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What’s Real in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

Drawing the facts out from the fiction in the Coen Brothers’ new film

Courtesy Prestige/Folklore

Inside Llewyn Davis is based only loosely on the life of folk icon Dave Van Ronk and the 1961 pre-folk boom Greenwhich Village scene he describes in his posthumous memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, but there are many glimmers of truth to be found if you know where to look. 

To start, the cover art for Llewyn Davis' solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis, which is briefly glimpsed in the film, draws directly from Van Ronk's 1963 release, Inside Dave Van Ronk. Both covers show the eponymous artist leaning against an open door, wearing a tweed jacket, a cigarette in hand. One difference? The cat lingering by Van Ronk's feet is missing from Llewyn's. Must have gotten away. —Zara Golden

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The Clancy Brothers

One night at the Gaslight, Llewyn Davis catches a performance by an Aran sweater-clad Irish folk quartet, who were no doubt modeled after the Clancy Brothers, a traditional singing group active in the Greenwich Village folk scene during the time period captured by the film. As the story goes, upon hearing a rumor that it was going to be a cold winter in New York, the Clancys' mother mailed her sons the thick sweaters that became their trademark. 

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Hep Daddies

During Inside Llewyn Davis, our hero takes a trip with Roland Turner, an unfortunately gassy jazzbo played by John Goodman. With his natty suit, goatee, and crutches the character is awfully reminiscent of early rock songwriter and all-around hepcat Doc Pomus (at left), who had a similar sense of style and was also reliant on crutches as a result of a childhood bout with polio.

Sigmund Goode/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan’s Shadow

As Davis leaves the Gaslight after his ultimate performance, he turns back to catch a glimpse of a raggedy singer with a shaggy mess of hair, thin, raspy voice, and harmonica holder around his neck performing the traditional, "Farewell." Davis is unfamiliar with the performer, but the silhouette is unmistakably Dylanesque. By 1962, Dylan was a regular at the Gaslight. Van Ronk even helped arrange for some of Dylan's Gaslight sets to be recorded for a widely circulated bootleg collection that would eventually see official release in 2005 as Live at The Gaslight 1962