The Coen Brothers Go Back To MacDougal Street

Having spent some time in 1960s Minnesota with A Serious Man, it sounds like the Coen brothers are headed to the big city to make a movie about Dave Van Ronk, the guitarist and political activist who helped define the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. I really enjoyed I’m Not There, particularly the Jack Rollins section, which I thought did a concise if somewhat opaque job of tracing Bob Dylan’s role in the civil rights movement and his impulse to blow up his affiliations with the folks who wanted to use him as a symbol and a vehicle for message delivery:


So it’ll be interesting to see how the Coens approach Van Ronk’s politics, his music, and his role as a connector and mentor to folks in the scene. I imagine that last piece will be key to how the movie turns out. Van Ronk was an interesting guy in his own right, enough of a sci-fi fan to write for fanzines (an issue of eI is dedicated to him), one of the folks who got arrested at the Stonewall Riots, which he apparently sort of meandered into, a host of dinners for musicians, and wildly ecclectic when it came to the music that he loved. He was also, if his music is any indication, a fun guy to be around:

So the movie can focus on him, which I think I might find more interesting (and which might be more explicitly political). Or his perspective can be the lens through which we see an array of no doubt very accomplished actors impersonating everyone from Suzanne Vega, to Janis Ian, to Odetta (who apparently was the person who got him performing). If they go that route, I wonder how you cut Dylan down to size enough to fit, to be part of the context, to be someone Robert Christgau believes was influenced by Van Ronk rather than the mountain casting a shadow over a half-century of American music that he eventually became.