I have not read the book The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk. I hear it kicks ass.
It’s on my list, along with 500 hundred other must reads. I literally have a pile of books on my nightstand, to match the pile of magazines I have sworn I was going to read. Not enough hours in the day… but still… There is a wealth of words out there, and I need to get to many of them. Everyone says this book is great and truly captures a time and place that I am infatuated with.
Which was why I was so excited to see Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers new film. It made me realize how much I needed to go back and listen to the source… the man, the myth, the mayor himself. Frustratingly, I did not love the film. I wanted and was expecting it to be even more about the NYC folk music scene. That seems to be more of a setting than anything else in this character study of a film. Don’t get me wrong, there were things I found fascinating and loved about it (like the stellar music… and the deep and honest look at the struggles of an artist) and even the worst Coen Brothers film is going to be better than most, but… I just wanted more music and history and less of a character study.
The character of Llewyn is based on Dave and in the movie is played by the magnificent Oscar Isaac. He even sings the glorious “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” I so love this song, both renditions.
According to Wikipedia: “Van Ronk was a widely admired avuncular figure in “the Village”, presiding over the coffeehouse folk culture and acting as a friend to many up-and-coming artists by inspiring, assisting, and promoting them. Folk performers whom he befriended include Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Phil Ochs, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Guthrie Thomas, and Joni Mitchell.”
“Joni Mitchell often said that his rendition of her song “Both Sides Now” (which he called “Clouds”) was the finest ever.”
So of course I had to listen to that, as that song is one of my favorites of hers… and his voice, with a rasp and gaps and an almost broken quality is at once human and stunning, but not in a traditionally defined way… What gives him beauty is the honesty and truthfulness with which he sings. Good stuff, that.
Dave Van Ronk – Inside Dave Van Ronk
Well, there is the title of the film… Yes, I just got that… But this CD is now actually two albums combined, Folksinger and Inside Dave Van Ronk. While there are not songs quite as silly as “Titanic Mantra” and “The Whores of San Pedro” from his album Going Back To Brooklyn, this one does range from the sublime to the more talk/singy tunes like “Mr. Noah”.
“Chicken Is Nice” is kind of goofy… but I just do not care for those songs as much… I think I just prefer his singing voice to his talking one. Go figure… and I definitely prefer the “traditional” folk stuff…
My highlights are of course the gorgeous “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”, “Cocaine Blues”, “He Was A Friend Of Mine” and “Silver Dagger”.
The weather is cool, the sky is clear, and this is a perfect Sunday morning record.
PS – My friend Patrick just sent me this video… Great stuff with Nanci Griffith… Enjoy more now…