I can't understand
She let go of my hand
An' left me here facing the wall
I'd sure like to know
Why she'd go
But I can't get close to her at all
Though we kissed through the wild blazing nighttime
She said she would never forget
But now morning is clear
It's like ain't here
It's all new to me
Like some mystery
It could even be like a myth
But it's hard to think on
That she's the same one
That last night I was with
From darkness, dreams are deserted
Am I still dreamin' yet ?
I wish she'd unlock
Her voice once and talk
If she ain't feelin' well
Then why don't she tell
'Stead of turnin' her back to my face
Without any doubt
She seems too far out
For me to return to her chase
Though the night ran swirling and whirling
I remember her whispering yet
But evidently she don't
And evidently she won't
She just acts like we never have met.
If I didn't have to guess
I'd gladly confess
To anything I might've tried
If I was with her too long
Or have done something wrong
I wish she'd tell me what it is, I'll run and hide
Her skirt it swayed as a guitar played
Her mouth was watery and wet
But now something has changed
For she ain't the same
She just acts like we never have met.
I'm leavin' today
I'll be on my way
Of this I can't say very much
But if you want me to
I can be just like you
And pretend that we never have touched
And if anybody asks me, "Is it easy to forget ?"
I'll say, "It's easily done
You just pick anyone
And pretend that you never have met".
This came into my head today – it’s one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite albums, Another Side of Bob Dylan – because as with most of his stuff, it hits it right on the head. No obfuscation, no bullshitting, no fxxing around. One of the best things, the most unusual and powerful things about Dylan is his breathtaking honesty, though it is seldom mentioned by anyone, maybe not even consciously noticed.
Thus, if you analyze the words to Positively 4th Street, Dylan’s notorious diatribe of vengeance– well, guess what? It isn’t. A diatribe. At. All. The song is merely a series of statements, true statements by the sound of them, strung together in the plainest English you ever heard:
You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend
When I was down, you just stood there grinnin’
You got a lot of nerve to say you have a helping hand to lend
When Dylan became impossibly famous in his early 20s, everybody really did want a piece of him, and it eventually became obscene. At heart he is introverted and hypersensitive, has few real friends, and mostly cleaves to his highly-protected family (who, by the way, have been seriously threatened by flaming psychotics like "Dylanologist" A. J. Weberman). If you get past its sardonic hipness and really listen to the song, you get the feeling that this all happened: he really was used and abused this way, and with his usual who-gives-a-shit honesty he’s going to tell the world exactly what they did to him in those terse, compressed lines that are so characteristic of the most powerful poetry.
Like every other form of writing, poetry is reporting. And Dylan might just be the best reporter who ever lived.
People have argued over who is the “target” of Positively 4th Street since the song came out in 1965. He recorded it right after his legendary gig at the Newport Folk Festival: you know, the one where he “went electric”, singing two of his ten or so songs with an amplified guitar and a rhythm section. They didn’t just boo him then: they booed him through an entire tour, every time he pulled out that electric guitar. And he kept on singing.
So there were plenty of potential targets for the varnish-stripping Dylan honesty, among them numerous folkie has-beens and never-weres, parasites trying to suck away his vital force as he struggled to be reborn. Some even think it’s about Joan Baez, but frankly, given the way he coat-tailed on her fame in the early ‘60s, she had even more reason to sing that song to HIM. No, I think it’s aimed at that nauseating sycophant and self-styled hipster/flamboyant creep, Richard Farina, a Dylan wanna-be who married Baez’s 17-year-old sister Mimi strictly to get a piece of the action with Joan.
So let’s get into this one. It has one of those twisty Dylan titles: I Don’t Believe You. But what is it really about? It’s about being cut so dead by someone you like or love that they won’t even acknowledge you’ve met.
Hey, who is this guy.
Are you talking to me?
What? . . . Do I know you?
It’s easily done, you just pick anyone. Let’s pick someone you HAVE known for years, even had a close relationship with, whether professional or personal.
At some point – well, sometimes it’s just totally baffling. No discernible reason at all, or perhaps things just get a little “thick”, a little less than jolly and easy.
A scum or a fog or a – something – something toxic begins to form.
It isn’t so much being “ignored” or even having the other person pretend you never have met, which is devastating enough. It’s that sense of – uhh, is there another person in the room? Somebody over there, maybe? Ah, no – nobody there – (whew).
The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. The opposite of acknowledgement is obliviousness. It’s easily done: you just do nothing! Try to call them on it, and all sorts of generic excuses pop up that are meant to be blandly accepted: “Oh! NOW I know why you didn’t answer my email/phone message, you know the one, that message that laid my guts open and made me vulnerable enough to risk everything I had. You didn’t answer me because you were Busy That Day. You were away from your desk.”
No. You were not. Away. From. Your Desk. You made this up on the spot to make it easier for YOU, and if I don’t accept it or if I try to call you on it, I will get some version of “how can you be so cruel? How can you even think of such a thing?”
I can be so cruel as to think, because it is TRUE.
But though it may look like you suddenly shunned me for no reason, it will eventually come to light that there was a reason. You didn’t answer me because I embarrassed you. I embarrassed you because I cared so intensely, and you didn’t. I wanted to know what made things go so wrong between us, to try to understand it or at least get some sort of dialogue going. But you can’t have a dialogue if the other person won’t even acknowledge your existence.
As I get older, I see the real dynamics between people, the way the endless games are played, and it sickens me. I open myself, show my belly, roll all over the floor, longing for someone/anyone to hear me, understand me, or at least live on the same planet as me, and it all echoes back at me as if nobody is there. At. All.
The opposite of love. Dylan almost makes light of this, though not quite. It’s not nice not to be acknowledged. Especially it’s not nice if you’ve gutted yourself in order to be understood, and gotten an indifferent silence in reply. Silence isn’t nice when it’s malignant like that. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the human brain has a tendency to fill it in. And not with the sweetest thoughts.
When people don’t return your phone calls/emails, and it’s happened to me a lot since I decided to fall on my sword by being a novelist, it’s like being stood up on a date. It doesn’t feel nice. The person doing the standing-up should be feeling guilty and bad for letting you down. They don’t. They don’t feel anything. Or they’re busy doing something else, probably having much more fun than they would have had with you. YOU feel bad. YOU feel embarrassed, unacknowledged, dumped. You’re sitting there in a bar or a coffee shop alone, being glanced at, and you feel embarrassed, shamed. You went out of your way. You put your pretty dress on. You told the guy you liked him. Loved him? If you say anything to anyone – but no. THAT truly exposes you as a loser. All you’ll get is pity, or “oh, come on, don’t be so sensitive”.
We must hold our Winner mask in front of our faces at all times. If it drops, we’ll be under attack. Or underacknowledged. Or, perhaps, not even acknowledged at all.