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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Man Who Inspired ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

Armed with guitar, mike and enthusiasm, folk singer Dave Van Ronk performs at the Gaslight coffee house in New York's Greenwich Village on Nov. 8, 1963. (AP)

Armed with guitar, mike and enthusiasm, folk singer Dave Van Ronk performs at the Gaslight coffee house in New York’s Greenwich Village on Nov. 8, 1963. (AP)

The new Coen brothers’ movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” has brought new attention to the folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village prior to the emergence of Bob Dylan.

The brothers took inspiration from the real-life folk singer Dave Van Ronk, who released the album “Inside Dave Van Ronk” in 1963 and died in 2002.

Van Ronk’s posthumous memoir “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” which he wrote with his student, Elijah Wald, provided some source material for the Coen brothers.

But as Wald tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, the movie character himself is not at all based on Von Ronk, though he thinks Van Ronk would have been pleased by how the movie evokes that particular time and place.

Interview Highlights: Elijah Wald

On what Dave Van Ronk would think of the movie

“I think he would be really pleased because it isn’t a movie about him – it’s a movie about the time and place. And when we were writing this book, he died very early in it, and so it ended up being a book about much more about him than he planned. He wanted it, really, to be an evocative book about that moment in Greenwich Village.”

On the range of Van Ronk’s music

“He had no particular affection for folk music. He loved the old jazz – it was the old New Orleans jazz. And really, when he moved on into Blues and then folk, he never left that behind. I mean, Jelly Roll Morton, who did the original version of ‘Winin Boy.’ Dave always felt like his guitar arrangements for folk and Blues stuff later on, were based more on the way Jelly Roll Morton would arrange piano parts than they were based on any old folk or Blues guitar stocks.”

On Van Ronk’s later music (1976 ‘Sunday Street’)

“What happened was, when the big money came in, Dave grabbed for the brass ring like everybody else. He made some albums, one with a rock band and a couple with larger orchestrations. By the early, mid ’70s, it was pretty clear that he hadn’t caught the brass ring and that he was back to the folk clubs. And for a moment, that was obviously not the best news on earth. But then he thought, ‘Okay. If I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life, I need to make this better.’ ‘Sunday Street’ is kind of his masterpiece of just saying, ‘Okay. If I’m going to be by myself with a guitar doing Blues, let’s do a different kind of Blues.’”

On the movie coming out

“It’s very exciting. All of his material is back – it has been reissued, if only for download. This is the first time in history. I think with this coming out now, people are saying, ‘Oh, so there is this moment in the Village before Dylan and what was it like?’ Well – the king of it was Dave Van Ronk.”

Guest


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  • Nan Holcomb

    Thank you so much for this piece. I was introduced to Von Ronk’s music when I was in college, in the late 60s and have been a huge fan ever since. I was fortunate enough to hear him in person, and while I loved his records, he was even more compelling in person. I hope that the book and the movie will renew interest in this unique and lovely talent.

  • Blasthoff

    Include me in giving thanks to npr and Elijah for this piece. Dave, his music and influence with the guitar have been with me now close to 50 years. I still vividly remember my first introduction to Dave’s music back in ’64, I was 14. I recognized instantly a very special talent that I would both enjoy and “feed” on, and I DID! I met Dave several times over the years and lament never having had the proximity to get to know him personally. I’ve met a few who have known Dave and I have thoroughly enjoyed their recollections. I moved to the Midwest after ’80 and never got to see Dave preform after that. Not usual for me, but I shed some tears when I heard of Dave’s passing in ’02. I lost something I would truly miss, (thanks, for the eulogy Eiljah). Of all the things that faded from the ’60′s Dave Van Ronk was not one of them. My own evolution of musical taste’s into jazz and other musical forms were directly influenced by the underpinnings of Dave’s gifts. I celebrate Dave’s recognition.

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