Dave Van Ronk On How To Write A Song – 1st, Get Drunk With Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell

Dave Van Ronk at 1963 Newport Folk Festival

Dave Van Ronk And The Folk Music Scene

Dave Van Ronk was an integral part of the acoustic folk revival of the 1960s, not only because of his own work which included old English ballads, Bertolt Brecht, blues, gospel, rock, New Orleans jazz, and swing, but also because the Mayor of  MacDougal Street, as he was known, presided over the coffeehouse folk culture, influencing, helping, and inspiring many folk performers such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Phil Ochs, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell, in fact, held that his rendition of her song “Both Sides Now” (which he called Clouds) was the finest ever.

From left to right: Mimi Fariña, Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Chad Mitchell (on guitar).

Last Call By Dave Van Ronk – With Collaboration Of Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell

Dave Van Ronk originally released his song, Last Call, on his album Songs For Ageing Children in 1973. When he released a different version of  the song on Going Back To Brooklyn in 1994, Van Ronk included  the story of how the song came to be in the liner notes.

He claimed that he spent the night drinking with Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell at the Chelsea Hotel, and the next morning the lyrics to this song had been scribbled out although none if the three drinking buddies remembered writing it.

Van Ronk elaborated on the circumstances in his live introductions to the song, explaining that the lyrics were found  in his notebook in a handwriting none of them recognized. Since it was in his notebook the other two informed him that he obviously wrote it.1

While the story may be apocryphal, some of the lyrics of “Last Call” do have a Cohenesque quality to them, like an Irish version of “Closing Time.”

Last Call by Dave Van Ronk

And so we’ve had another night
of poetry and poses,
and each man knows he’ll be alone
when the sacred gin mill closes.

And so well drink the final glass
each to his joy and sorrow
and hope the numbing drink will last
til opening tomorrow.

And when we stumble back again
like paralytic dancers
each knows the question he must ask
and each man knows the answer.

And so well drink the final drink
that cuts the brain in sections
where answers do not signify
and there aren’t any questions.

I broke my heart the other day.
It will mend again tomorrow.
If I’d been drunk when I was born
I’d be ignorant of sorrow.

And so well drink the final toast
that never can be spoken:
Here’s to the heart that is wise enough
to know when it’s better off broken.

What Dave Van Ronk Learned From Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell

This extract is from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk, Elijah Wald, Lawrence Block2 (click on image to enlarge):

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post  was  taken by John Byrne Cooke. The photo of a room full of folk singers was taken by by Daniel Kramer and was contributed by Dominique BOILE.

  1. Music Musings and Miscellany []
  2. The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk, Elijah Wald, Lawrence Block. Da Capo Press, April 12, 2005 []

2 Responses to Dave Van Ronk On How To Write A Song – 1st, Get Drunk With Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell

  1. Heh. Damn great.

  2. Great lyrics. Bondage often lends its’ way to creativity!