The Mayor of MacDougal Street
Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald
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Buy *The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir* by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald online

The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir
Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald
246 pages
April 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In 1953, at age 17, Dave Van Ronk was already living in Manhattan fulltime, learning jazz guitar. He hoped to make a living as a jazz musician, but the Beat Generation was winding down and the newcomers were flocking to Greenwich Village to be part of the resurgence of folk music – “The Great Folk Scare" as Utah Philips called it.

So Van Ronk was there before the beginning. He recounts the blending of jazz and older folk styles, tracing the history of blues to folk.

"The joke in the early 1960s was that I was the only folksinger in New York who knew how to play a diminished chord, and while that we not quite true, it does indicate what set me apart from a lot of the other people."
He was not only part of the history; he is a natural storyteller and relives the era discussing musical styles, politics and people. He lumps together lefties, folk musicians and sci-fi fans as all looking to escape the "monochromatic oppressiveness of Eisenhower America." He discusses the blacklisting of the ‘50s, distinguishing between Communists and non-Communist lefties. He also categorizes by folk purist or folk pop, slick performances or aboriginal works, even East Coast versus West Coast. And he names names: Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary David, Patrick Sky, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan ("Bobby").

Reading this is like spending a day in Dave's living room, starting early with coffee and ending with a bottle late at night. Maybe you crash on his couch and continue the saga in the morning. You want to find the old music and listen again. It makes you nostalgic, even if you were never there.

The folk revival was reactionary to the pop music of the ‘50s. The new rise of pop in the ‘60s (The Beatles, etc.) lessened the influence of folk.

"I was one of the few New Yorkers to stick it out, and that was because I was stuck with it. There were any number of times when I would have gotten out of this dumb business if there had been any viable alternative, but there wasn't, and in the end I am glad things worked out the way they did." Dave Van Ronk died of cancer in 2002; this book was published posthumously.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Midge Bork, 2007

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