You’ll be hearing the name of Greenwich Village folk scene godfather Dave Van Ronk in the coming days, what with the Coen brothers upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, a fictionalized take on Van Ronk’s life based on his 2005 posthumous memoir (with Elijah Wald), The Mayor of MacDougal Street. And while Van Ronk’s is a name well-known to students of the 60’s folk revival, he never achieved the fame of protégés like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. But there was another singer/songwriter and future superstar breezing through Van Ronk’s Village scene. I’m talking about Bruce Springsteen who, before he became an arena rock staple, opened solo for Van Ronk on acoustic guitar at Max’s Kansas City in 1972.
In the video above, watch Springsteen play “Growin’ Up,” a song that appeared the next year on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. The album version of the song is the kind of rousing, anthemic fist-pumper Springsteen’s known for, but above, he strips it down to its essentials, and reveals that, like most everything he’s written, it’s a lyrical tour-de-force (which is probably why Bowie recorded a version). The 23-year-old Springsteen also shows us that, band or no band, he was always a phenomenal performer. “Growin’ Up” is still a part of Springsteen’s set, no less anthemic, although the song takes on a much more nostalgic air now that Springsteen is sixty-four. Below, watch a longer version of the clip, including MC Sam Hood’s introduction and Bruce’s opening tune, “Henry Boy.” If Van Ronk’s performance from that night made it on film, it hasn’t made it onto YouTube, but there are any number of his interpretations of old country blues online.
Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness