Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013

Inside Dave Van Ronk

By David Luhrssen
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The Coen Brothers’ forthcoming film set in the early ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis, is loosely drawn from the autobiography of one of that scene’s leading lights. Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street provided the Coens with ideas for characters and scenarios. Van Ronk was center stage during the folk-blues revival, one of the original kids to hang out in Washington Square with guitar in hand and songs on his lips.

The Coens’ film will be released Dec. 6. Meanwhile, Smithsonian Folkways Records has released Down in Washington Square. The three-CD career retrospective ranges from 1958 live recordings through his final, posthumously released 2001 studio sessions. Van Ronk was no slouch on guitar, and his determination to present American folk songs in a manner as unvarnished as old barnwood set the stage for Bob Dylan, who arrived in the Village with the scene at full tilt. Unlike Dylan, Van Ronk was less interested in writing original songs than preserving existing ones in performance. The Greenwich scene followed Dylan’s lead and went electric in the mid-‘60s. Van Ronk remained steadfast.

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