email@example.com ( Nate Smith):
well - here is my take on this:
4th st in NY in the 60's was a haven for the counter-culture/leftist/pre-hippie activists who got socially conscious and organized marches/demonstrations/etc against the establishment's injustices. dylan arrived via the folk music/ protest song movement chronicled by the magazine SingOut! and various other things - leading to touring with Joan Beaz & making appearances at various places, such as Magee's farm in mississippi - which he turned into the song "Maggie's Farm". he left the "movement" under less than amicible terms, finding many of the people in it hard to take. while living in NY down in the Village area, he saw more & more stuff going on there that was stupid/ sickening/silly/foolish whatever and some of those people were people he used to know & travel with & share the stage with. it is these people that he characterizes in the title with a sort of: "those people?? oh - they're positively 4th street - that's where they are in their heads."
note that Highway 61 Revisited was released about the same time and in the liner notes for that album he has:
white?" & the bartender, a good boy & one who keeps a buffalo in his mind, says "I don't know, but I'm sure I've seen the other fellow someplace" & when Paul Sargent, a plainclothes man ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ from 4th street, comes in at three in the morning & busts ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ everybody for being incredible, nobody really gets angry -- just a little illiterate most people get & Rome, one of the hundred Inevitables whispers "I told you so" to Madam John ... Savage Rose
there actually was (maybe still is) a men's clothing store called "Paul Sargent's" on 4th street!!! :-)
In Toby Thompson's Positively Main Street a friend from Bob's Minneapolis days points out places where he lived and adds that those who knew him then (at least some) always thought that the song referred to their 4th street since Bob really did live on said street.
On the other hand, Bob lived on West 4th street in N.Y.C. for several years. It was his 1st apt. Suze Rotolo lived there as well. The address is 161 W. 4th. The Pink Pussycay, a sex boutique, was located in the basement for a number of years but recently moved a few doors up the block. (The building is near my place of work, and I've been known to sit on the stoop drinking coffee from time to time. Incidentally, Paul Sargent was an "antique" clothing shop in the same block, but it is no longer there.
All of this talk about the song got me to thinking about the actual street in NYC. I've since moved from Manhattan to Vermont, but get back fairly often. Since the West Village was (and is--I still own my apt there) my neighborhood, 161 West 4th Street, just off Sixth Avenue, conveniently on my way home from Tower Records, was always a buidling I stopped in front of just to look. It is the location of one of Bob's first apartments. It's been a while since I read all the bios, so I don't remember the timeline, but I think he lived there pretty early on in the early days in the Village. Two of his old haunts; the Bagel, and Music Inn Records (although more a bizarre percussion-music store than a record shop) are still there. I guess I'm only reminiscing, but the depressing thing is that, at least the last time I was in the City, the building looked pretty run-down, if not abandoned, and there is one of those scrolling light-up signs saying "FOR RENT". Very depressing. Maybe we should rally the Landmarks commission for a plaque. I mean Willa Cather, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others got plaques. What's one more poet to Mayor Giuliani??
Anyway, just my thoughts this morning. All you New Yorkers, or those of you who will brave the Dead to see Bob at Giants and might get into the city, truck down to the Village and have a look--nothing really special, but for those of us who care...
Anyone on this list who is in NY and has seen the building lately: what's happened to it??
From: "John P.L. Kelly"
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: W. 4th Hi, I live in a building at 163 W. 4th, and my super, with a chorus of local merchants and street folk, claims that this is actually where Dylan lived. I would like this to be true. Where do you guys get the 161 address? Is it ironclad? Dying to know the truth. John.Kelly@ajn.org
From: email@example.com Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 13:52:04 EST To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Bobby D Atlas I am writting you about your 4th St. entry in your Bob Dylan Atlas. The University of Minnesota is intersected by two one way streets. One is University Ave. and the other is 4th St. Since Bob started his carrer in Dinky Town I feel the possibility that this could be the 4th St. he he refering too. I may be wrong but I thought it may be something you should look into. Other than that "take it slow" bill smith email@example.com
Date: Sat, 1 Mar 1997 19:13:21 -0800 Sender: The Bob Dylan Discussion List (HWY61-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU) From: John Freeman (freemajo@ELWHA.EVERGREEN.EDU) Subject: Re: 4th Street 4th Street, otherwise known as "Frat Row", is the street on which all of the fraternities at the Univ. of Minnesota are located. Dylan who attended the U of MN for less than a year lived in the Jewish Fraternity. Having gone there myself for a year, I can definitely attest to the appropriateness and accuracy of the song: Positively 4th Street. Johnny
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rob Patterson) Newsgroups: rec.music.dylan Subject: Re: 4th Street Date: 4 Mar 1997 20:04:11 GMT Hey folks, the spin in most Dylan bios, and what I feel is most accurate, is that 4th Street is a farewell to the very incestuous, competitive, back-biting and small-minded crowd that was the ostensibly progressive humanistic Greenwich Village folk scene (isn't EVERY crowd like that?). Gerde's Folk City, where Dylan debuted and the prime NYC folk joint, was at W. 4th & Mercer. Having spent time in NYC and around the Village folk scenes that followed, I have met many people who are positively 4th St there (and everywhere). There are those who say the song is a slam at Suze Rotolo after she and Bob broke up. The fact that the U Minnesota frat row is 4th St. may have only been a bonus for Bob. After lurking here a while, I think people sometimes miss the BIG point of songs by trying to pin them to the specific. Most songwriters I know and have talked to (I know many fine, noted writers, and interview them as part of how I make a living) usually filter the personal through the muse so it comes out lesss specific and more universal. It is fascinating to tie works to Bob's life, but I am just as interested in how these songs affect the lives of the people who hear them. The best songs transcend any specifics to offer multiple meanings to listeners and even sometimes the creators. That's one sure sign of a great song.
From: LINDASHAW (LINDASHAW@prodigy.net) Newsgroups: rec.music.dylan Subject: Re: 4th Street Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 10:14:12 -0500 In Duluth, Minn, there's a bakery on 3rd St called "Positively Third Street Bakery." I was visiting there a couple of years ago and just HAD to go in and buy something. No Dylan music playing, which I thought was strange! Linda