Dave Van Ronk On How To Write A Song: Step #1. Get Drunk With Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell


Dave Van Ronk And The Folk Music Scene

Dave Van Ronk was an integral part of the1960s folk revival, not only because of his own work 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.

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

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

He reported 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 of 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, Leonard and Joni held 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, kinda sorta 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.

“Any damn fool can write. So write, and stop complaining” Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell To Dave Van Ronk

This extract is from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir:2

Last Call by Dave Van Ronk

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post by Jack Mancini – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia Commons

Note: Originally posted Dec 1, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


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

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