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The Mayor of MacDougal Street [2013 edition]: A Memoir

The Mayor of MacDougal Street [2013 edition]: A Memoir

4.5 10
by Dave Van Ronk, Elijah Wald

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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


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 Village scene.

Featuring encounters with young stars-to-be like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a vivid evocation of a singular time and place--a feast not only for fans of folk music and blues, but for anyone interested in the music, politics, and spirit of a revolutionary period in American culture.

Editorial Reviews

A music critic dubbed singer/acoustic guitarist Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) "the Mayor of MacDougal Street" and, if truth be told, this garrulous New Yorker seldom strayed far from his beloved Greenwich Village. He was a key part of the folk music revival, not only as a talented performer, but as an avuncular figure, friend, and, as this memoir demonstrates convincingly, a storyteller. The Mayor of MacDougal Street (which was completed after his death by Elijah Wald) offers an on-the-spot social and musical history of the changing music scene of the fifties and sixties. (P.S. This movie tie-in edition is issued in anticipation of the December release Coen Brothers' Cannes Grand Prix award-winning film Inside Llewyn Davis, which is loosely based on this book.)

Dirty Linen August/September 2005
"[This] book will leave you not merely educated, but enlightened; not merely amused, but delighted. You will want more."
Sing Out! Fall 2005
"This is the best book I've ever read about the folk revival..Engaging and frequently hilarious."
Boston Globe 7/24/05
"[A] wonderful memoir...Mandatory reading for anybody interested in...the "Great Folk Scare" of the 1960s."
Creative Loafing Charlotte 7/6/05
"A fascinating look at a pivotal moment in American popular music...A great read."
New York Post
"A father to the folk movement in Greenwich Village...[Van Ronk] and co-writer Elijah Wald bring that Village scene back to life."
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"A definitive history of folk's alternate universe...bringing to light the unique voice and story of Dave Van Ronk."
Library Journal
Van Ronk (1936-2002) was one of the most influential guitarists and singer/songwriters in folk music history. A staple of the folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village during the late 1950s and early 1960s, he presided over such legendary venues as the Gaslight Cafe and Gerde's Folk City. In this rollicking book that is part memoir and part history of the times, Van Ronk, with the help of coauthor Wald (Josh White: Society Blues), recalls his early fascination with music-he picked up the ukulele at 15 and later graduated to the blues and jazz classics that greatly influenced his music. The narrative is most valuable, however, as a commentary on the folk scene of the early 1960s (the book ends late in the decade). Van Ronk unflinchingly tells the story of this era as he believes it should be told: Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso were never accepted into the folk music scene, even though many people think of them as predecessors to the movement; Tom Paxton, not Bob Dylan, was responsible for the new direction that folk took in the early 1960s; and Joni Mitchell was "the best writer of the 1960s, a very playful lyricist in the same way that John Donne was." For an insider's guide to the folk movement, one can hardly do better than Van Ronk's book. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Charming, evocative autobiography by one of the key figures in the mid-20th-century folk revival. The charisma, humor and storytelling chops that made Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) a Greenwich Village legend are abundantly on display in this memoir, assembled after his death by long-time friend and blues historian Wald. A blue-collar boy from the outer boroughs, Van Ronk dropped out of "Our Lady of Perpetual Bingo" at 15 and headed to the Village to hang out with anarchists and Wobblies. He began his musical life as a jazz fanatic convinced that "folk music was irredeemably square." But Harry Smith's paradigm-altering Anthology of American Folk Music in 1951 introduced Van Ronk and a lot of other "neo-ethnics" to the astonishing diversity of traditional American music. They aimed to play it with "authenticity," scorning the bland sounds of pop-folk acts like the Kingston Trio. Nor did they initially have much interest in writing their own material; among Van Ronk's many shrewd observations is the reminder that what we now think of as folk music-a singer-songwriter performing self-penned compositions accompanied by an acoustic guitar-is what it was changed into during the '60s by artists like Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. Big names like Dylan's enter late in Van Ronk's narrative, which focuses on the fruitful, unpublicized early years when everyone scraped by with occasional jobs while playing for tips in all-night coffee shops, doing a lot of drinking and dope smoking on the side. It sounds like wonderful fun, and Van Ronk bestrews his pages with sharp, intelligent asides on such matters as the divide between the Cambridge, Mass., folk crowd, who viewed themselves as "pure guardians ofthe sacred flame" and the more professional singers of the Village, who viewed them as "upper-middle-class kids cutting a dash on papa's cash." A must for those with an interest in the music, and of great appeal as well for anyone who enjoys a roistering life story recounted in a lively narrative voice.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Mayor of MacDougal Street

NewYorker.com, 9/30/13
“[A] wonderful memoir.”

Slate, 12/2/13
“Your best guide when it comes to Inside Llewyn Davis—apart from what follows, of course—is Van Ronk’s posthumous memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street.”

New York Times, 11/30/13
“[A] sharp cantankerous memoir.”

The Culture Trip, 4/1/16
“Gives the play-by-play for a musical movement that was humble in origin, but huge in populous fervor. Woody Guthrie; Joan Baez; Pete Seeger; Richie Havens; Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary; plus dozens more, they all live and breathe within these pages…One of folk’s unsung heroes, Van Ronk mixes poetry and revolution, rolled into a posthumously released autobiography as much a history of the Village, and the folk venues that made it famous, as the life story of its ‘Mayor.’”

Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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2 MB

Meet the Author

In the course of his forty-year career, Dave Van Ronk recorded more than two dozen albums, toured on four continents, was nominated for two Grammys, and received an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award.

Coauthor Elijah Wald wrote the acclaimed study of the myth, music, and life of blues legend Robert Johnson, Escaping the Delta. He also wrote the biography Josh White: Society Blues as well as Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. A musician and journalist, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The Mayor of MacDougal Street 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
OtiscoKid More than 1 year ago
Very good auto-biography of the performer himself as well as a popular music era. I think the cultural equivalent of this pre "Woodstock" era may well be underway during the current internet revolution in the musical scene. Artists and material are once again being chosen by the people and not a large recording "industry". Perhaps the people's choice will be suported by the internet and "creativity" may return to that magical time of the "Great Folk Scare" when individual's flocked to picking up guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukes and bongos to make their own music. I for one miss Mr. Van Ronk as well as others from that era. This was a very good read!
victoryatC More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting book. Dave Van Ronk has a lot of stories and opinions to tell. Unfortunately, Dave died of cancer before the book was completed but Elijah Wald did an excellent job of pulling things together and creating a very readable and historically interesting story. RIP Dave Van Ronk. You were one in a million.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dat's whuh she did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oui! I looooooooove it! O.O
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please keep going!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keep going! I love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The night was cold, eerie. A girl raced through an alleyway, clutching something vaguely rectangular to her chest. Her odd, golden eyes were fearful. Suddenly, she froze as a dark shadow appeared before her. "Elissa Montgomery." A rasping voice issued from the hood. The girl froze before glaring up at it. "The name is Mitzelaine. Mitzelaine Sharppe." With those few words, she started in a rapid dash away, feinting near corners, being as unpredictable as possible. As she stopped to catch her breath, the shadow descended from above her, soundlessly landing on the ground. "Give us the Book of Gathore." The voice issued from the hood once more. "No!" Mitzelaine screamed, turning and running. She fell, scraping her knees, rolling over to stare up at the nonster as it loomed closer....and awoke, shivering and drenched in sweat. <p> 'Elissa Montgomery. That's not me...that's Mom.' She thought. The moonlight streamed through her open window as the curtains fluttered in the night wind. 'What did Mom do?'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago