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April 02, 2009


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That certainly is a "jaw-dropping task," as you so aptly put it, LE. I'd like to see what he says about "Positively Fourth Street" and how his reading might differ from Christopher Ricks's passionate analysis of the song. Instinct tells one that the song must have been occasioned by a breach in friendship -- a perceived betrayal perhaps based on resentment or competitive envy. What's your take?

Thanks for your comment, David. Heylin notes that "Positively Fourth Street" was written soon after the 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance. That is, it was written along with material that would soon appear on "Highway 61 Revisited." Heylin believes the song is addressed to a woman.

Ricks thinks the song is about a soured friendship, that the real identity of the person is unimportant, and that, uncharacteristically of Dylan, the song could be about a man or woman. (In the parlor game surrounding the song, the female candidate is often considered to be Joan Baez. There are a variety of male candidates such as Phil Ochs.

This interpretation is a clear-eyed and intelligent analysis of what's sung. But, alas, I can't stop my mind from having its own idiosyncratic view of the song.

The interpretation emerges from how I interpret the entire "Highway 61" album, so it will seem strange ripped out of the context of a fuller explanation.

Certainly Dylan is singing to a folk singer, one who exemplified the folk movement, one who wandered Fourth Street, a center of Village folk life.

No one exemplified the folk movement more than Dylan, whose first apartment in New York was on Fourth Street. I think the song is one part of a divided self singing to the other part. The part singing is the post-folk Dylan, the electric Dylan booed at Newport, the Dylan who dismisses political action as meaningless. That part of Dylan is singing to the old Dylan, the guitar-toting hero of the folk movement. The new Dylan is angrily mocking and rejecting the folk Dylan who still wants control of his body and his mind, who wants him to keep writing folk songs and not explore this new part of himself.

I could go through various lines illustrating this view, but you get the idea.


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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This Way Out

by T.P.Winch

Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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