Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Mayor of MacDougal Street....

Two of the books I'm reading at the moment are Dave Van Ronk's brilliant memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and Harvey Pekar's Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History. VanRonk's book is more enjoyable than anything I've read in I have no idea how long; a laugh out loud funny personal history of New York and Greenwich Village in particular from the 1950s through the 1970s and covering in delightful detail what Utah Phillips called the "Great Folk Scare."

Pekar's book is, in essence, a Classics Comics telling of the history of the student free speech movement and anti-war movement of the late 1960s. It's beauty is in its remarkable succinctness, the direct result of its being a comic (or "graphic novel" if you prefer).

As succinct as Pekar's book is, it is in Van Ronk's memoir that I found the most cogent critique of the anti-war New Left I've ever found. Van Ronk writes:

“[M]ost of these people were not really radicals, just a bunch of very pissed-off liberals. They had no grounding, and indeed no interest, in theory, and their disdain for studying history and learning economics infuriated me. The core problem with the New Left was that it wasn’t an ideology, it was a mood – and if you are susceptible to one mood, you are susceptible to another. They wanted the world to change, but essentially it was a petty bourgeois movement that had no connection with what was really going on. The working class at least has some power – if the working class folds its arms, the machinery stops – and as for the ruling class, its power is obvious. But what power does the middle class have? They have the power to talk: yak, yak, yak. To interpret, reinterpret, and re-reinterpret. And that is the history of the New Left in a nutshell" (emphasis added, p. 200).

Now log onto Amazon and go get your self a copy; I can't recommend a book more.


jim reilley said...

it's a great read. i got to play with dave twice and he was a true master. a sweet man, greatest morning voice ever and a hell of a guitar player. peace,jim

Stan Denski said...

OK, now I am officially jealous. I saw him 4 or 5 times in small clubs and he always seemed like someone I would love to have hung out with for an evening with a bottle of something and story after story. If you see this comment Jim, I lost your email and phone, mine is