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The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir Paperback – March 7, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A hulking raconteur and iconoclast, [Van Rock] fondly captures the spirit of the times." -- Q Magazine, June 2006

"A wise and very funny book." -- The New Yorker, 9/04/06

"Filled with amusing, colourful anecdotes." -- Chart, June 2006

"[An] infectious and friendly memoir... Conversational and lighthearted... An enjoyable and informative read." -- Alt.Culture.Guide, July 2006

About the Author

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. The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a first-hand account by a major player in the social and musical history of the '50s and '60s. It features encounters with young stars-to-be like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Joni Mitchell, as well as older luminaries like Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Odetta. Elijah Wald wrote the acclaimed study of blues legend Robert Johnson, Escaping the Delta. He also wrote the biography Josh White: Society Blues and Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681479X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306814792
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #547,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on April 14, 2005
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.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By F. R. W. Miles on February 21, 2006
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Walter H. Crockett on July 18, 2005
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.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rudy D on August 30, 2005
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Crusader in Jersey on August 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't know what I actually expected when I bought the book entitled, “The Mayor of MacDougal
Street”, but whatever it was that I’d anticipated, this book was far beyond my expectations.

As a bit of an FYI:
It was 1964 when I first hit Greenwich Village, me a freshman in HS with a compatriot, a
senior called ‘Rebel’. He was from WV, with dyed-blonde pompadour haircut, tough as nails (when drunk he’d
suddenly send an uppercut with no warning or reason) and most guys would not hang with him, but I just
learned to duck. We’d walk across on W.3rd St. to MacDougal. His phony ID allowed him to drink at the San
Remo Café, where Kerouac and Ginsburg once had hung out, but as I was just a kid I’d wait outside whilst he
celebrated at the bar.
Next we crossed the street to a liquor shop and Reb bought a pint of Vodka and a six of Colt 45 ‘tallboys’,
then it was off to Washington Square Park.We drank the beer sitting on a park bench, after which we headed
to the Café ‘Wha?’ where we’d order ‘Zombies’ (a lemon flavored non-alcoholic beverage) and spice ‘em
up with our pint.

Well, we thought we were about the ‘coolest cats' on the block back then, but according to Dave Van Ronk
, the ‘Mayor’, of title, we were known as “clydes”, the tourists that clogged their streets on the
week-ends and kicked in the quarters and dollars for the entertainment they provided, enabling them
to pay the pittance of rent that the Village commanded at that time. What Dave and his chronicler
do for us here is something I’ve seldom seen in memoirs or auto-biographies, which are usually fraught
with sexual exploits and/or ‘reasons’ for the subject’s sad indiscretions.
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