Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariņa, and Richard Fariņa.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2001. 328 pages.
Paperback version published May, 2002.
Cover painting by Eric von Schmidt.
Positively 4th Street is the first and only major work on either Richard or Mimi Fariņa. All the other books listed on this website, however enthusiastic they are about the Fariņas, only discuss them briefly. But even Hajdu's book is not entirely devoted to the Fariņas; they share the spotlight with Joan and Bob. Considering Richard's habit of self-promotion, we can guess that he would have loved to have a body of critical writings about him as vast as the bulging bookshelves of Dylanology. And yet I also think that he might have appreciated the appropriateness of Hajdu's "group portait"; he would have liked to be remembered among friends, the life of the party. Hajdu delights in recreating this aspect of Richard's character: "Who reveled in the act of living more than this man who tried to make every meal a banquet, every task a mission, every conversation a play, every gathering a party?"
I suspect that this book was originally intended as a biography of Fariņa alone, and that it was expanded to include Dylan in order to attract more readers. Hajdu stated in an interview with Geoff Gehman in McCalls magazine that he considered writing a biography of Fariņa back when he was a student at New York University. But given Fariņa's obscurity, it's doubtful that a book devoted solely to him would sell very well, or even get published. Without Baez and Dylan prominently included, the book may never have appeared, and the world would be far more ignorant of Richard and Mimi Fariņa. Thus Hajdu has performed a great boon for their legacy. (In fact, Hajdu's book inspired me to create this website.) The book is also a great read, a page-turner that gracefully handles the complex task of weaving these four lives together while also including a social history of the Urban Folk Revival. Hajdu obviously takes delight in his affectionate portrait of Richard and leaves us with an unforgettable impression of his character in all its charm and weakness.
My major objection to Positively 4th Street is that there is not enough in-depth discussion of Richard and Mimi's music or of Richard's writing. The albums, which are of course the main source of interest for most Fariņa fans, are not discussed in great detail, and Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me is mainly discussed with reference to its long genesis rather than the completed novel and how it related to Fariņa's life.
Another objection I have is that the book does not work well as a reference resource. Since the world has had to wait this long for a book on the Fariņas, and since a more thorough biography may never be published, this one could have been more definitive as a reference work without detracting from the group portait. In other words, quite aside from the narrative portion, the book might have included a discography, a more complete bibliography, a more comprehensive index (only proper names are included), and a chronology--features that one often finds in the appendices of musicians' biographies. This website is in part devoted to complementing the book by providing some of these resources. But a really good biography of Richard, or of Richard and Mimi, remains to be written.
In spite of these objections, Positively 4th Street still a great book, creating unforgettable portraits of four fascinating artists who shaped the music of one of the most dynamic decades in U.S. history.
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