The Mayor of MacDougal Street
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The Mayor of MacDougal Street

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) 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 Villa...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 7th 2006 by Da Capo Press (first published 2005)
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Greenwich Village
2nd out of 57 books — 5 voters
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To use Dave Van Ronk’s own classification system, Dave Van Ronk was somewhere near the top of the second division of American urban folkies, I never bothered to listen to him at all. But if you’re at all interested in the FOLK thing he’s always on the radar, always. So this book looked like it would be (and it was too) fun – for a folk fan. Which is me. Might not be you. You might think suburban white twentysomething males doing imitations of work songs collected from old black guys is something...more
Curt Hopkins Hopkins
The single best book I've ever read by a musician. Van Ronk's intellect, which was estimable and largely earned through independent reading and conversation, his musical knowledge and skill, his black humor and sense of language all shone through. You don't have to give a rat's ass about folk music or the "Folk Scare" to get a lot out of this book. Here's a guy who LIVED his entire life. He was the "whole man" that Celine and Miller were looking for. He even made leftist politics understandable...more
At this time and point in my life I really don't have an ear for traditional folk music, but nevertheless, and even more important to me, is the cast of characters that were part of the Greenwich Village scene in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Oddly enough I wanted to read this book because last December I was walking around the village and thinking there must be a good memoir or book on this area. I found it and its "The Mayor Of MacDougal Street," a memoir by Dave Van Ronk, with some help f...more
I picked this book up as homework ahead of seeing the Coen Brothers' new flick, Inside Llewyn Davis later this week, a film loosely based on Van Ronk's memoirs. Now, if my memory is trustworthy (which it often is, but in this instance it is a bit fuzzy), I first discovered the music of Van Ronk some years back through my appreciation of the music of Bob Dylan. Van Ronk, nicknamed "the Mayor of MacDougal Street," was influential not only for Dylan but on many artists of the so-called "Great Folk...more
Thomas Walsh
Van Ronk, to me, was a great blues singer, a gifted guitarist and, from his interviews, a man with a great sense of honest and funny humor. This book brings him back to us, along with the entire canvas of 1950s-60s New York of the beats. Ah, as he explains, not the "beatniks" who were commercial, but the beats, who were intelligent, well-read, talented and anti-everything. Van Ronk never made that "big time" because he hated bourgeois culture, and was honest and true to his music. While others s...more
Reading Dylan's "Chronicles", where Van Ronk is often mentioned, I realized I had his autobio as well. Dave passed before the final edit, but music journalist Elijah Wald has done an excellent job pulling this all together.

A self-educated high school drop out and admitted Leftist, Van Ronk has obviously thought about the whole "Folk Scare" event of the '50's and '60's. He has many great stories, but he also has a whole chapter on Left Wing political groups in '50's NYC and how they were attache...more
Reading it felt somewhat like sitting down for coffees and cigarettes with Van Ronk and listening to him talk about the old days. He spent years involved in anarchist politics, tells jokes that your Dad might tell*, interchanges Latin with merchant marine slang, and has inside gossip on nearly everyone playing folk music sometime from about 1955 onwards in Greenwich Village. All this to say he's a unique and intelligent voice.

At times I felt he was forcing objectivity, perhaps to avoid criticis...more
An easy five stars. This is one highly entertaining book. And not just entertaining. He has many many interesting things to say about the relationship between politics and folk music, and different strands of folk music. It is so nice to read such a detailed account of what was going on in the 56-61 period, before Dylan showed up. Van Ronk himself was a highly interesting character. I've enjoyed his music for a long time, but it was always clear that he was coming from a somewhat different place...more
Four and a half stars. An insider, behind-the-scenes memoir of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Dave Van Ronk, raconteur — Dave Van Raconteur — tells story after story about his involvement and observations from the fifties through the sixties. Most of the book takes place during the exciting period before Dylan arrived and the money flowed, a period when those in the Village felt that something would take off.

If you like music, you will like this book. Dave, a finger-style guitarist, de...more
Henry Sturcke
While we can be happy to have this book at all, it's a shame Van Ronk didn't live to see it through to completion. The loss is softened by two factors: the devotion of co-author Elijah Wald to the task of finishing it, and the fact that Van Ronk was a world-class raconteur, and many of his finely-honed anecdotes were preserved on concert tapes.
Nevertheless, it would have been good to have more of his well-founded takes on the musicians and other characters who populated Greenwich Village, since...more
Dave Van Ronk's memoir was filled with revelation after revelation for me about so many musicians I admire, and vividly evokes the scene in Greenwich Village in the '50's and '60's during what Van Ronk refers to as "The Great Folk Scare". Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and the Reverend Gary Davis are all wonderfully evoked here (warts and all but with love, in Mr. Zimmerman's case), and Van Ronk also shares his thoughts on the politics of the time, and the meaning of what actually...more
Jon Stout
Mar 19, 2014 Jon Stout rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Folkies and Hippies
When I actually lived in Greenwich Village from 1977 to 1979, I was always looking for the mythical site of beat poetry and folk music. But the bars and coffee houses seemed expensive and touristy, and only Washington Square displayed a perpetual youthful ferment. But I have found some of what I was looking for in Dave Van Ronk’s book on the Village in the 50’s and 60’s.

Van Ronk’s book, which was the inspiration for the movie Inside Llewyn Davis, portrays the folk scene leading up to and includi...more
LAPL Reads
The inspiration for the new Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002), was the unofficial leader of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the late fifties and early sixties. Unlike most of the New York-based performers, Van Ronk was a New York native who grew up in Queens and Brooklyn. He developed a love for jazz and blues at a young age, and frequented the Washington Square Park folk singing sessions. Though he had seen very little of the country until he was in hi...more
You're going to want to check out a lot of early folk singers after reading this one. I got a better understanding of the "folk scene" after traveling through it with VanRonk and company. I thoroughly enjoyed him. This book was written just before his passing a few years ago. Check it out if you want to visit a very different time in New York and a very different era in folk music. Great storyteller.
Will DeBoard
3.5 stars. Checked this book out at the library after watching Inside Llewyn Davis because I wanted to learn a little about the "real" Llewyn Davis. This isn't a seamless novel but instead it is vignette style, telling a different story each chapter. Some very familiar stories for those who did see the movie. One thing I thought was very interesting was that, at one point in the book he talks about how everybody talks about "the scene," as how "you should have been here five years ago, it was re...more
Been hitting the bios and other non-fiction of late, and this one was wonderful. (Listened to the audiobook of it, and it was really well done.) Van Ronk was just a name to me before the book...well, before the reviews of the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" let it be known that it drew on many elements of Van Ronk's life. I've read and really enjoyed a couple other books set in that era and scene (Positively Fourth Street topping the list), and when Adam Gopnik listed this memoir among a re...more
Thomas Armstrong
I saw the Cohn brothers' movie Inside Llewyn David, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to learn more about the man who it was loosely based on: Dave Van Ronk. The book gives a really good feeling for what it was like in the pre-Dylan days in the Village. Van Ronk also has some great tid-bids about Dylan himself and a hilarious quote by Dylan as an epigraph in one of his chapters, that essentially Dylan used to think he could only be as good as Van Ronk (the top of his aspiration list), but boy...more
John Spillane
This would a sentimental 4 stars. His thoughts on Dylan are pretty great. I can only assume this is a must/therapeutic read for musicians.
Dec 29, 2013 Steven added it
It's a shame Dave Van Ronk did not live long enough to see Inside Llewyn Davis, a movie very loosely based on this book. It probably would have pissed him off, but given his career an incredible boost. Mayor of MacDougal Street is incomplete and published posthumously, but well worth reading. Van Ronk provides unique insight as a participant in the Village folk scene before, during and after its peak. A native of Queens and Brooklyn, he was also a involved in the radical politics of the 1950s de...more
Loved it. It's the story of the great "Folk Scare" as Dave Van Ronk refers to the 1960s Folk Revival in America. If you've seen "Inside Llewyn Davis" and are interested in the "real" story, you'll enjoy Van Ronk's jumpin' account of the brief NYC "folk" renaissance. He describes a nexus of the political, literary, musical (All the characters you'd expect and some you might not: Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Son House, Booker White, Yank Rachell (!!!!) Booker White),...more
John D.
Fascinating memoir of the Greenwich Village folk scene during the late fifties to mid-sixties. Dave Van Ronk was a folk singer on the spot, and recounts his memories of living and performing throughout that time. He came out of the trad jazz scene and made his living as a folk-blues singer, and was an integral part of the folk revival that eventually brought the likes of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary and others to an international audience. Van Ronk doesn't seem that bothered tha...more
Haven't yet seen the Coen Brothers' film, "Inside Llewyn Davis" but it is roughly based on the life of Dave Van Ronk. This is his story, finished by his friend, Elijah Wald, after his death. It tells the story of Greenwich Village in the 50's and 60's and the music that did not start there but that eventually came to be identified with it.

Fascinating stories of Van Ronk's friends and fellow musicians. So, even if, like me, you don't know Van Ronk's music, you will know the music of others such a...more
A social history of the folk music scene, 1950s-1960s, in Greenwich Village, through the unique perspective of Dave Van Ronk (who died in 2002), a brilliant self-educated raconteur, singer, jazz/blues/folk guitarist, and unapologetic Marxist. I always loved him, felt he was robbed in the fame-and-fortune category. He is much more generous and philosophical about his place in music history than I have been. The book is filled with stories, jokes, digressions, jazz analyses, old bluesmen, young co...more
Michael Bartolone
Entertaining and interesting read overall, though it dragged in parts. Also, it often like an encyclopedic listing of names and places from the "Folk Scare", of which someone would have to have a fairly good knowledge beforehand to fully appreciate.

However, I really enjoyed the thoughts on the various political groups gathering in the Village at the time (liberals, Communists, anarchists, oh my!), and how that influenced the resulting music. Van Ronk also very satisfactorily answers a question...more
David Pratt
Great insights into the life of Dave Van Ronk, if you are a fan of his or folk music in general. Actually, he's more of a blues singer, but in a folk. He was there in Greenwich Village before the peak of the Folk revival and long afterwards. Great personality and a big influence on many, including Bob Dylan. As explained by the editor, this was put together posthumously, and is missing some things, including discussing other aspects of his life. Still, an enjoyable read, and his voice really com...more
Charles Salzberg
If you have any interest in the folk singing scene in Greenwich Village during the mid-fifties through the early '60s, and if you don't you should, Dave Van Ronk's semi-memoir semi-music tutorial, is a must read. The cast of characters ranges from Bobby Dylan who slept on Van Ronk's couch numerous times and swiped an arrangement from Van Ronk for his first album, to Tom Paxton to Joan Baez to Patrick Skye to Mississippi John Hurt to name only a few. And if some of the stories seem familiar that'...more
I only picked up this memoir after I heard that it was one of the inspirational texts for the Cohen Brothers for their upcoming movie "Inside Llywellen Davis." I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the witty and fascinating account of Van Ronk's days as a folk and blues "hipster" in the 1950s and 1960s (in both New York and points elsewhere). The major players you might expect to get entire chapters (Baez, Dylan, Ochs) only get a few anecdotes here and there. But Van Ronk i...more
Posthumously published memoir of the folk singer-songwriter Dave Van Ronk and the glory days of the 1950s and 60s music scene in New York City. Van Ronk never hit it big, certainly not like those who followed him onto the scene: Dylan or Mitchell or Simon and Garfunkel or Peter, Paul and Mary, but he was more than just a precursor. He is also more than just someone cashing in on his memories and striving to manipulate memory for self-promotion. He is a witty, frank, self-effacing story-teller fr...more
A long monologue, covering the mid-50s to early 60s folk scene in New York York City, and touching on a thousand other topics along the way. Rambling and funny if you like that kind of thing, desultory and disjointed if you don't. I thought it was hilarious.

The aspect I appreciate most is the fine differentiations he is able to make between generations and styles of folk singer. Fifty-plus years later, everything folky gets lumped together, but he shows the connections of who came first, who pi...more
Dave Moyer
The book is interesting from start to finish with tales of extremely talented musicians who were on the scene when music was exploding in multiple innovative directions. Van Ronk never became the most popular among his peers, but to those who were of that time, he has always been considered a seminal talent. His telling of this time and his career is very engaging.
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An insiders look at the "Great Folk Scare" 2 8 Oct 11, 2011 07:13AM  
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