POSITIVELY 4th STREET, by David Hajdu (Bloomsbury, $29.95).
Richard Fari–a lived fast, died young. He wanted to be a star but died the death of a cult hero: he crashed his motorcycle in 1966, on the way home from the party launching his novel Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me. Like Fari–a, his novel tries too hard to be beat, and like his music – fey traditional folk – it wouldnŐt be remembered nearly 40 years later if Fari–a didnŐt crop up as a footnote in the life of Bob Dylan.
Fari–a, charming, ambitious and self-confident, arrived on the campus folk scene before Dylan and allegedly gave him some advice: ŇYou need somebody É to do your songs. All you need do, man, is start screwing Joan Baez.Ó Whether the charming, ambitious, self-confident – and talented – Dylan took this advice is unknown, but the clown prince of folk was quickly championed by its reigning queen, and they were soon the genreŐs royal couple. Meanwhile Fari–a, despite being married to folkie Carolyn Hester, scored a coup himself: he wooed and won BaezŐs breathtakingly beautiful teenage sister Mimi.
Positively 4th Street is the story of the glamorous quartet leading the folk revival: Bob and Joanie, Richard and Mimi. Hajdu wrote Lush Life, the award-winning biography of Billy Strayhorn, Duke EllingtonŐs unheralded arranger, and this similarly exposes an obscure character in a musical movement. Fari–a may have believed he was DylanŐs equal; Hajdu is generous about his limited literary and musical talents but doesnŐt make that mistake. He paints Fari–a as the life of the party, a consummate self-promoter, scheming, exploitative, unreliable and a little sleazy. This is a story about rivalries – sibling and artistic – and while HajduŐs desire to make the lives of the sisters and the singers mirror each other may over-state the Fari–asŐ importance, it makes for a compelling, novelistic account of the context that created Bob Dylan.