Friday, January 16, 2009

Another book review: for Dylan fans

When I posted the book reviews from my company's website before, I had the sneaking suspicion that one was missing. So I went back and looked again and sure enough, this one was out behind the service entrance smoking a butt when I went looking to round up my reviews. Here it is.

Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña
By David Hadju

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, various forces and influences converged to gave birth to the folk revival. Chief among them were the eastward migrations of Joan Baez with her family from California (by way of earlier stints in Staten Island and Baghdad) to the Boston area, and Bob Dylan from Minnesota to New York City. Baez was the first to become a star, but when the two found each other, it signaled the start of a whole new era in music history. As Hadju’s extremely well-researched book shows, these forces and influences were ultimately just plain human beings – astonishingly talented, to be sure, but also full of flaws, foibles, uncertainties, and contradictions. Baez thought she was ugly (in fact, Dylan and many other men were more attracted to her younger sister, Mimi, who was still living with her parents while a new youth movement raged on just beyond her reach), while Dylan and Fariña – both true visionaries – told so many lies about their early lives that no one still knows for sure who they were before they became famous. But the highlight of the book is Baez and Dylan’s unusual, brief, and intense personal relationship. It’s only when she hears his first great songs that she doesn’t consider him a buffoon. He criticizes her as being slow to sing about social and political issues, then she becomes the more vocal activist, complaining about the more personal songs that started to surface on 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan. The book ends in 1966 with the eerie coincidence of Fariña and Dylan’s motorcycle accidents (Fariña’s fatal) occurring just three months apart, Baez facing her waning popularity, and Mimi the always-cared-for child now left alone. Dylan was clearly prescient when, in 1965, he sang, "It’s all over now, baby blue." Jason M. Rubin

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