dave Van Ronk told co-author Elijah Wald that he did not want to write an autobiography. He wanted to capture the spirit of Greenwich Village during the 60s folk revival (the "folk scare" as he fondly dubbed it). He wanted to capture it as he saw it, having been a central figure for its duration, longer than anyone else, from its earliest sparks to his untimely death many decades later in 2002. To his credit, Van Ronk succeeded in his express intention and wrote a compelling musical and personal memoir in the process.
Van Ronk always seemed miss out on everything. He was too late for the trad jazz revival, his first musical love. He was too early to find fame and fortune in the folk revival that took off in the wake of Peter, Paul and Mary (he turned down an offer to complete the trio, which then went to Paul Stookey) and Bob Dylan, who recorded Dave's version of House of the Rising Sun before Dave had a chance to do so himself. And by his own preference, he stayed clear of rock'n'roll and the singer-songwriter wave started by contemporaries like Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton.
But Van Ronk was not only there when a seminal music scene developed and blossomed, he was a pivotal figure in its development, even if he never became a star himself. These days, Dave's birthplace, Brooklyn, is home to a nascent folk scene (that Dave himself would not categorize as folk but as singer-songwriter), so there is renewed interest in the Village folk revival of the late 50s and 60s. Dave's own memoir of that era covers every aspect of that scene in an entertaining and opinionated first person narrative, the highlights of which are his chapters on Reverend Gary Davis, Dylan, and the complicated taxonomy of Village social, political and musical movements of the era.
I admit that I cannot be an objective reviewer. Not that I was a big Van Ronk fan in the day -- I did see him (and enjoy him) at the Bitter End in the 80s and I did have one or two of his records (though I didn't listen to them often, not at all in the past 25 years). But he is not one of my major influences. We play the same style, share many of the same influences (Rev. Davis, Jelly Roll Morton), and I too was a busker in Washington Square (albeit twenty years later, being that much younger than him). But I too have lived my entire adult life in and around the Village and have always aspired toward the same musical ends, so to me, this book is manna from heaven.
Still, I think anyone with an interest in the music and the era will enjoy it as well. Certainly more so than the recent movie Inside Llewyn Davis, based on this book but taking so many liberties with the character of Van Ronk and the Village music scene that figures from that era, including Van Ronk's first wife, have taken issue with it. But the music is spot on, which is probably the most important thing (although the primary song used in the movie, Hang Me, is never once mentioned in the book.
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