41 – Dave Van Ronk

I haven’t yet seen ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. It has all the ingredients that should have had me rushing to the cinema as soon as it was released – but I have hung back. Why? It is a Coen Brothers movie, and they are sometimes magnificent but never less than interesting. It is about the Village folk scene of the early 60s and I love that. It is based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, a figure of some stature in my imagination. So why have I hesitated?

Perhaps I fear disappointment, or more to the point worry that what makes a Coen Brothers movie doesn’t necessarily mesh with the subject. They tend to deal with isolated disappointed people, whereas the folk scene was more about a communal effort to find a new (old) authentic way of making music. Dave Van Ronk was not a loser and I don’t want him to be confused with one. I don’t want him to be downgraded. But such hesitation is soft headed. The time might still feel alive for me, because it happened in my lifetime, but in all other respects it is distant and this is a historical piece. I cannot worry if this detail or that is not quite right – it is a work of fiction. And it is a valid artistic project to take some incidents from someones life but invent a different character. There is no reason to be precious and I know I will see it.

But being reminded of the era has sent me back to listen to the music and my moment of pleasure. Attach is a YouTube clip of Dave Van Ronk singing ‘Cocaine Blues’. When I was young the first live music I saw (i.e. the first live music I chose to go to, as opposed to going with the family) was at Les Cousins, in Soho. I remember seeing people like Bert Jansch, Roy Harper, and John Martyn. At the time this song was in John Martyn’s repertoire. Hearing it again brings on a warm feeling of nostalgia.

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