The 15 Best Dave Van Ronk Quotes

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Videos by American Songwriter

Known by many as the Mayor of MacDougal Street during the 1960s bustling Greenwich Village, New York City music scene, Dave Van Ronk is likely one of your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriters.

He was instrumental in the folk boom during the time when Bob Dylan made his bones in the Big Apple. He was an acoustic player, known for performing traditional songs and giving his own twist to the writing and performance.

The Brooklyn-born Van Ronk is an important historical figure (memorialized in this memoir). But what did Van Ronk, who died in 2002 at 65 years old, have to say about his craft, outside of the song performance? What did he say about life and love?

Here are the best 15 Dave Van Ronk quotes. Let’s dive in.

1. “One of my earliest memories… I knew three full verses of the Star Spangled Banner when I was seven or eight years old. And one of the nuns discovered this phenomenon and I was actually sent around from classroom to classroom to do the whole thing.”

2. “Honesty is the cruelest game of all, because not only can you hurt someone—and hurt them to the bone—you can feel self-righteous about it at the same time.”

3. “In the early 1970s. 1971, ’72. The rooms were closing down, record labels weren’t signing acoustic acts anymore. Although they had pretty much been getting out of that for some time before that.”

4. “They basically said that if I didn’t show up for school they’d mark me present, they wouldn’t send the truant officer after me. At 16 I enrolled in something called continuing education. Once a month I’d go out to Jamaica, but I didn’t take it seriously.”

5. “When you’re working in front of an audience, you have incentive to excel.”

6. “If you look at music, you see theme, variation, you see symmetry, asymmetry, you see structure, and these are related to skills in the real world.”

7. “If there was ever any truth to the trickle-down theory, the only evidence of it I’ve ever seen was in that period of 1960 to 1965. All of sudden they were handing out major label recording contracts like they were coming in Cracker Jack boxes.”

8. “I think I have more in common with a carpenter than you might think. We’re putting things together.”

9. “You can’t be afraid of failure and you can’t be afraid of success, because either one gets in the way of your work.”

10. “There is an apprenticeship system in jazz. You teach the young ones. So even if the musicians weren’t personally that likable, they felt an obligation to help the younger musicians.”

11. “My uncle and my grandfather both worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

12. “Most of what I listen to now is mainstream jazz from 1935 right up to and including early bebop and cool jazz.”

13. “If I do a piece in my living room, if I practice it—and I have the tapes to prove this—it’s not going to be as good as doing the same piece in front of an audience.”

14. “By the mid-70s, I wanted to get out of the business. I was tired anyway.”

15. “I’m a very, very stubborn man.”

Photo by Kai Shuman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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