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WSWS : Arts
Review : Music
A conversation with Dave Van Ronk
By David Walsh
7 May 1998
Few folk or blues enthusiasts
of my generation need to be introduced to Dave Van Ronk, the extraordinary
singer and guitarist. His name is inextricably linked, first and
foremost, to the folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich
Village in the 1960s. He played with and knew virtually everyone
of musical significance in that decade.
Van Ronk, born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1936, has been performing
for more than four decades. He made his first record for Moses
Asch's Folkways label in 1959 and gained widespread recognition
for his recordings with Prestige in the 1960s. He performed at
countless festivals, such as the annual Newport event, and toured
the US and internationally. A compilation of those early recordings,
The Folkways Years, 1959-1961, is available from Smithsonian/Folkways.
His most recent recording, From ... Another Time and Place
(1995) was released on Alcazar Records.
Van Ronk continues to perform, as well as teach guitar. I saw
him at a club in Ann Arbor in late 1997. He plays the sort of
music he likes, with small regard for the boundaries that normally
separate jazz and blues and country and folk. He proves in practice
that those distinctions don't mean very much. His performances
now are stripped down to the essentials: emotional and musical
honesty. He is a unique individual and musical figure.
Van Ronk, a lifelong sympathizer of the socialist movement,
was a member of the Workers League, the forerunner of the Socialist
Equality Party, in the late 1960s. I spoke to him recently in
Greenwich Village, where he still lives.
(Dave Van Ronk's discography is available at http://www.rootsworld.com/folklore/vanrdisc.html)
DW: What were the social circumstances under which you
DVR: If you asked anybody in my family, they would have
very stridently proclaimed themselves middle class. My mother
and father were separated, so he doesn't count. My mother was
a stenographer, a stenographer-typist. My uncle and my grandfather
both worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was an electrician and
subsequently became something of an aristocrat of labor. My great
grandfather admired Eugene V. Debs. My great grandmother hated
Debs because she said he was leading my great grandfather off
the straight and narrow, and getting him drunk. She was probably
right. In any event, the family, mostly Irish, was working class.
I was born in Bushwick, but I grew up in Richmond Hill, in Queens.
I went to Catholic school.
DW: What was that like?
DVR: Horrible. The nuns were ignorant, if not mean.
There was Sister Attila Maria, for example. These were vicious
Irish nuns. Oh, I got along with some of them.
DW: What did you read as a kid?
DVR: It depends what age. I remember reading Grant's
memoirs, the autobiography of Buffalo Bill. Lots of Mark Twain.
A massive book called Land and Sea, some sort of anthropological
study. I read Hemingway at 13, The Sun Also Rises, which
bored me. My brain was like the attic of the Smithsonian. They
left me pretty much on my own. I began hanging out in pool halls.
When I was 15 or so, a truant officer picked me up in a pool
hall. Actually, he was there for the guy I was playing with. I
was hauled before the principal. You never saw the principal,
this was like being brought before Stalin. He called me "a
filthy ineducable little beast." That's a direct quote. You
don't forget something like that. 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.
By this time I was listening to music, to jazz. Bebop, modern
jazz mostly. But I leaned to the traditional jazz. That had its
pluses and minuses. I cut myself off from the mainstream of jazz.
It stood me in good stead later on, as a musician.
I started sitting in, playing the guitar, at clubs, like the
Stuyvesant Casino, Childs' Paramount. Coleman Hawkins would come
in, Johnny Hodges. 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.
I played on the bandstand. I wasn't a member of the AF of M [musicians'
union], of course. There would be somebody, like Jimmy Rushing,
who would start singing if the union delegate came in, and you'd
take off. Of course, your instrument was still up there. The delegate
knew, but he wouldn't do anything about it.
DW: How did your recording career begin?
DVR: I was playing at a club. Odetta was performing
there and she heard me. She said I was good. "Do you do this
full-time?" "No, I'm a seaman." And I liked shipping
out. "Well, you should," she said. "Why don't you
make a demo tape? I'll send it to Albert Grossman." He owned
a club in Chicago, and later managed Bob Dylan. Well, it wasn't
so easy to make a demo tape in those days. But somehow I managed
it. And I sent it to her. I hunkered down to wait. And I waited.
Nothing happened. Finally, I hitchhiked to Chicago, in 24 hours,
staying awake with Benzedrine. I was in bad shape when I got there.
I got to Grossman's club, and, as luck would have it, he was there.
He had never received any tape. But since I was there, he said,
"Why don't you do an audition?" So I did. And when I
was finished, I said, "Well?" He said, "I book
Big Bill Broonzy in here, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Why
should I hire you?" And I blew up, I shouted, "You SOB,
Grossman, you're Crowjimming me [practicing reverse racism]."
And I went back to New York. But on the way, I got pickpocketed.
I was sleeping, and one of my rides picked my pocket and stole
my seaman's papers. That's why I'm a folk singer.
DW: Tell me a little bit more about the "golden
era," as you described it. How did you experience the boom
in the early sixties?
DVR: It was pretty weird. All of a sudden there was
money all over the place. 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.
People who had been sleeping on floors and eating in cafeterias
a year or two before, all of a sudden had enough money to buy
a suit, if they wanted to. And musically it was very interesting.
It attracted a large number of talented people, who probably wouldn't
have been interested in folk music had it not been so popular.
Someone like Jose Feliciano. He played the guitar, he sang, ergo,
he was a folk singer. Folk City, Gaslight, the Newport Folk Festival.
There was a tremendous attraction for that brief period. Bob Dylan
DW: When did you first meet him?
DVR: The winter of 1961-62, when he first came to New
DW: What was he like at that time?
DVR: Nervous. Nervous energy, he couldn't sit still.
And very, very evasive. You never could pin him down on anything;
he had a lot of stories about who he was and where he came from.
He never seemed to be able to get them straight. What impressed
me the most about him was his genuine love for Woody Guthrie.
In retrospect, even he says now that he came to New York to "make
it." That's BS. When he came to New York there was no folk
music, no career possible, it was out of the question, it simply
wasn't going to happen. What he said at the time is the story
I believe. He came because he had to meet Woody Guthrie. And he
used to go out to the hospital where Woody, who had Huntington's
Chorea, stayed. He was slowly but surely sinking. And Bobby used
to go out there two or three times a week and sit there, and play
songs for him. In that regard he was as stand-up a cat as anyone
I've ever met. That's also what got him into writing songs. He
wrote songs for Woody, to amuse him, to entertain him. He also
wanted Woody's approval.
DW: Could he communicate that approval?
DVR: His communication by the time Bobby showed up was
at a minimum. But he could make himself understood if you were
very patient. I believe Bobby did establish enough of a rapport
to be able to do that.
DW: Did you like his music?
DVR: Yes, very much. It had what I call a gung-ho, unrelenting
quality, a take-no-prisoners approach that was really very effective.
He acquired very, very devoted fans among the other musicians
before he had written his first song.
DW: Who were some of the other people who impressed
you at the time?
DVR: There were a lot of them. Janis Ian. She was such
a good musician. For one thing, the level of musicianship in the
folk community was pretty low. So you could be Johann Sebastian
Bach and it wouldn't be noticed. Curiously enough, it had its
up side too. Nobody got zapped for being too sophisticated. Janis
had a sophisticated melodic, chord sense. I knew her when she
made Society's Child, before it became a hit. It just so
happened that we were recording for the same label. She was 17
at the time.
Ian and Sylvia, who, when you got right down to it, were essentially
country and western singers. I just recorded his Four Strong
Winds. It's a wonderful song. It was the first thing he ever
wrote. If my first song had been like that, I probably would have
been afraid to write a second one. I used to be a pin setter when
I was a kid, in a bowling alley, before they had the machines.
On slow nights I used to bowl. I was terrible, the worst. But
one night, I don't know what got into me, I bowled a turkey, three
consecutive strikes. I have not picked up a bowling ball since.
DW: You mentioned in passing the civil rights movement.
Did you ever go to the South?
DVR: No, I didn't. I worked with Jim Farmer and CORE
here. I did this, that and the other thing. Mostly I did benefits,
which is essentially what I do best. But when they needed a warm
body, I presented them with mine for whatever it was worth.
DW: When you speak about the money, or the recording
contracts, that became available, did you ever feel there was
a moment when you had to make certain choices?
DVR: If you generate $100,000, is there anything wrong
with asking for $35,000?
DW: I shouldn't have put it that way. Did you ever feel
that you could put yourself in a situation where you would change?
DVR: No. The thought never entered my head. And for
good reason. I've been very, very prosperous and I've been very,
very poor, all in the last 20 or 30 years, and I don't see that
my weltanschaung has been very much influenced. I'm a very,
very stubborn man. 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. I formed a rock and roll band in 1965. Frankly, I was making
a grab for the brass ring. I couldn't see any reason why not.
Subsequently, I saw reasons why not. I found it musically boring
and I quit, even though it was my band. Maybe we didn't give it
enough of a chance, or something along that line. Maybe we needed
better representation, or this, that and the other thing. But
that isn't why I left. I left because I got tired of doing the
same goddamn songs every night.
DW: What were some of the best experiences, the most
satisfying experiences performing?
DVR: Some of them were in very small places. The first
time I ever worked the Club 47 in Cambridge, Mass. No, I didn't
actually work there the particular time I'm thinking of. I was
up there just visiting Jim Kweskin, of the jug band. The next
thing I know I'm bombed out of my mind on the stage at the Club
47 where I could never get arrested before. And I'm up there,
I don't know what I'm doing, I'm just watching my fingers. Wow,
they move and everything. I get off the stage and the manager
comes over, "I didn't know how good you were, you want a
job?" I found the missing ingredient to get hired at the
Club 47 apparently. It's the incongruous things that stick in
your head, not the great, wonderful ... the standing ovation you
got in Nova Scotia in 1972, the great review you got in the
Times. It's the quirky things that I remember, like down in
Philadelphia I had to do some kind of early morning TV show. For
some reason it was called Aqua something or other.
DW: It wasn't done under water.
DVR: It would have been better. So they sent a car for
me to take me to the show, it's an aquarium. And it's one of these
teenage dance shows. They have these huge fish tanks all around.
They didn't have the facilities to do live broadcasting. So you
had to lip synch. I had never done that before. Furthermore, even
if I had done it before, it wouldn't have helped. I don't phrase
my songs the same way twice; I try not to anyway. All I remember
really is kids dancing, and as they go by the camera flipping
the camera the finger. I remember saying, "Actually, I only
came here to see the piranha, but you'll do." Those are the
DW: Did they dance to your music?
DVR: Yeah. They would have danced to an amplified cricket.
They were there to boogie.
DW: This is in the 60s.
DVR: Yeah, it was one of those Dick Clark-type shows.
At the time, I was outraged. I tried not to let it show. The first
time I told the story and everybody started to laugh, I realized
it was a wonderful thing. Only in America.
DW: What about the Newport Folk Festival, what was that
DVR: I never liked those things. I never liked the musical
aspect of it. There was no focus, for one thing, too many things
were going on at once. It was a three-ring circus. During the
afternoon there'd be three or four concerts going on, and the
sound overlapping. You couldn't even really hear what you came
to hear. Put yourself in my position, or any singer's position,
how would you like to sing for 15,000 people with frisbees? No
focus. It was better at night, on the main stage at night, because
there is a bit more focus, there was only one thing going on.
The audience does tend to concentrate on what's happening on stage.
So that was a little bit better. There were performers who thrived
on that kind of thing. I never did. Pete Seeger, with every thousand
people they added, he'd get better.
DW: What do you think of him and his music?
DVR: Oh, he's a wonderful musician. He's another guy
who has been shortchanged as a musician. He's a very good musician
and a very good singer. He phrases well. What am I supposed to
say about the guy who invented my profession? And he did. He and
Burl Ives, I suppose. I don't do the kind of music Pete does,
but if you listen to that first solo album, that's a musical milestone.
That stands to this day.
DW: What did you think of Joni Mitchell?
DVR: I thought she was about the best songwriter of
the 60s. A remarkable sensibility, a good lyricist. Sometimes
she lets the tricks get out of hand. She plays too obviously with
things like alliteration and internal rhyming. It's that kind
of playfulness, even in her serious songs, that give her material
its je ne sais quoi. She is a very playful lyricist. I
like that. John Donne was a very playful lyricist.
DW: After 1965 or so, did things decline?
DVR: Well, you know they kept on going in the form of
folk-rock, but as far as the folk revival was concerned, it was
pretty much over. I played in the same places. The business kept
prospering right until 1969 or 1970. Until the whole hippie thing
became manifestly the nightmare that it had always been. And then
business got very bad. In the early 1970s. 1971, '72. The rooms
were closing down, record labels weren't signing acoustic acts
any more. Although they had been pretty much been getting out
of that for some time before that. The shock of Richard Nixon.
That guy was pretty demoralizing. The whole raison d'être
of the New Left had been exposed as a lot of hot air, that was
demoralizing. I mean, these kids thought they were going to change
the world, they really did. They were profoundly deluded. I used
to talk to them, to the hippies, yippies. I understood their mentality
as well as anyone could. But things like Altamont, things like
Kent State, the election of Richard Nixon, the fact that the war
just kept going on and on and on, and nothing they did could stop
it. Phil Ochs wrote the song, I declare the war is over,
that was despair, sheer despair. By the mid-70s, I wanted to get
out of the business. I was tired anyway.
DW: Had you continued recording?
DVR: Oh, yeah. I don't think I went a year or so without
a record between 1959 and 1979, sometimes two. I got in under
the wire, so I could keep on trundling along, although on a much
lower level in terms of income. But by 1976 I hung it up for a
while. To hell with this. I hung out my shingle. I taught guitar
for a year or so. Performing is addictive. After a year or so,
I was so antsy, in spite of the fact that I hadn't changed my
mind about the pluses or minuses of doing it.
DW: What is it you enjoy most about performing?
DVR: Well, you know, it's very hard to put it into words.
If I could put it into words, I'd be a writer. 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. When you're working in front of an audience,
you have incentive to excel. When you're working for yourself,
you don't have that incentive. Part of it is fear, which supplies
a good deal of adrenaline. Part of it is sheer hamminess. I'm
an exhibitionist, I was an exhibitionist as a kid.
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. Let me tell you, I was not the most popular kid in school
after that happened. Like the kid who memorized the most scripture
in Tom Sawyer. I was a ham. Now, you know, I'm not so much.
You get it out of your system. Whatever it is you have to prove,
I was talking to a friend of mine, a psychoanalyst. For some
reason, we were talking about Jack the Ripper. His theory was
that the reason why Jack the Ripper disappeared, was never caught,
was because he cured himself. He'd gone through it, and after
a few murders, he was no longer crazy. The performer is much like
Jack the Ripper. After a while you get it out of your system and
you're not nearly the exhibitionist that you were when you started
out. By that time you've acquired the skills. I still enjoy it.
DW: Do you think that art or music is a way of knowing
the world, of experiencing the world?
DVR: I don't think you're dealing with the same thing
in the arts that you're dealing with in life. Except insofar as
it is a way of organizing things. It is no more like life than
chess is like life. And yet some of the skills that you acquire,
a way of thinking, a way of addressing problems, will carry over
into the way you organize your life, the way you look at the world.
Most of it's done on a subconscious level. 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.
I think I have more in common with a carpenter than you might
think. We're putting things together. That aspect of it does relate
to the real world in a parallel way. In the sense that two parallel
lines never meet, but they are nonetheless parallel. Which is
why some of the greatest musicians are the greatest screw-ups.
DW: What sort of music still interests you the most?
DVR: Jazz. Most of what I listen to now is mainstream
jazz from 1935 right up to and including early bebop and cool
jazz. I get off at hard bop. Didn't like it at the time, still
don't like it. Modern jazz per se is fine. I'm not put off by
the weird changes, they're not weird, not to me. Modern Jazz Quartet,
Gillespie, Parker, a lot of Teddy Wilson. A lot of the vocalists,
Billie Holliday and some others who got lost in the shuffle.
DW: Do you think that it is inevitable that there is
such a wall between so-called popular music and so-called classical
DVR: That's a very, very complicated question. What
you're asking is a historical question, a question of the sociology
of music. In this country that is an incredibly complex thing.
We are a nation of immigrants. People came here with a body of
music that was not viable. They were in the market, so to speak,
for music that was viable. Very early on, consumer capitalism
came to their rescue, with the very thing. That started to happen
right after the Civil War and became the mainstream of American
music before the turn of the century. So that classical, serious
orchestral music, whatever you want to call it, never really had
Also, you have to bear in mind that classical music has been
music of the ruling class since its inception. Monteverdi wasn't
writing for the people. If he had, he would have starved to death.
It's an elite musical form, which casts no inherent aspersions
on it. This is a socio-musicological fact. Its history militates
against it here. This is a very egalitarian country, and the very
idea of there being such a thing as an elite with its own music
is anathema to most Americans. How would one go about bridging
that? Certain feckless attempts were made in the 1930s and 40s
by CBS, NBC and so on. I remember listening to opera live on the
radio from the Met [Metropolitan Opera]. I think it was on Saturday
afternoons, with Milton Cross. I liked it, but I was a weird kid
and I liked weird stuff. But early on I heard Oscar Levant's definition
of opera, which you may or may not have heard: It's a play where
everybody gets stabbed, but instead of bleeding, they sing. I
think most Americans, if you wrote that out, they'd sign it. Would
it be possible, if somehow or other, consumer capitalism...?
DW: Let's say, in a better society.
DVR: It's really hard to say. One of the problems would
be the problem of continuity. A revolutionary period is not a
good period for the arts. Now what we've got going right now is
hardly a good period for the arts. You tack a revolutionary period
on to what we've got now, and you're going to see a cultural breakdown
of the very first order, I suspect, and whatever emerges is going
to have to emerge ... you're going to have to quite literally
bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old. What grows
from there, it's very hard to say, with that continuity shattered
something new might arise, totally different from anything you
could imagine. When you look at the mathematical possibilities
of music, you realize that the way the West has taken it is far
from the only way to go. I've always like Trotsky's writings as
an art critic, possibly the only Trotskyist who really did understand
the essentials of the field.
DW: The attempt is to initiate a discussion on social
and artistic perspectives... you can't, you don't want to, tell
people what to do. You can, I think, direct people's attention
toward what you think is more interesting material. In any case,
how does consciousness affect an artist? Does it help to have
a correct political perspective? It does in general, but it doesn't
necessarily make you a better painter. I would like to think that
ultimately it would influence your work in some way or other.
DVR: I'm not sure it does. In my field the only way
that politics can influence you is if you start singing political
DW: Even directing people toward honesty or authenticity.
DVR: What you need is a whole, well-rounded historical
approach to art.
DW: I agree.
DVR: You have to start with the Babylonians, the Egyptians,
and right on through to the Romantics and the modernists. It's
as much a life's work as politics.
DVR: The problem arises of priorities. With the system
going haywire, running amok like it's doing now, can a political
organization spare the personnel, the time, the energy? It's not
a decision for me to make, thank god.
DW: We think so. We view the cultural questions as profoundly
bound up with the social questions. The Russian Revolution wasn't
simply the product of a political program, but of a culture that
was built up over three-quarters of a century. Stalinism severely
damaged that culture and we live, frankly, still in the shadow
of the damage that was done. These sorts of issues are going to
be absolutely indispensable in the rebuilding of a socialist culture,
in the broadest sense.
DVR: I think the function of a critic, any critic, is
partially that, of a preservator. That is to say, whatever emerges,
it would be nice if the cultural heritage that we have managed
to accumulate be handed on more or less intact. I think most modernists
and even some of the post-modernists agree that the continuity
in the arts is a very critical question. That's not just for a
revolutionary party, but any honest critic. When you see something
new, to be able to relate it to what's gone before. As well as
to be able to see it within the context of the social forces at
If more artists were aware of the pressures that were on them,
or influencing them, some of them would probably change what they
were doing, and some of them would do what they are doing, but
better. It's not enough that the dialectic recognizes the artist,
even if the artist doesn't recognize the dialectic. It's true,
but it's not enough.
DW: A great deal of what has passed for Marxism in the
field of art in the last half-century has been a perversion. We
have to reestablish the importance of aesthetic value. Art is
not a means, it is an end, an essential ingredient of humanity.
The Trotskyists were working under extremely difficult circumstances,
there was the enormous isolation of the Marxist tendency in the
1940s, 1950s.... Whether they could have done better, it's not
for me to judge. I think they paid a price. I think the Healy
organization paid a price for its refusal, or inability to deal
with all sorts of cultural and intellectual problems. I would
like to think we are now emerging into a situation where we can
put some of those questions back into the center of attention.
That's what we are going to attempt to do.
DVR: I propose to watch your efforts.
DW: To get back to the chronology, how did you experience
DVR: Since the late 1970s I've been fighting a successful
holding action. Two steps forward, two steps back. The thing you
have to remember is that no one in their right mind ever got into
this business because they thought they were going to get rich.
My initial plan was to make a living. And, as far as I'm concerned,
I've done it. "So far, so good," as the Irishman who
fell off the Empire State Building, passing the thirtieth floor,
was heard to say. What I measure my progress by isn't my standard
of living. I've made a great deal of money when my output was
really stagnant, and I have been really hard pressed when I'm
going through a good period. Over all, I've grown a great deal,
as a musician, as a singer. I'm so much more in command of my
faculties at this stage of the game than I ever was before. That
to me is an important thing.
DW: That was my feeling when I saw the performance in
Ann Arbor. You reach a point where the secondary issues fall away
and you speak very directly and very personally, and very honestly
DVR: It's possible. That can be done. You don't have
to create a phony persona. You need a persona, you cannot be exactly
the same person on stage as you are off. But you have to construct
your persona honestly. It's got to be made out of stuff that's
really there. And sorting that business out takes a long, long
time. It requires a certain amount of introspection. It requires
a great deal of trial and error, and it requires, again, persistence.
What excites me is doing things musically that I would never
have dreamt I could do even 10 years ago. Writing, working on
new arrangements, this, that and the other thing. That's what
keeps me going. Working on something that interests me, it's that
puzzle aspect, making those damn things fit, putting it together
so it's some kind of a coherent whole. That's a lot of fun. I'm
very lucky, I happened to fall into a field where I can actually
make a living doing what I like. There aren't too many people
who do that. It's sheer luck. Absolutely. If I could have fallen
by the wayside, I would have, any number of times. What if I had
gotten rich in 1964? I don't know, probably, knowing myself I
would have figured some way to get myself unrich quick. But what
if I had? What if I were surrounded by a bunch of yes-men, who
only told me what I wanted to hear, whether I asked them to do
that or not, that's how it works. Or if the bottom had dropped
out completely? What would have happened then?
DW: Is there any contemporary popular music that you
DVR: No, no field, there are individual performers.
Singer/songwriters that I admire very much. But I wouldn't say
that I like singer/songwriter music by and large. As somebody
once said, 95 percent of everything is crap.
DW: As you know, Jean Brust died recently. How do you
remember her, and Bill?
DVR: We met in the party. Bill and Jean used to come
into New York, for conferences, this, that and the other thing.
We found ourselves very simpatico. I used to see them a
lot. There was something about them, not just politically, but
personally, that, you know, clicked. I miss both of them a lot.
DW: Do you have any disappointments?
DVR: I really wish my ability to focus had been better.
I don't think I've accomplished a tenth of what I could have.
That irritates me. I get very annoyed with myself about that.
When I see the kind of work I'm capable of doing under pressure.
For example, I had to do two songs that I had never tried before
on four days' notice, a couple of weeks ago. One of them was by
Kurt Weill, the other I chose myself. It was Earl Robinson's I
Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.
Inside of three days I'd done it. I didn't have to chart the
Weill song. It was Johnny's Song from Johnny Johnson.
I thought they'd give me Lost in the Stars, September
Song, the Bilbao Song, but, no, they gave me that dumb
thing. It was hard, I was working from Weill's orchestral score.
The Joe Hill song I'd never sung before. I had no idea what to
do on the guitar. I did it as an encore the other night, in Oxford,
New York. Thirty miles north of Binghamton. A full house of cows.
Not a dry udder in the house.
I can do that kind of thing. And in theory I could have been
doing that kind of thing for the last 30 years. I just don't have
that single-mindedness, that focus. I could have done a lot more.
But aside from that, no. I'm sorry I didn't do more and better
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