Dave Van Ronk


The Lion’s Head was one of the
memorable places from my past. It was a source of work, friends, and
inspiration. One of the most profound influences on my life was Dave
Van Ronk; he, as much as anyone else, helped me to really understand
what is was to be black. He understood. If black were a sensibility, he
possessed or it possessed him more than any man black or white. I
remember one night early into the morning, the bar had closed, and we,
not wishing to go home, were invited to Dave’s place for his mushroom
barley soup. I can’t remember all who went, but it included Ethan Eldon
(Commissioner of Air Resources in the Lindsay administration), Joel
Oppenheimer (poet, Vlllage Voice colunmist, and my son’s designated
godfather and a mentor of mine), Dave’s landlord, I believe was there,
and several other Lion’s Head regulars. He made a superb mushroom
barley soup. He sang acapella;he played records from his collection. He
played some early Satchmo records, and pointed out that Satchmo liked
the horn section of the Guy Lombardo band. The selections that he
played for us of Armstrong had a similar sound to that of the Lombardo
band, with Armstrong’s particular influence. Dave was a warm man, could
give a good hug, and he kept me, a young poet, from the polar extremes
of racialism or complete submersion in the majority. He influenced one
of my favorite, and maybe best poems, "short history of the saxophone."
His was a voice in the wilderness of this society that will be missed.
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