Book recounts musician's early career
Guitarist Dave Van Ronk was known for his storytelling.
By SCOTT BAUER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
"The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir." By Dave Van Ronk, with Elijah Wald. Da Capo Press. 246 Pages. $26.
He didn't become as famous as Bob Dylan.
His records never sold as well as Simon and Garfunkel's.
And he didn't become a cultural icon on the level of Peter, Paul and Mary.
But Dave Van Ronk, known affectionately as the Pope of Greenwich Village and the Mayor of MacDougal Street, was revered by those who crossed his path in the coffeehouses of New York in the 1960s, when the folk music revival was at its peak and those other artists were getting their starts.
Van Ronk, a powerful singer, influential guitar player and masterful storyteller, was working on a memoir at the time of his death in 2002. Elijah Wald, a music journalist, put the book together after Van Ronk died.
The result is "The Mayor of MacDougal Street," a funny, insightful and honest recounting of Van Ronk's early days cutting his musical teeth and playing in such historic village coffeehouses as the Gaslight Cafe and Gerda's Folk City.
Wald writes that Van Ronk's original vision for the book was much broader. He wanted to interview as many people as possible who had been a part of the Greenwich Village scene from the 1960s.
That didn't happen.
The result is a credit to Wald's ability to tie together bits and pieces from interviews he and others had done with Van Ronk with numerous tales the singer told as part of his act while on stage. The veracity of some may be difficult if not impossible to track down, but that doesn't detract from their value as entertainment.
Van Ronk doesn't sugarcoat the past. While he pays his regards to Dylan, he's not above criticizing some of his song writing and behavior.
He showers the most praise on old-time blues artists, including Mississippi John Hurt and the Rev. Gary Davis, who were making the rounds again as part of the 1960s blues revival.
Van Ronk knows how to tell a story. And even though many of the anecdotes recounted in the book sound much like him talking from the stage (which he was), somehow that seems appropriate for a guy who lived his life that way.
The story stops at the end of the 1960s, even though Van Ronk continued recording and playing concerts right up until his death. While Wald says that Van Ronk never intended the book to span his entire life, a chapter or two bringing the reader up to date wouldn't have hurt.
Many readers may go to the book looking for stories about other people, including Dylan -- and they are here -- but along the way they will discover, or rediscover, the story of Dave Van Ronk.