This little book had me guffawing in rush hour traffic. It's a delicious portrait of one young Englishman and his world of mysteriously crazy French colleagues. The Englishman's amazement, disgust, surpise, and reluctant tolerance of French ways during his year in Paris are palpable; even if the reader is not English and has never been to France, he will feel very much that he has endured Paul West's same trials. Those readers who are English and have worked in France will likely find this book even more hilarious. In addition to the fine detail and writing, this book's deadpan reader makes the listening a real delight. Cheers!
Positively 4th Street is an able portrait of the intersection of lives (Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina) but does not "bring alive" the individuals themselves. There are lots of facts and stats (recording session held October 12, first meeting with X the very next week), many of which I did not know before. However, knowing about concert dates and set lists does not give me any sense of who and how these people were. I wish I had finished this book thinking that I understood them a little. Curiously, neither does this book provide much of a sense of the times these people moved in. I expected to understand what 1955-1965 felt like in the Village and Carmel but learned very little about this either. Nevertheless, the happenstance and coincidence of romance and business and art amongst the four title peronalities (and plenty of others) is interesting and is well contextualized by Hajdu. Content-wise, this was a pretty decent read.
I found the book very difficult to listen to. The reader uses accents and other voice inflections for various "characters" and I found them all to be irritating. She gives Bob Dylan a drunk, Southern, imbecilic voice I could barely tolerate for its inaccuracy(he wasn't Southern or an imbecile). Most of her voices seem to have a Southern drawl quality to them and I was constantly distracted by wondering why. Almost none of the people quoted in the book were Southern, so I began to think she had equating "folkiness" or naivete with being Southern. To do so here is inappropriate and misguided and rather undercuts Hajdu's thesis. Some of the reader's other character voices (particularly Mimi's abused, frightened child voice) were also grating, but not as damaging to the book's premise.
Make sure your iPod is loaded up with all your favorite folk revival songs while you're reading Positively 4th Street--you'll want to dip into your music collection as an appendix!
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