Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inside the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis”

January 21, 2014

Yesterday, my wife and I saw the movie and it brought back memories of Greenwich Village in the 1960s.

When I was 12, my mother insisted I learn to play a musical instrument. She wanted me to play piano, but I was hopelessly inept. Then she settled on trumpet, but once again, I wasn’t interested. But, after seeing an Elvis Presley movie and watching my female classmates react to him, I decided I would learn guitar. And, motivated by anticipating the stir I hoped to create in young women, I sought a guitar teacher.

Walking through Washington Square on a Sunday in April, I saw plenty of guitarists, playing blues and folk music and hoping for tips. One of these, a tall, heavy bearded man with a Louis Armstrong tone to his voice, was Dave Van Ronk. I listened for a few songs, then asked if he taught guitar. He said, “Yes, until my album is released. Two months. Six lessons, one per week.” He told me everything I needed to know, and I begged my parents for the cash.

In six weeks of hard work, I could fingerpick blues. On my first visit, I tripped over the sleeping body of Bob Dylan, who was crashing under the kitchen sink of Dave and Terry’s apartment that week. By the time I got to college, I could make enough money playing gigs to pay my way through school.

Dave Van Ronk visited Tufts University in 1966 for a gig at the Embroglio, the University’s large coffee house. I opened for him. It was a frosty night and he’d damaged his right hand when a car door closed on it. He pulled a bottle of Carmel Hoc wine from the guitar case and turned to the small group of us in the tiny room above the club, and said, “Gentlemen, to sing blues, you must feel pain.” He held up his damaged hand. “Real pain.”

I met and played with Chris Smither in front of over a thousand people at a concert at Boston University. Had I wanted, I could have had a similar struggle as my career. But I hadn’t the courage and settled instead for a career in business. I have no regrets, but the memories are wonderful.

The album “Inside Dave Van Ronk” is what is featured in the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” as the precursor to the movie’s events. Dave became “the mayor of McDougal Street.” If you wanted to play a gig in Greenwich Village, you got the gig through him.

The last time I saw Dave was about ten years ago, at a club in San Francisco. He died of colon cancer a few years ago. All I have of him is every album he recorded and my memories of a grizzly bear of a man. I sorely miss him. The movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” accurately depicts the life of this folk hero.

1 comment:

  1. David, I enjoyed your memories of early blues guitar days but haven't seen the film yet. Many of my teenage years were spent in Haight Ashbury with local bands like: Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and many others that hung out together but I didn't have a camera then. Since the fall of the MBBF, our blues "family" seems to be disconnected, unfortunately. I'm winding down with photography however I'll will be in Chiapas, Mexico in April for my Lacandon photo exhibit and then visit two remaining traditional villages in the deep jungle near Guatemala where Marcos and his Zapatistas linger. Wish I could get an interview with him! Keep in touch, Marianne