Sunday, December 2, 2007

Positively 4th Street


There are not a lot of songs written about this particular range of emotions _ petty jealousy and retribution. It's a pity, because it feels so good just to let it out sometimes.

Of course there's "Like a Rolling Stone," which is similar to this and a better song, but it's so overplayed (like 'Tambourine Man') that you can't really hear it. So _ No 'Rolling Stone' in my Dylan Project.

Instead, "Positively 4th Street." From 1965, when Dylan was peaking, overflowing.

In my perfect world, you'll be hearing this song, or at least actually listening to the lyrics, for the first time. If so, I hope you're shocked. For me, the contrast between the naked aggression of the words and the frolicking, happy sound of the music is the epitome of irony.

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

Once you hear the song, you realize the title is dripping poisonous sarcasm. It should be 'Negatively 4th Street. The title is also slightly ambiguous: 'Positively 4th Street' can also mean, describing 4th Street to perfection.

There's way too much speculation out there (esp. among baby boomers) about who, what and where this song's arrow is supposed to pierce. The point is, everybody has walked down both sides of 4th Street at one time or another.

The song's on YouTube in a kind of unusual presentation. Enjoy it while it lasts...

Here are the rest of the lyrics, with a few "insider" lines removed:

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that's winning
You see me on the street
You always act surprised
You say, "How are you?" "Good luck"
But you don't mean it

When you know as well as me
You'd rather see me paralyzed
Why don't you just come out once
And scream it

No, I do not feel that good
When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief
Perhaps I'd rob them

And now I know you're dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don't you understand
It's not my problem

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is
To see you

Does a master thief rob heartbreaks to relieve them, out of pity? Or does he do it because he secretly wants to get (back) together with the guy/gal he's 'saving'?

Or does he rob heartbreaks in order to experience them himself?

Maybe Dylan was pissed off that other people made more money of his songs than he did; or maybe he was still bitter that some girl dumped him for another guy while he was busking, and then became very interested in him once he was rich.

Whatever. It's not our problem.

The epithet "master thief," taken out of context, is a description of the essence of Dylan. A plagiarist steals, a genius transforms. Like "House of the Rising Sun." Dylan stole it, but once he touched it everything else became derivative.

So maybe people once upon a time were jealous that Dylan became famous after lifting songs or bits of style from them. But in a certain sense, you can't fault him for anything he did _ his thievery left us with songs like this.

Thanks Bob!

(photo:t-dawg. I don't know these people.)

The epilogue from Barry Lydon, one of my favorite films (adopted from the William Makepeace Thackeray novel):

"It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now."

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