Positively 4th Street
Release Date: September 7th, 1965
Words by: Richie Ryan
February 28th, 2017
Bob Dylan made his bones penning one finger-pointin' classic after another. Whether he was taking on the "masters of war" or lamenting "two men dyin' 'neath the Mississippi moon", few were safe from the sharp wit and gravelly ire courtesy of this boy from the north country. People yearning for the voice of a generation reveled in every word. They had truly found themselves some kind of savior.
And then he went and ruined everything.
July 25th, 1965: Dylan made history and a boatload of enemies when he plugged in and sold out at Newport. The dyed-in-the-wool folkies were betrayed and now savior-less. Maybe it was just the lousy sound system they were booing; or that the biggest act in town tried to walk off after playing three lousy tunes. (He came back for a two song acoustic encore).
Not four days later, Dylan was back in the studio and you know he had that damned crowd on his mind. Whatever the reason for the incessant jeerings, he was hurt. Real hurt. "Positively 4th Street" is the long-suffering Dylan’s retort. He had another axe to grind, another finger to point. Dylan took on the phonies and naysayers throughout his history, throwing back barbs at every lousy crumbum from Hibbing to Greenwich Village.
You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning
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
Not satisfied to merely call out a couple of booers, Dylan went back to the beginning, to the cold and lonely days when his name shut more doors than it opened. They didn’t want to help him out, didn’t even care if he lived or died. Fast forward a couple of years and he’s built up some street cred. Suddenly they were all coming out of the woodwork, looking to hitch a ride on that gravy train.
Well, Dylan wasn't having any of it. And that includes you low down dirty sycophants who have nothing to offer but empty promises.
You say I let you down
You know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt
Why then don’t you show it
You say you lost your faith
But that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it
Time and again, he said he was nobody’s messiah - never even wanted the gig. And now they wanted to go and hang all their angst on him? Nuts to that noise.
The next year would be a whirlwind of productivity for Bob, cranking out back-to-back-to-back albums in one of the largest and most celebrated outpourings of his career. But that happenin’ time wasn’t without its pitfalls, self-doubt and a healthy dose of amphetamine-fueled paranoia.
I know the reason that you talk behind my back.
You say ‘How are you?’ ‘Good luck’ But you don’t mean it.
It took a motorcycle accident a year after recording “4th Street” (to the day, coincidentally) to put the kibosh on his recording and touring schedule. Which was really kind of the point. Speaking of which...
You’d rather see me paralyzed.
Like I said, he was pretty hurt.