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Positively 4th Street:
David Hajdu, the prizewinning author of the magisterial jazz biography Lush Life, now steam-cleans the legend of the lost folk generation in Positively 4th Street. 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 socio-musical 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: "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. evoke.
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 Fariņa 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". 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 humour and verbal wit harmonised 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. --Tim Appelo [via]