Dave Van Ronk gets his long overdue time in the spotlight

Terri Thal and Dave Van Ronk at their home at 190 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, in August 1963 (Photo by Ann Charters, courtesy Terri Thal)

Terri Thal and Dave Van Ronk at their home at 190 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, in August 1963 (Photo by Ann Charters, courtesy Terri Thal)

Moviemakers Joel and Ethan Coen have gone to great lengths to let us know that their new movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is not about Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk.

The movie, which has been making the rounds of film festivals throughout the year and started playing in major cities a couple of weeks ago, opens nationwide  this Friday.

LEARN MORE about the real Dave Van Ronk

Terri Thal (© Martus Granirer 2013)

Terri Thal (© Martus Granirer 2013)



Check out the interview with Terri Thal I wrote for The Journal News.  Thal, a Rockland County woman who was married to him during the period covered in the film, and don’t miss her first-person account for the Village Voice.  And read Van Ronk’s memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.”





Yes, Llewyn Davis, as played wonderfully by actor and talented singer Oscar Isaac, affects a Van Ronk look of sorts with his facial hair. And yes, many people, me included, took to calling the flick in early days the “Dave Van Ronk movie.” (That probably was before it had gotten a formal title.)Davis even performs in a rather romanticized recreation of  The Gaslight Cafe, the basement joint at 116 MacDougal St. club that Van Ronk frequented and has some encounters with people in circumstances that parallel things that happened to Van Ronk.

And then there’s Davis’ album, titled the same as the movie, which bears more than a passing resemblance on the real “Inside Dave Van Ronk” album. And of course all of the songs Davis sings in the film were part of Van Ronk’s repertory, right down to the arrangements in most cases.

But the Coens, and others affiliated with the movie, insist it’s not about Van Ronk. (It’s a thorny issue. I’ve had firsthand experience with artists getting hot under the collar for trying to say what their art is about.)

The paperback movie tie-in edition of "The Mayor of MacDougal Street"

The paperback movie tie-in edition of “The Mayor of MacDougal Street”

Joel Coen explains it this way to host Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” earlier this week:

We were never interested in doing a biopic. That was never the ambition, so the question was, “We want to make a movie about a folk singer — who was he?” And we did draw on certain aspects of both [Dave] Van Ronk and other people, like Jack Elliott, from the period.

Still, for those of us who know anything about Van Ronk, it’s hard to pretend that it wasn’t intended to have a lot to do with Van Ronk.

Even Elijah Wald, who wrote Van Ronk’s delightful memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” played down the resemblance when he spoke to The New York Times about it earlier this year:

“The character is not at all Dave, but the music is,” said Mr. Wald, who spoke by telephone last week after having been given an early look at the film with Van Ronk’s widow, Andrea Vuocolo Van Ronk.

He said he did not know for years that the Coens were behind an option for film rights to the book, which he based on Van Ronk’s reminiscences, compiling them after his death in 2002. (Mr. Wald had spent years listening to Van Ronk’s stories and got some pages from him before he died but otherwise did the writing.

Terri Thal, right, poses with Terre Roche, of folksinging group The Roches, at the Gerde's Folk City's 50th Anniversary Live Music Reunion concert in 2010. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Terri Thal, right, poses with Terre Roche, of folksinging group The Roches, at the Gerde’s Folk City’s 50th Anniversary Live Music Reunion concert in 2010. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Terri Thal, who was married to Van Ronk in the headiest days of the Village folk scene, calls Davis a “schmuck” — the antithesis of Van Ronk — and outlines the many differences between the world she lived in and the world portrayed in the movie in an interview I wrote for The Journal News.

Thal also wrote a vivid first-person account for the Village Voice after seeing a screening of the movie.

Thal and I attended a screening together early this month, where we ran into Sylvia Topp, widow of legendary Village scenester Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs. She was there with writer Katie Calautti, who said she was planning to use their  conversation as a device for a story about the  movie. Calautti, upon discovering who Thal was, changed course quite a bit.

Advertisements

One response to “Dave Van Ronk gets his long overdue time in the spotlight

  1. *Good. Thankee.*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s