Blood Red Moon (Dave Van Ronk)

This was the title song of Dave’s Going Back to Brooklyn LP and inspired the cover image, a blood red moon rising over the Brooklyn Bridge, worked in stained glass by Dave’s wife, Andrea. As I explained in an earlier post, his original title for that album was “Losers,”  but that seemed kind of negative for his first and only collection of original songwriting, so we went for this.

Dave explained his creative process in the liner notes:

This was supposed to be a serious, even scary song, à la Robert Johnson. I got a verse or two off in this manner and started to giggle… rewrite time. I guess serious and scary just isn’t my long suit.

To be fair, Dave wrote several serious and scary songs, notably “Last Call” and his gorily obscene anti-war song, “Luang Prabang” — but this one turned into a blues gone awry, or simply wry.

When I started doing it, I briefly considered changing the last line to fit my own geography, but Brooklyn is way funnier than Cambridge. Besides, I grew up with Brooklyn — my father was from there, and I was raised on the local folklore: “Toity doity boids at toity-toid and toid, sitting on the coib and eating doity woims.” Not to mention “Jake the Plumber.” The first time I brought Dave home to my parents’ house, they spent a couple of hours exchanging Brooklyn memories. I wish I’d had a tape recorder running.

They met a bunch more times over the years, took a lot of pleasure in each other’s company, and in a previous post I wrote about Dave’s appearance at my father’s memorial, telling stories and singing “St. James Infirmary.” I wish they were around now to comment on the oddity of Brooklyn becoming trendy. Neither of them would have imagined that could happen, and I’m guessing Dave would have been angry about it — not just because no one under fifty will think the last line of this song is funny, but that wouldn’t help.

Incidentally, the LP was supposed to have two photos on the back, one of Dave imitating a gargoyle on the turret of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and the other of him as a kid in Brooklyn. But the designer who did the jacket had ideas of her own and decided to just use the Notre Dame shot… which she didn’t mention until after sending it to the printer… and although I managed to use it twenty years later in our book, The Mayor of MacDougal St., I still have not forgiven her… so here it is, almost where it belongs.

None of that has much to do with this song, which I mostly learned for his guitar arrangement. Like another of my heroes, Joseph Spence, Dave loved “dropped D” tuning, and this was an experiment using that tuning to play in the key of G.