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Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina Paperback – April 10, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

David Hajdu (pronounced HAY-doo), the prizewinning author of the magisterial jazz biography Lush Life, now steam-cleans the legend of the lost folk generation in Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña. What a ripping read! It's like an invitation to the wildest party Greenwich Village ever saw. You feel swept up in the coffeehouse culture that transformed ordinary suburban kids into ragged, radiant avatars of a traditional yet bewilderingly new music. Hajdu's sociomusical analysis is as scholarly as (though less arty than) Greil Marcus's work; he deftly sketches the sources and evolving styles of his ambitious, rather calculating subjects, proving in the process that genius is not individual--it's rooted in a time and place. Hajdu says Dylan heisted many early tunes (e.g., "Maggie's Farm" from Pete Seeger's "Down on Penny's Farm"): "Dylan [told] a radio interviewer that he felt as if his music had always existed and he just wrote it down ... [in fact], much of his early work had existed as other writers' melodies, chord structures, or thematic ideas." But Dylan and company made it all their own, and Hajdu vividly evokes the scenes they made.

Positively 4th Street is very much a group portrait. When something amazing happens, Hajdu puts you right there. The unknown Baez barefoot in the rain, bedazzling the Newport Jazz Festival and becoming immortal overnight. The irresistibly irresponsible Fariña talking his folk-star wife out of shooting him dead with his own pistol. The "little spastic gnome" Dylan transmogrified into greatness onstage, bashing Joan with the searing lyrics of "She Belongs to Me." A stoned Fariña advising Dylan to cynically hitch his wagon to Joan's rising star and "start a whole new genre. Poetry set to music, but not chamber music or beatnik jazz, man... poetry you can dance to."

The book is as delectably gossipy as Vanity Fair (one of Hajdu's employers). Richard married the exceedingly young beauty Mimi and helmed their career, but he might have dumped her for big sister Joan, whose madcap humor and verbal wit harmonized with his--except that he ineptly killed himself on a motorcycle first. Bob mumblingly courted both sisters, but when he cruelly taunted the insecure Joan, Mimi yanked his hair back until he cried. The account of Bob and Joan's musical-erotic passion is first-rate music history and uproarious soap opera. Hajdu's research is prodigious--even Fariña's close chum Thomas Pynchon granted interviews--and his anecdotes are often off-the-cuff funny: "[Rock manager Albert Grossman] was easy to deal with.... It wasn't till maybe two days after you would see Albert that you'd realize your underwear had been stolen." Full disclosure: Hajdu was one of my long-ago bosses at Entertainment Weekly, but that's certainly not why I heartily endorse this book. It's scholarship with a human face, akin to "poetry you can dance to." --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Sometimes, gifted people intersect at the perfect moment and spark a cultural movement. According to acclaimed biographer David Hajdu (Lush Life), Joan and Mimi Baez, Dylan, and Farina were of that brand of fated genius, and via romantic and creative trysts, they invented 1960s folk and its initially maligned offshoot, folk rock. But their convergence hardly emblematizes the free-loving media version of the 1960s. Egos--especially Joan Baez's and Dylan's--clashed, jealousies flared, romance was strategic. Hajdu does not dwell on Dylan's thoughtless, well-documented breakup with Joan Baez after riding to fame on her flowing skirts. Instead, he spotlights Joan's younger sister, Mimi, a skilled guitarist in her own right, and her husband, novelist-musician Farina. After divorcing leading folkster Carolyn Hester, the disarmingly groovy Farina captivated teenage Mimi via love letters, and, but for his untimely death, might have pursued Joan. Though Farina comes off as more opportunistic than Dylan, Hajdu compellingly asserts that Farina, not Dylan, invented folk rock and provided fodder for Dylan's trademark sensibilities. Hajdu provides a skillfully wrought, honest portrait that neither sentimentalizes nor slams the countercultural heyday. Photos not seen by PW. (June)Forecast: Hajdu's reputation and Dylan's 60th birthday on May 24 will win the book attention.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; Reprint edition (April 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086547642X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476424
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,178,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David A. Bede on July 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
From 1961-66, the Baez sisters, Bob Dylan and Richard Farina came of age, befriended one another, fell in and out of love, raised hell, traipsed the globe on a shoestring budget like college students, drank, got high...and produced some of the most durable music (and, in Farina's case, one of the most underappreciated novels) of their generation. Hajdu captures that half-decade in 300 pages of remarkably seamless prose, painting a vivid picture of four young artists whose intertwining paths left an indelible mark on the work they produced.
Although he appears most interested in Joan Baez and her family, Hajdu produces an impressive amount of information on all four of his subjects. Dylan fans especially are likely to be surprised at some of the details of their hero's early career, such as his first appearance on a studio recording (it wasn't Harry Belafonte's "Midnight Special," as has often been reported) and the somewhat disputed origin of his stage name. Baez, meanwhile, is portrayed for once as a human being with strengths and weaknesses of her own, rather than strictly as a victim of Dylan's misogyny (though this too is acknowledged, as well it should be). Best of all, Richard and Mimi Farina are both researched and profiled just as carefully as Baez and Dylan despite being far less famous outside the realm of hardcore folk music fans.
The book, like its subjects, is not without its shortcomings. For one thing, Hajdu's vision of the four and their importance is a bit sweeping. Baez may have been the first protegee of the folk revival to achieve commercial success, but she was hardly the first folk artist to have a hit record (or even the first of the rock era).
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David Hajdu deserves a National Book Award if for no other reason than that he was able to interview Thomas Pynchon AND Fred Neil -- two of three of America's most reclusive creative artists (J. D. Salinger being the third, of course). He seems to have talked with nearly everybody who played a role, however marginal, in the 1960s folk scare. He tells a mesmerizing, soap-operatic tale of four interweaving lives played out against the backdrop of a particularly vital moment in our country's cultural history.
Though Hajdu is in no sense a debunker, only Mimi Baez Farina emerges mostly unscathed here. The other three come across, in varying degrees (Joan Baez the least, relatively speaking), as narcissists and opportunists, an impression left even after Hajdu's perhaps too-generous concluding chapter. Dylan in particular is given to jaw-dropping fits of odious conduct, though this is hardly news. Even would-be hagiographers (of whom Hajdu, though certainly a compassionate observer, is not one) struggle with longstanding reports of bad Dylan behavior, especially in the early years of his international stardom. Dylan had the dubious fortune of becoming a great artist before he became a grown-up. Still, as with all of his other biographers, Hajdu's Dylan remains as inscrutable as ever. The nearly forgotten Richard Farina, the real star of the book, is more approachable, more human, more fun: a personable, self-absorbed man on the make -- one is reminded of Melville's phrase "one eye on the cosmos, the other on the main chance" -- and canny manipulator with genuine gifts, a superior literary stylist to Dylan, but not in Dylan's class as a songwriter. Then, however, who is?
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Format: Hardcover
What wonderful writing, what a bittersweet and romantic tale of BS-artists who turned out to be real artists. I laughed out loud at some of the events and descriptions (Dylan's re-invention of the harmonica as a life-support device!), I went out and bought music by those who were under-represented in my collection. The story of Richard and Mimi plumbs the depths of sadness. As a fan of Dylan's (and Joan's), it was hard to bear his sudden cruelty to those who loved him, but it was heartening to see his reinvention as a family man, free of most of his chains (Albert Grossman's drug supplies and incessant touring that was ready to kill Bob). If you love poetry, music, rock, folk, and want an engrossing story of how Dylan came to be Dylan, Joan became Joan, Mimi started to find herself, and Richard really was somebody, read this book. Along the way, learn about the kindness and musical contributions that Bob soaked up and reinvented to build our current view of the musician's responsibility: write songs from the heart, use a language as universal as you can invent, and don't be afraid to follow your muse.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those rare popular culture biographies in which the subjects come off, for better or worse, as three-dimensional human beings. Joan Baez has been so infrequently written about, and Mimi and Richard Farina even less so, making it a pleasure to revisit their story as presented here in such illuminating detail. Bob Dylan, of course, is another story, but rarely has he been cast in such an all-too-human light. Most highly recommended to fans of Dylan and Baez, and to those initiates who want to learn more about the highwater era of American folk music.
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