Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013

The Story Behind Llewyn Davis?

The Mayor of MacDougal Street out in paperback

By David Luhrssen
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Much has been made of the connection between the Coen Brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis and Dave Van Ronk’s autobiography, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. To set things straight: the fictitious folksinger at the heart of the film is not a stand-in for Van Ronk, who was a much more prominent fixture in the Greenwich Village folk revival than the movie’s beautiful loser. But the Coens read the autobiography with interest, gaining a sense of time and place and gleaning a few odd incidents for the screenplay.

Written with Van Ronk’s friend Elijah Wald, The Mayor of MacDougal Street has just been issued in paperback by Da Capo Press. The book is a treat for anyone interested in the early ‘60s folk music scene, whose historical importance comes down to something glimpsed in the final moments of the Coens’ film: it nurtured the aspirations and talents of Bob Dylan who changed the world in ways Van Ronk and company never could. Van Ronk was a folk purist and continued his arguments in his memoir, reminding everyone that Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the rest were not folk, regardless of how deeply they may have been grounded in the music.

Van Ronk remained stubbornly devoted to the music of the Village at the cusp of the ‘50s and ‘60s and in this, at least, he had something in common with Llewyn Davis.

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