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One of a couple tunes we played that evening, this marks Noah’s first performance as well as the first time we’ve performed together. The tune, “One Meatball” is an old tune I picked up from listening to Dave Van Ronk.
The Time I Almost Met Dave Van Ronk
A ways back, a kid in high school, just about as soon as I picked up a guitar and learned a couple chords, I started writing songs and wanting to sing them where folks would hear them. I’d scoot out to Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village, W. 3rd street near MacDougal. They had “Hoot Nights” when anyone could play and that suited me fine. I’d show up and pick up my card—it was a playing card with a number written on it that designated my spot in the lineup. If I had a high number, I’d go away to sing on a street corner or find some other amusement for myself. Then I’d go back and take the stage for my allotted time. Usually did about three tunes. Got one of my first gigs that way, because they’d sometimes hire from one of those hoot night performances.
One day, I wander in, and Van Ronk is sitting there. He looks to me as much like a bear as a man, all hunched over a tumbler. Even sitting down, he’s plenty bigger than the beardless kid I was. But I know him, because I’d been wearing out some of his records at the time, and he looks just like he looked on the album jackets—just greyer and heftier and smelling like whiskey.
I am what you call “gobsmacked.” Can’t believe my luck. I want to talk to him. Shake his hand. But I’m tense as hell. Takes me some minutes just to screw up the nerve. Then I hold my breath to keep my heart from drilling inside my ear, tilt myself in the right direction, push off on one foot, and stumble right into him. Maybe he spills his drink a little. I squawk out something real intelligent like, “You’re Dave Van Ronk, aren’t you?” like maybe he doesn’t know who he is and he needs me to set the flag. But there you have it. It’s all I can squeeze out of my mouth and it about takes all the breath I have to do it.
Van Ronk doesn’t turn around. But this guy who’s sitting with him does, and I don’t even see that guy there until he puts his face up in front of mine. It takes me back a bit when he does that. He’s dressed kind of strange. A suit. I mean the whole matching jacket and pants thing. And his hair is all glued into place. And he smells like a shave, only stronger. And this guy stabs a glance at me and, all angry-like, says, “Why can’t you leave him alone. Why can’t you all just do that. He’s just a human being!” He says it pretty loud, and whole heaps of folks turn around to see what’s going on. And I’m all shivery and shrunken and embarrassed, and the only thing a kid can do when he’s in that sort of circumstance, the kind that threatens the way he looks to others and the way he feels about himself, is run or bite back. So I raise myself up to my full puniness and stick my finger almost into that guy’s nose and shout “I didn’t say he wasn’t a guy. I know he’s a guy. I just like his music and was gonna tell him thanks.” At this point Van Ronk wheels around. He almost gets up, but falls back into his chair. So he raises his arm, and I think he’s going to punch me.
Now, I may be rash and emotional and prone to trouble, but I’m not stupid. So I back myself up three or four paces, turn, and throw myself and my guitar through the doorway to the street.
And that’s all there is to it. It has been quite a while since then, and I’ve gotten to know and work with all kinds of folks. I’ve been fortunate in that. Still there must something there for me in those moments when I almost met Dave Van Ronk, because I remember it so well, and the clearness of the dark hours afterward, and how cool the night air was on my cheeks.