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The Mayor of MacDougal Street

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,162 Ratings  ·  184 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 January 1st 2005)
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Bill  Kerwin
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The Coen brothers stole his songs for Llewyn Davis, but Dave Van Ronk is more than that twerpy little fictional distortion. No other single performer embodies the spirit of the mid-sixties folk revival as perfectly as Van Ronk: its generosity, its respect for tradition, its openness to change.

Dave Van Ronk was a native New Yorker who lived in the Village from the early 50's until his death in 2002. He played trad jazz during the decline of the card-carrying protest singers of the Seeger generat
Paul Bryant
Feb 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: folk-music
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
Mar 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, memoir
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
Dec 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Henry Sturcke
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not a fan of the music that Dave Van Ronk played, nor indeed had I heard much about him until the Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' was released last year (the film is based partly on Van Ronk's story), but I do enjoy a music memoir, so when I saw it on BOGO via Audible, I decided to buy it.

Van Ronk was part of the music scene in NYC from the 1950s, moving to Greenwich Village in stages from his home in Queens, and becoming part of the jazz scene, before through necessity (the jazz scene
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
I very much appreciated two points that Van Ronk made:
1. To say that a musician who performs songs written by others is "doing covers" demeans the role of interpreter which any performer must fill. The shift from "folksingers" who performed traditional songs of indeterminate authorship to the "singer-songwriter" of the 1960s started this attitude. He notes that no one every accused Sinatra or Louis Armstrong of "doing covers." Van Ronk himself was the ultimate interpreter--skillful, musical, and
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Couldn't put it down and immediately went on a Dave Van Ronk, Great Folk Scare music binge upon completion. Another fun social history. Van Ronk rules. Vive l'anarchie!
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dan Downing
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may not be a 5 Star book for most people, but as usual I have rated it according to its merits in its own category. In this case the category is "Dave Van Ronk and his music, friends and stories". Outside that category I'd probably give it 5 Stars.
Last year when those sadistic evil Coen Brothers came out with their satire on 'Folk Music', the publicity claimed it was a history of folk music in Greenwich Village in the late 50s, loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk. Fair enough. They c
I really enjoyed the inside story of Greenwich Village in the late 50's and 60's. Dave Van Ronk was there, and met "everybody" in the music scene. I learned a lot I never knew, particularly about the conflict between the clean cut "folk singers" and the scruffy, more authentic singers like Van Ronk. He also goes into a lot of detail about the transition from singing old or folk songs, including the blues, and singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell. This memoir was written near the end of his life ...more
Apr 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Richard Levine
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Really interesting account of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1950s and 60s by someone who was a big part of it. Dave Van Ronk didn't make it to the big time like some of the others he knew, but he was an important part of the scene who seemingly knew everyone, and had a long and generally successful career as a working musician. The book is structured as a memoir, going from his childhood growing up in Queens, to his years struggling to make a living as a musician and developing his pol ...more
Grady Ormsby
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If the Time Traveler from H.G Wells’The Time Machine appeared before me and asked me if I wanted to take a ride, I’d say, “Sure! I want to go to Greenwich Village around 1960.” For the longest time I’ve been fascinated by beatniks, poetry readings in tiny basement coffee houses, finger-snapping jazz riffs and Sunday afternoon folk singing in Washington Square. Reading Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald is probably as close as I’ll ever get to that transitory jo ...more
LAPL Reads
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Keith Frost
Oct 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really did enjoy this book. Clearly much was ghost written or well edited, but regardless.

As a weekend guitar plucker, and long time folk fan, I have been listening to and enjoying Van Ronk for many years. Always thought his claw style playing was very unique (for it's time) and suspected his musical tastes and interests where not totally in folk.

I learned from this book that Van Ronk started out as and always considered himself to be a jazz player, first and foremost. When I re-listen to h
Jon Stout
Mar 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Kimmo Sinivuori
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Folkie Dave Van Ronk and author Elijah Wald wanted to write the definitive history of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 1950s and 1960s. Sadly that was not to be as Van Ronk died of cancer during the writing. What we have instead is the memoirs of Van Ronk that Wald put together from the discussions he had with Van Ronk. Despite the tragedy that prevented Van Ronk and Wald from achieving their original goal, the end result is one of the funniest music memoirs I've read.

There is the f
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I discovered Dave Van Ronk when I was in college, probably about 1965. I was in a record store and they were playing his album, Inside Dave Van Ronk. When I heard the way he sang Motherless Children and Come Back Baby, I was hooked. Years later, after all of my record albums were long gone, I remembered him and got it on cd and had the same reaction. He was so compelling that I couldn't do anything else while listening. I played it for my son who is also a musician and he agreed with me. So, thi ...more
Ray Campbell
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
I grew up on Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and a surprisingly happy blend of 60s and 70s folk and pop. I've sung my share of authentic folk songs and belted out Cinnamon Girl in front of a rock act my share of times. So, Van Ronk is something of a roots music guy in my mind. He is a 60s Greenwich Village legend. I don't listen regularly, but I respect and have enjoyed. When a friend recommended this one, I didn't argue - and I'm glad. It is a wonderful memoir of Van Ronks early career and the folk s ...more
GK Stritch
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
You don't get much hipper than being sixteen or seventeen years old, hanging around Clarence Williams, and listening to his piano duets with Willie "The Lion" Smith up on 125th Street . . . or being a patron of the Five Spot. Grab a bottle of Japanese absinthe and dig into this HILARIOUS and satisfying book. (I tried slowing down my reading to make the book last longer, but couldn't do it--read it within 24 hours--and passed it along to my husband, and he dug it, too--funny guy Van Ronk.) Van Ro ...more
John Owen
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Charles Brown
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Dave van Ronk's memoir has come back into the spotlight as the book that inspired, Inside Llewyn Davies. Emphasis on the 'inspired', as the resemblance is a somewhat loose one. van Ronk, from his own words and those of his friends, was a far cry from the misanthropic protagonist of the Coen Bros. wonderful movie, but that doesn't mean it's not a great testimony in its own right. van Ronk, a lifelong socialist, was a participant in the early folk scene of the mid-1950s and a witness to the 'folk ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana
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
David Schles
Dec 29, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A passive aggressive ramble

Some interesting and some amusing anecdotes, but mostly self-serving and self-aggrandizing ranting.

Some gems include his opinion that he was technically a better singer than Joan Baez and that "All Along The Watchtower" is "a mistake."

Virtually every one of his peers gets a shot or three, but Van Ronk tries to always make himself appear magnanimous by appending words to the effect of "but I always understood why he was not as cool as me and I never took offense."
St Fu
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I learned to play guitar by listening to his records. I only heard him perform live once, in the 80s. Even though I (shyly) hung around the periphery of the folk scene, I had no idea what it looked like from Dave's point of view. His writing alternates between brilliant, and "close enough for folk" (as we used to say when we tried to inexpertly tune our instruments) but that's to be expected when you die before finishing and need to have someone else tidy up.

This book is best read between watch
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An insiders look at the "Great Folk Scare" 3 16 Jun 10, 2014 04:52AM  
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“Blues is like a kielbasa, those long Polish sausages: you don't sing a whole blues, you just cut off a section.” 0 likes
“March 1958 issue, for example, notes that “Dave Van Ronk, like so many other Village characters, has affected a beard.” 0 likes
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