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Mayor of Macdougal Street: A Memoir Hardcover – 23 Mar 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (23 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306814072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306814075
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,408,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme."

About the Author

Elijah Wald is an acclaimed author, blues scholar and musician.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 51 reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Van Ronk's Golden Memories 14 April 2005
By Kevin Killian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Some of you who have made Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES VOLUME ONE a bestseller might pick up on this book; Van Ronk covers some of the same territory as Dylan, only he got there first and he's more capacious, Whitman to Dylan's Hart Crane. Props to Elijah Wald who hand-crafted this material from a bunch of Van Ronk's monologues. It reads like a book and you'll hardly know it wasn't. The detective writer and creator of Matt Scudder, Lawrence Block, adds a preface that does the job efficiently and well.

What a life he had! (The singer died in 2002.) In the chapters devoted to his youth, Van Ronk paints us picture after picture, of the memorable individuals he met in the age of the first folk revival. In San Francisco he encounters the nutty Jesse Fuller, who had once been the folk-singing protege of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. In New York he shares a stage with Odetta, whose powerful voice could fill all of Manhattan when she let it loose. The truth is that being a folk singer in the late 1950s wasn't very much fun, and Van Ronk believed in getting paid for his singing and playing, so he was denied a space by the coffeehouse owners who could put on all the entertainment they wanted for free, and so he started organizing the musicians properly. All of this is fascinating to read about. Those of you who enjoyed Christopher Guest's folk revival send up A MIGHTY WIND will howl with recognition as Van Ronk lays into the "crewcuts in drip-dry seersucker suits" of the period such as the Kingston Trio. "There was an obvious subtext," he writes, "to what these Babbitt balladeers were doing, and it was, `Of course, we're really superior to all this hayseed crap-but isn't it cute?' This attitude threw me into an absolute ecstasy of rage. These were no true disciples or even honest money-changers. They were a bunch of slick hustlers selling Mickey Mouse dolls in the temple. Join their ranks? I would sooner have been boiled in skunk piss." Yowzer!

He's funny also about the truth that, although he was a tried and true Bohemian anarchist, he sure wasn't getting laid very much. In the pre-Pill age, he says, nobody was. "And the fact that we were a pretty scuzzy bunch might have had something to do with it."
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Rompin' Through the Swamp 21 Feb 2006
By F. R. W. Miles - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For the sake of good order let me explain that Van Ronk has always been one of my favorites. His deep rusty voice and superior song arrangements kept me listening for years. Now on to the book.

It is a wonderful insight to the NYC folk scene before, during, and after their golden ago. It tells stories from distant point-of-view that was there when it all occurred but has the separation in time and place to take the sharp emotions away. Sure Bobby Dylan took his arrangement of "House of the Rising Sum" (that was then copied by the Animals), sure with other management he might have been more famous, sure with a little more luck (and a better record company) he might have had a top ten song. But the book is from a later page in his life.

Once I started the book I could not put it down - each page was a new adventure. To read the words on the pages is the same as to have heard him talk between songs at one of his shows - minus the inflections.

Why four stars rather than five? For so much that was not there. Van Ronk died near the start of the project and his co-author did a wonderful job of keeping Van Ronk's voice and putting the pieces together. The fifth star is reserved for what might have been.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Couldn't Put It Down 19 July 2005
By Walter H. Crockett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have just finished "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" and I couldn't put it down (just like Pete Seeger said in the cover blurb). Elijah Wald did a marvelous job of pulling this book together. It all reads exactly as if Van Ronk had written or dictated the whole thing. It has Van Ronk's flair and wit, his musical acumen, and his glee in sticking in the needle now and again.

One thing you might expect from Van Ronk, whose crucial musical development predated the '60s folk boom, is a sort of world-weariness. But he has none of that. Beneath his crusty exterior lies an open mind and an almost childlike awe of good music and good art. What a refreshing book, and what a unique artist he was. His takes on Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton are right on.

I knew that Van Ronk died before the book was finished, and I kept waiting for the tone and quality to flag, or the voice to change, but it never did. A great job by Elijah Wald. I've got to buy his other books now.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Highly Recommended 30 Aug 2005
By Rudy D - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Van Ronk's autobiography is both informative and entertaining. He pulls no punches in giving us an honest and very humerous recounting of the Greenwich Village Folk Scene of the late '50's and early 60's.

In this surprisingly insightful narrative, all the major players are given the Van Ronk assessment. (And we have almost as much fun reading it.)

One quickly realizes what we have lost.

Anyone who loves the music, will love this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
First-Rate Second-Rate Memoir 27 Dec 2006
By E. Patterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What a treat this book is! On top of his anecdotes about characters he met in the folk boom (Paul Clayton, Bob Dylan, Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt are among my favorites) there are also some hilarious instances self-and-everyone-else deprecation that would do Mark Twain proud.

I also loved the beautifully articulated moments of philosophy, of his musings on progress in the arts, politics (He identified himself as a Marxist and materialist), poetry, "purity", and other instances in which he takes an honest (as one can be) perspective on the benefits and pitfalls of each subject.

Overreaching the whole narrative are Dave's affluent qualities that also made him a fine musician, namely a great flair for varying movement and intensity, and an empathetic voice that attempts to understand the material on every level it can be appreciated. In taking this perspective, Dave accomplishes what autobiographies usually falter at: to stand back and let the stories, let the art stand on its own vivacious merits.

(Special kudos to Elijah Wald for editing together the work. It's one hell of a task to make the countless stories flow so smoothly.)
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