It may be–it certainly is–that Llewyn Davis of the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis makes the music of Dave Van Ronk. One of the nice touches of the movie is the use of DVR’s actual music over the final credits, rather than another of the film’s recreations. From the first chords of his “Green, Green Rocky Road” I knew I wasn’t hearing a reprise of the Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) version much earlier in the film but the performer I’ve listened to since… well, at least as long as I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan, which is over fifty years, now.
As long as I’ve been listening to Richard Farina.
A lot of people don’t like the character of Llewyn Davis in the movie. And with good reason. He’s a mess. He uses people, giving nothing. He’s not, however, DVR.
Dylan, for one, is notorious for the way he treated Phil Ochs. He also recorded DVR’s version of “The House of the Rising Sun,” only telling the older singer once the deed was done. And he certainly ruffled Farina’s feathers. The two of them, as a result, had something of a duel in, appropriately enough, song.
Farina’s came first, called “Morgan the Pirate” after a cheap Italian movie starring Steve Reeves, it is angry, sarcastic and bitter in its comments to a man who seems rather much like Llewyn Davis:
It’s bye, bye buddy, have to say it once again:
I appreciate your velvet, helping hand.
Even though you never gave it,
I am sure you had to save it
For the gestures of the friends you understand.
The chorus tells it all:
There are one or two hard feelings,
One or two hard feelings left behind.
There is just as much rancor in Dylan’s response, “Positively 4th Street”:
I know the reason that
You talk behind my back:
I used to be among the crowd
You’re in with.
The song ends:
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes:
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you.
Game, set and match goes to Dylan. Though I love Farina, and think of his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me as a tour de force, he was not quite the songwriter that Dylan was… and, some might say, was not quite the prick–something that helps in this type of competition.
The Coen brothers certainly know these two songs. And it is these, much more than DVR (whose reputation is one of a rather friendly man), that lie behind the personality they created for the movie.
In the intro to this live version of “The Gaslight Rag,” DVR pokes a little fun at David Bromberg (who he admired) and then at his best friend, fellow “folkie” Patrick Sky. He had fun, something that never seems a part of Llewyn Davis: