Sunday, March 22, 2015
Track of the Week: Dave Van Ronk "Green Green Rocky Road"
This week I've been on break, which has meant I get to have control of the TV during day hours when I do not have to worry about offending my toddlers with non-animated programming, or to subject my wife to my esoteric tastes. I decided to rewatch Inside Llewyn Davis, a film that really put its hooks into me. I've never seen a better film about the experience of having your dream die. It's something I am well acquainted with. After watching the film I busted out the soundtrack, which was in heavy rotation last fall after I got it for my birthday, but had been recently neglected.
There's a lot of great stuff on it, but I appreciate the fact that it closes out with a Dave Van Ronk song. Van Ronk was one of the inspirations for the character of Llewyn Davis, to the point where the cover of his album, Inside Llewyn Davis, is practically identical to Inside Dave Van Ronk. That also happens to the title of his rather well-written and entertaining memoir. It offers a much more realistic (and jaundiced) view of the Greenwich Village folk revival than one is normally used to hearing. I've read way too many memoirs by aging musicians, but his is by far the best.
This might be due to the fact that no one is reading the book for juicy revelations and the like, because Van Ronk never really made it into the big time. Others he rubbed shoulders with in New York, like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary ended up taking a ride on the fame train. Dylan, of course, was powered by his superlative songwriting, while others managed to take the folk sound and make it safe for the Top 40. Some of it was good, like The Mamas and the Papas, and much of it was, well, dreck. (This side of the folk revival was parodied bitingly in A Mighty Wind.)
Van Ronk's music hewed closer to the blues side of folk music, which his gruff voice was well suited to. Just listen to "Green, Green Rocky Road" and hear that great voice intersect with some lovely guitar picking. It's great stuff, but it sure as heck isn't The New Christie Minstrels. There's a great and sad moment in the film where Davis does a cold audition in Chicago for a folk music manager (based on Albert Grossman.) He delivers a sublime performance, and the manger sniffs and says "I don't hear green."
A lot of people are doing artistically interesting things in the world today who will never be household names. I can only hope that they, like Van Ronk, are able to leave behind evidence of their creativity for future generations.