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Dylanology: Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' Revives Interest in Dave Van Ronk, the Real Mayor of MacDougal Street

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Jan 23, 2014 02:27 PM EST

Yesterday, Classicalite published my piece on the importance of staying relevant in our ever-changing world.

As such thinking is wont to do, it met with a bit of criticism. 

Occasionally, yes, music and culture that begins outside the mainstream wedges a foot in the popular door--only to rip the damn thing off its hinges.

If you've been at all interested in the industry awards mess this season, you may have heard of a little period piece from acclaimed film brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, entitled Inside Llewyn Davis. 

Old-timey roots and folk have been steadily on the rise, what with the introduction of bands like Mumford & Sons onto the radio spectrum. (I've noticed that a new wave of Americana fashion, too, has swept the outlying regions on New York City: Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem and so on.)

Back to the cinema, remember that Carter Family-esque "Cups" song from Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect?

And on the smaller screen, that Mumford & Sons carbon-copy "Home" from American Idol's Phillip Phillips? 

Staying trendy, however, may not posit a new meaning for the term "folk revival." But the Coen Brothers and the late "Mayor of MacDougal Street" Dave Van Ronk teaming up for a new film set in a time of civil rights turmoil and actual folk revival just might.

The Folk Revival of the late 1950s and early '60s brought with it household names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, but it also gave us an, unfortunately, less regarded heavyweight (no pun intended) by the name of Dave Van Ronk.

Van Ronk was the first to arrive, the last to leave his downtown dwelling on Sheridan Square--him being known by its denizens as "mayor." Van Ronk's interaction with and influence upon on the musicians coming to that part of town made him something of a celebrity for the time, as well as major (if now somewhat forgotten) proponent of the Greenwich Village Folk Revival.

Thankfully, the Coen Brothers, themselves, have revived interest in that older scene with Inside Llewyn Davis, which follows a narrative set roughly around the same time, ca. 1961. And while we get one very small mention of the great Dylan at the film's end, we rarely hear, at least explicitly, about Van Ronk.

Of course, this is because the main character, Llewyn Davis, embodies the spirit of Dave Van Ronk (and maybe a few other folkies from the square).

Though the Coen Bros. may not want you to like Davis/Van Ronk, they certainly grip you into the anguish and turmoil Davis-cum-Ronk sought. (Yes, Dave Van Ronk really did try out for Gate of Horn in Chicago, only to be rejected and sent back to New York. He really was a struggling sea merchant, too.)

So, in the midst of purchasing your latest Dylan memorabilia--the prophet has a new DVD release coming this March, via his website--find a theater still playing Inside Llewyn Davis.

And maybe take a stroll down MacDougal Street with a copy of Ronk's memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (co-written with Elijah Wald).

Until then, here's the late Dave Van Ronk on Bob Dylan and his thieving "House of the Rising Sun" straight from the mayor's gripe!

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TagsBob Dylan, The Coen Brothers, Peter Paul and Mary, Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Oscars 2014, The Golden Globes, Manhattan, brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Phillip Phillips, Anna Kendrick, Mumford and Sons, Ross Smirnoff