Folk's highway to '60s revisited
'Positively 4th' recalls lives of Baez, Dylan and Farina
By Jerry Schwartz
July 12 -- In the acknowledgments for his profile of four musicians at the
heart of the 1960s folk revival, David Hadju makes a special point to thank
Mimi Baez Farina. Only his wife, he says, was more instrumental in the
creation of this book. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mimi
Farina is the only one to emerge from the pages of this book looking good.
SHE IS SWEET and loving, beautiful and talented, unassuming and impervious
to the siren call of fame.
Unlike her more famous sister, who is painted as deceptively ambitious,
extraordinarily shallow (reading next to nothing, and knowing little about
the causes she espoused), and capable of unthinking cruelty "among
friends, Joan sometimes appeared to suspend her pacifism."
Unlike her more famous sister's even more famous boyfriend. The Bob Dylan
of this book is a monster self-involved and self-centered, calculating to
the bone, given to playing mind games with friends and lovers. He turns
against Joan Baez with an almost breathtaking abruptness.
Unlike her husband.
In many ways, Richard Farina is the central character of this book. A
wannabe famous writer and musician, he appeared to be on the brink of
actual fame when he died in a motorcycle accident in July 1966.
To judge from "Positively 4th Street," Farina was charming and intelligent.
But he also was a habitual liar, a charlatan, a megalomaniac and a
Eventually, the reader has to ask: Could these people be so awful? If the
answer is no if Hadju is an unreliable narrator his book has limited value.
If the answer is yes, well, you have to wonder why anyone would bother to
read about them. We're not talking about the Bloomsbury set here. Of the
four, only Dylan could be said to have had a major impact on our cultural
lives. And it seems strange and unsatisfying to see him purely through the
prism of his relationships with Farina and the Baez girls.
Hadju's writing is assured but not compelling. The reporting is good, if
sometimes maddeningly detailed we learn what kind of stew Joan Baez made
and when, and even that Dylan once spooned the meat out of a stew and left
the vegetables to the others.
SMART EVOCATION OF THE '60S
"Positively 4th Street" has one real strength: In its early chapters,
especially, Hadju does a good job of evoking the folk world of the late
1950s and early '60s, when young people galvanized by Woody Guthrie and
Pete Seeger filled clubs in New York City, Boston and beyond.
And he shows the confusion and anger of traditional folkies as Dylan and
others changed this music, dragging it from the political to the personal,
and from acoustic to rock 'n' roll.
In the end, though, it should be remembered that Hadju took the title of
this book from the name of a Dylan song that disparages the folkies a song
that Hadju himself describes as an array of "incessant, strategically
It could be argued that Hadju's "Positively 4th Street" is much the same thing.
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