How Dave Van Ronk, the Mayor of MacDougal Street, Lost His Battle with Colon Cancer

Dave Van Ronk was a folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist who played a pivotal role in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s. He was a mentor and friend to many young artists, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Phil Ochs. He was also a master of various musical genres, from blues and jazz to ragtime and gospel. He died of complications from colon cancer on February 10, 2002, at the age of 65. This article will explore his life, career, and legacy, as well as the cause and prevention of his disease.

A Musical Journey

Dave Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1936. He grew up in a working-class family of Irish descent, and developed a love for music at an early age. He dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marine, where he learned to play the guitar and the banjo. He moved to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in the mid-1950s, where he immersed himself in the thriving folk and jazz scene. He began performing in coffeehouses and clubs, and recorded his first album, Sings Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual, in 1957.

Van Ronk was influenced by a variety of musical sources, from old English ballads and Delta blues to New Orleans jazz and swing. He was especially fond of the Reverend Gary Davis, a blind blues guitarist and singer, whom he studied with and befriended. He also developed his own distinctive style of fingerpicking, which he used to arrange and reinterpret traditional songs and his own compositions. He was known for his raspy voice, his witty and insightful lyrics, and his charismatic stage presence.

Van Ronk was not only a performer, but also a teacher and a catalyst for the folk revival of the 1960s. He helped many aspiring musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, and Patrick Sky, to find their voice and their audience. He also introduced them to songs and styles that they would later make famous, such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “He Was a Friend of Mine”. He was a generous and supportive figure, who earned the nickname “the Mayor of MacDougal Street”, after the street where many folk venues were located.

Van Ronk’s career spanned four decades and more than 30 albums. He continued to explore new musical directions, such as ragtime, gospel, and jazz standards. He also wrote songs that reflected his social and political views, such as “Luang Prabang”, a protest against the Vietnam War, and “Song to a Seagull”, a tribute to Joni Mitchell. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1997.

A Deadly Disease

Van Ronk was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2001, after experiencing abdominal pain and weight loss. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but the disease had already spread to his liver and lungs. He died at the New York University Medical Center on February 10, 2002, surrounded by his family and friends.

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the large intestine or the rectum. It is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It affects both men and women, and is more common in older adults and people with a family history of the disease. It is also linked to certain lifestyle factors, such as a diet high in red and processed meat, obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

The symptoms of colon cancer may include changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrow stools; blood in the stool or rectal bleeding; abdominal pain, cramps, or bloating; weakness, fatigue, or unexplained weight loss; and anemia. However, some people may not have any symptoms until the cancer is advanced. Therefore, it is important to get screened regularly for colon cancer, especially after the age of 50. Screening tests, such as colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or stool tests, can detect polyps, which are abnormal growths that may turn into cancer, or cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to treat and cure.

The treatment of colon cancer depends on the stage, location, and type of the cancer, as well as the patient’s age, health, and preferences. The main options are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. The survival rate of colon cancer varies depending on the stage of diagnosis, but it is generally higher for people who are diagnosed and treated early. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year relative survival rate for people with localized colon cancer is 90%, while for those with regional or distant spread, it is 71% and 14%, respectively.

A Lasting Legacy

Dave Van Ronk left behind a rich and diverse musical legacy, that influenced and inspired generations of folk, blues, and jazz artists. He was also a beloved and respected member of the Greenwich Village community, who contributed to its cultural and social history. He was portrayed by Oscar Isaac in the 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen brothers, which was loosely based on his memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. He was also honored by the New York City Council, which named a street corner after him in 2004.

Van Ronk’s music and spirit live on in his recordings, his books, and his students. He is remembered as a passionate, creative, and generous artist, who gave voice to the human condition and the American experience. He is also remembered as a courageous and resilient person, who faced his illness with dignity and humor. He once said, “I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it. I’ve had a good life, and I’m grateful for it.” He also said, “The only thing I regret is that I won’t be around to hear the next great singer.” He may be gone, but his songs and his stories will never be forgotten.