Positively 4th Street

Positively 4th StreetThe Lives And Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña
by David Hajdu

The problem with folk, Richard Fariña announced to a congregation of musicians at the table in the Gaslight, was that it needed a beat. Compared to the music of some other cultures –Cuba, for instance- American traditional music sounds like “nursery rhymes”, he said. Richard darted a glance at one of the group, Fred Neil, a firebrand young singer and songwriter with an open affection for commercial pop music (and unfortunately for his art and his health, a surprising passion for heroin). “Is this guy for real?” Neil asked himself. “The guy’s a short-story writer or something, and he’s telling all these musicians [that] what they’re doing is kid stuff.” Richard wrapped an arm around the waist of a passing waitress (Penny Simon, who later managed the club) and pulled a couple of dirty places off her tray. He wiped them off with a soiled napkin and flipped them upside down the table, as if he were beginning to perform the shell-game con. “American folk music is square on the beat”, Fariña said. With the palm of his left hand, he patted out a simple four-quarter time pattern on the bottom of one of the plates: one, two, three, four . . . “In Cuba, they play two rhythms simultaneously.” Richard dropped his head back and closed his eyes and, while patting in four-quarter pattern with his right. The table rumbled in polyrhythms as Richard swayed in time. At the White Horse Tavern a year earlier, among writers at the Dylan Thomas shrine, he had been a half-Irish poet; here, in the company of bohemian musicians, he was a half-Cuban percussionist. Caught up in the moment, possibly, or competitively motivated, Richard’s table mates started joining in. “All the musicians around him couldn’t keep up with him”, said Neil. “None of them could do the two different beats at the same time. That was Fariña, man –you thought he was full of shit, then he delivered the goods and knocked everybody out.” Richard opened his eyes to find a circle of musicians concentrating intenesely and counting time under their breath, tapping on the table, rapping their thighs. While the racket of erratic attemped rhythms swelled, he waved the waitress back and ordered a round of drinks for his compadres. (p. 78-79)

Fred Neil, who went drinking at the Gaslight with Dylan, Fariña, and a few others around this time, recalled Richard suggesting a career idea to Bob that he surely would not have wanted Suze Rotolo to hear. (Mary Beal, who married Fariña’s college friend David Shetzline, would remember Richard’s recounting the same tale.) “Fariña gave Bob this lecture” said Neil. ” ‘If you want to be a songwriter, man, you’d better find yourself a singer.’ You see, Bob and me, we were both writing, but I knew how to sing. Fariña told him straight, ‘Man, what you need to do, man, is hook up with Joan Baez. She is so square, she isn’t in this century. She needs you to bring her into the twentieth century, and you need somebody like her to do your songs. She’s your ticket, man. All you need to do, man, is start screwing Joan Baez.’ According to Neil, Dylan joked, “That’s a good idea –I think I’ll do that. But I don’t want her singing none of my songs.” (p. 100)

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