By Tony Attwood
This recording from 1994 was one of two utterly different versions of Positively 4th Street from that year – you can hear the other version and indeed other performances from this era in the episode “1994 part 2”.
This one I adore because it takes out the stridency and anger of the song (which is of course a natural part of it, given the lyrics), and replaces it with a deep, deep sadness. And given the nature of the lyrics that is quite an achievement.
And for me this is not only a beautiful rendition of a remarkable piece of music, but a shining example of Dylan’s ability to take a song written from one angle and turn it completely around so it almost becomes a different piece of music.
The reason it works, I think, is because that one can imagine that famous opening line “You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend” being said in anger or in desperate sadness.
What is also interesting is that the chord sequence is so distinctive in Dylan’s song writing (I don’t think any other Dylan song starts G – A minor – C – G, although having written that I am rather afraid there might be many of them, so if there are, tell me gently) so that anyone who plays Dylan on a guitar or keyboard will know what is coming up. And yet the beat and gentleness of the opening makes us think, it can’t possibly be “4th Street”.
And the song brings with it its own problems in performance, for musically the song simply runs through the verse’s unchanging chord sequence 12 times – there are no variations to play with. But that turns out to give this version its brilliance. By performing the piece in a manner of one who is simply resigned to the problem and has reached the view that there is nothing more to be done, the whole piece holds me in its grip, as it builds up to that most extraordinary final verse.
Indeed in this version, the instrumental break, which again I think works so well, prepares us afresh for those lines
I wish that for just one time You could stand inside my shoes And just for that one moment I could be you Yes, I wish that for just one time You could stand inside my shoes You'd know what a drag it is To see you
And then we have that musical epilogue in which Bob doodles on his guitar, suggesting once more that this just goes on and on and on. But at the very end there is that slight uplift in the music before the final run-through of the verse and finally one can let out a breath as it concludes.
I do hope you have time to listen to all nine minutes of this performance and either close your eyes or look at a single painting, or perhaps a rural setting where nothing is changing. Heard in this way it is an extraordinary performance and an amazing piece of rewriting.
And then perhaps, if you really want an extraordinary experience, play the original four minute version below. It will utterly break the spell of the live version above, but of course, you can always go back and listen again to the live version, which I must admit I have just done.
- 1: John Brown 1987
- 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- 3: She Belongs to Me
- 4: Tangled up in Blue
- 5: I and I – power without meaning
- 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.
- 7: Perfection in desolation – Gates of Eden
- 8: Girl from the North Country.
- 9: When He Returns
- 10: It’s alright Ma
- 11: Satisfied Mind
- 12: Visions of Johanna
- 13: Dark Eyes
- 14: Man in the long black coat
- 15: Don’t think twice (2000)
- 16: Silvio (1998)
- 17: Gates of Eden (2000)
- 18: One Too Many Mornings 2001.
- 19: It’s all over now baby blue 1994
- 20: The Wicked Messenger