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> Dave Van Ronk, Absinthe Bootleger
L'Assommoir
post Feb 17 2015, 02:41 AM
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So “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.” has a few pages telling how Van Ronk tried to bootleg Japanese Absinthe and make a few bucks, in 1958.

The problem was nobody wanted any.

http://www.shaunrichman.org/?p=249

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013…-the-movie.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=bUMPAAAAQ…%22&f=false




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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 05:17 PM
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I like Dave, always have. I was picking "Cocaine Blues" not two days ago. However, if it smells like bullshit, it's more than likely bullshit.

QUOTE
In the collection of anecdotes from NYC’s late-fifties folk scene, Van Ronk tells of some sailor friends who smuggled several dozen cases of absinthe out of Japan on the even (sic) of its prohibition there, hoping to make an underground score back home.


I've never seen a reliable reference to the fact of absinthe being prohibited in Japan. Didn't have to be, because it was almost certainly never a thing in Japan.
Possibly some people bought something on the eve of the U.S. Navy's prohibition of sailors possessing absinthe. I used to know when that happened, but I've forgotten - it may have been in the 50s.
There was, maybe still is, some absinthe-type crap in Japan under the name of Hermes, but it wasn't absinthe, and it's no surprise nobody wanted any.

http://www.feeverte.net/forum/index.php?sh...&#entry9317


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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 05:55 PM
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If the theater of operations had been Spain, the story would have been believable, and the absinthe would have been drinkable.
A few years ago a member here obtained a bottle of Tarragona that had a U.S. Navy stores stamp on it. It was from a Navy mess in Spain, at Rota, in fact. It was from the 50s.


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L'Assommoir
post Feb 17 2015, 08:04 PM
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The section you put in the quote box does raise a flag. So that does make the whole thing a little suspicious.

A post on FB mentions a Japanese "Morozoff" absinthe. 50's or60's
https://www.facebook.com/groups/absintheoriginals/
(that post led me to this story)

I think this story is plausible, but..?
And if I was going to totally fabricate a story I would choose Spain, or other country.
Yet, if the story is true, I think the tale would have been told before this book was published.



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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 08:23 PM
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Never heard of the Morozof.
I don't think Dave made it up, I just think he was going on memory of something he believed to be true, but he either misremembered some details, or had bought into some outright bullshit in the first place (for example, Japanese prohibition) and was merely ignorant about other details (such as that they had actually obtained absinthe). Ignorance about absinthe in the 1950s in the U.S. was so complete that it's safe to say that almost nobody knew anything about it. There's a very good chance they had something they thought was absinthe, but it wasn't really, especially if it didn't come from Europe.
I read a story about somebody seeing a flyer on the street for guitar lessons in NYC, and the person followed up on it, showed up at the address and was shocked to meet the teacher - Dave Van Ronk. This was well after Dave's heyday; apparently he was just down on his luck and trying to make a living. What a stroke of luck (maybe not for Dave, but ...)!!
I first heard Dave in the early 70s; never lost my appreciation for his amazing talent.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qzPjztRAoY


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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 08:51 PM
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Here's the discussion about the Navy stores bottle of absinthe. I came up with 1972 as the date of the Navy regulation forbidding absinthe to sailors, but where I found that information, I don't remember.

http://www.museeabsinthe.com/forums/index....amp;#entry45137


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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 09:24 PM
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But what the hell do I know?

http://www.ebay.it/itm/Miniature-Extrait-D...F-/191501774911

http://bar-tram-trench.blogspot.com/2011/0...s-absinthe.html

It would seem from the second link that GIs in Japan could have bought Tarragona there in the 50s.
Sorry Dave. RIP. If you were here, you could show me some picking, and I could let you taste something worth tasting.




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L'Assommoir
post Feb 17 2015, 09:29 PM
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Fuzzy details makes sense. (And the tale is told via the author, Elijah Wald)

And as for absinthe knowledge in the 50's, I think the East Village boho culture would have associated absinthe as an 'old fogey' drink. Something for the grey haired hipsters.
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Bruno Rygseck
post Feb 17 2015, 10:31 PM
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Hermes was discussed here long ago:

http://www.feeverte.net/forum/index.php?s=…ost&p=97362

I remember Hartsmar posting something about it also elsewhere, maybe later, but could not find it.

Edit: He has a review on his site, absinthe.se under Vintage absinthe (scroll down a bit there).


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Artemis
post Feb 17 2015, 10:37 PM
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From what I remember of Jack Kerouac's accounts, none of them were exactly liquor connoisseurs. Any cheap red wine was good enough, or more to the point, as good as they could afford.


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Artemis
post Feb 18 2015, 07:22 PM
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I've removed my comment about Hermes being complete shit because whatever I tasted may not have been the same as what Hartsmar tasted, much less anything older than that (50s).
Hartsmar's review makes it sound like Henri Bardouin pastis - brown, herbal, licoricey.
The website I linked appears to belong to the same person from whom Hartsmar got the stuff.
As noted in the thread that Bruno linked, there was discussion of Hermes here before said thread. Don Walsh had either sought out Hermes in Japan or was already familiar with it - I do remember him talking about it, but like almost all of us, he was of a later generation than Van Ronk and a lot can change in a generation. Those old threads are archived and won't come up using a normal search.
So it appears to be at least possible Van Ronk and his friends had sourced absinthe made in Japan.


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Hillbilly
post Feb 18 2015, 10:07 PM
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QUOTE
I don't know if there is a possibility of producing absinthe in Japan again.If there is, it would only be high quality absinthe produced by small distilleries.

So say they all.


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L'Assommoir
post Feb 19 2015, 12:08 AM
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At least this fellow is searching in the right places. (VDT not Prague)_
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/09/0…r/#.VOUkli4mmBc

Now what would a giant like Suntory do? Probably look at what P-R does. I bet the idea of bringing back Hermes has got some table time in the board room.
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delirium
post Feb 19 2015, 09:43 AM
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QUOTE("Artemis")
From what I remember of Jack Kerouac's accounts, none of them were exactly liquor connoisseurs. Any cheap red wine was good enough, or more to the point, as good as they could afford.


I remember they drank pastis in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (early Kerouac & Burroughs collaboration). Maybe they would have drunk absinthe if it would have been legal, it was notorious enough. Weren't they big fans of Rimbaud?



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Artemis
post Feb 20 2015, 12:00 AM
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I never read the Hippos. I was thinking of On the Road and Dharma Bums.
Rimbaud, I don't remember him being mentioned either, but I'd be surprised if they were not familiar with him.
Indeed, if they had encountered absinthe, why not try it?
The thing that bothered me about the article was the writer's uncritical acceptance of ALL the details of the story and his lack of diligence - he could have done a little bit of research. Like a lot of people even to this day, he might have been completely ignorant about the stuff and just repeated what he heard, having no reason to disbelieve it.
On one hand, it's hard to blame a writer for not torpedoing his own story before it hits print.
On the other, a headline about a (moderately) well-known artist being an "absinthe bootlegger" sets the bar a little high for what was delivered below, in my opinion.


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