ADVENTURES IN PARAPHRASE: Dylan may have said it worst!


We take a one-day hike: Long ago and far away, Robert Zimmerman may have said it worst.

The singer-songwriter was hiding behind his stage name, "Bob Dylan." His comment came right at the end of the admittedly compelling song, Positively 4th Street:

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 just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you.

Oof! The highlighted lyric is rude, impolite. We don't recommend taking such attitudes toward others, or even toward Others. We don't even recommend that!

On the other hand, we're willing to say that our own attitude has perhaps been somewhat similar of late. First, though, a bit of background on Dylan's compelling song. 

"You'd know what a drag it is to see you," Dylan said at the end of the song. But who the heck was he talking about? Who was the bête noire of this song?

Who was Dylan deriding? In the passage shown below, the leading authority on the song offers a set of speculations, along with some basic facts:

"Positively 4th Street" is a song written and performed by Bob Dylan, first recorded in New York City on July 29, 1965. It was released as a single by Columbia Records on September 7, 1965, reaching No. 1 on Canada's RPM chart, No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song as No. 203 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.


The song is generally assumed to ridicule Greenwich Village residents who criticized Dylan for his departure from traditional folk styles towards the electric guitar and rock music. Many of the Greenwich Village folk crowd, who had been good friends of Dylan's, took offense and assumed that the song carried personal references. Noted Village figure Izzy Young, who ran the Folklore Center, had this to say of the accusation:

"At least five hundred came into my place [the Folklore Center] and asked if it was about me. I don't know if it was, but it was unfair...Dylan comes in and takes from us, uses my resources, then he leaves and he gets bitter. He writes a bitter song. He was the one who left."

Other possible targets of the song's derision include Irwin Silber, editor of Sing Out! magazine and a critic of Dylan's move away from traditional folk styles, and Tom Paxton, who had criticized the emerging folk rock scene of the period in a Sing Out! magazine article titled "Folk Rot" (although Dylan wrote and recorded "Positively 4th Street" months before the "Folk Rot" article was published in January 1966). Michael Schumacher, in his book There but for Fortune: The Life Of Phil Ochs, claimed that Phil Ochs might be the target because Dylan got angry at Ochs for his criticism of the song "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?", which supposedly prompted Dylan to throw Ochs out of his limousine (though Dylan wrote and recorded "Positively 4th Street" months before this incident occurred in September 1965). Another possibility is that "Positively 4th Street" (along with "Like a Rolling Stone") was directed at Edie Sedgwick and her association with Andy Warhol, though this seems very unlikely as Dylan recorded this song before his involvement with Sedgwick had turned sour. 

In classic human fashion, the leading authority names three "possible targets of the song's derision"—Paxton, Ochs and Sedgwick/Warhol—even as it notes the fact that these three speculations don't make chronological sense!

We human beings are strongly inclined to "reason" in such ways. We're even inclined to reason that way over here in our own liberal tribe!

We reason that way every day of the week. That leads us to our own brand-new decision.

In the course of this week, we had intended to deride certain aspects of our own's tribe's persistent behavior. In effect, we were reworking Dylan's closing lines, transforming them into this:

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 just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see Us.

For us at this site, it is a drag, each weeknight evening and then every morning, to review the way our own failing tribe novelizes the day's alleged news events. On "cable news," the current play list goes something a great deal like this:

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Tump Trump Trump Trump Trump Giuliani

Granted, this amazingly tedious product line sells. But in such ways, our self-impressed tribe keeps losing elections, and with those elections the world.

Routinely, our tribe is deeply unimpressive—and, like almost all human tribes, we're almost completely unable to grasp this obvious fact. That said, do you have any idea how depressing it is to move along, day after day, deriding the very folks who vote the same way you do?

It easy and fun to go after Others, perhaps with embellishment added. For that reason, it's quite widely done.

On cable, it leads major stars to very large paydays. But deriding one's own is no fun!

For those reasons, we're taking the day off from this week's planned report. Tomorrow, we'll summarize the issue which lay at the heart of the topic—but after that, the change!

Yesterday, we finally decided that we can't take it any more. All in all, our view at present is this:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our own tribe is hopelessly limited. Our analytical skills barely exist. We aren't always the world's nicest people.

That unwise, ugly reference to East Bumfuck County pretty much did it for us. That, plus the ugly comments the reference occasioned as the creepy crawlers of our own tribe slithered out of the woodwork!

If you aren't appalled by behavior like that, we'll suggest that you step aside for a while and take stock. You might consider the amazingly basic assessments offered in Professor Belsky's letter, as described in yesterday's report.

At present, the behavior which comes from the world of Trump is routinely insane. But within our own self-impressed tribe, our reactions tend to be unpleasant, and they tend to be notably dumb.

Here in our tribe, we have almost no observable skills; despite that, we're quite self-impressed. We expect to adopt a new approach to these problems next week, though we offer this brutal disclaimer:

Experts say this will never change. Channeling Sartre, these scholars all say that there seems to be "no way out!"

Tomorrow: Actually, no. We don't think The Others actually said that...


  1. Meh. Let's not be unfair, dear Bob: your brain-dead "tribe" can be entertaining.

    Here, dear Bob, read this brilliant piece, and then we hope -- nay, we're certain -- you'll agree:

    Tucker Carlson: Every speed bump for Democrats is a full-blown catastrophe.

  2. I think this is where Somerby is coming from:

    This article describes the efforts of alt-right conservatives to mobilize white Christian churches into attacks on CRT in public schools, using the same pedophile-conspiracist beliefs as Q-Anon supporters, suggesting that CRT is a Soros-backed plot to "groom" children in our schools by introducing sex-related teaching. This is why the objections to books such as Beloved and Maus focus on sex and not the other content.

    James Lindsay said in a interview with Gorka:

    ""This goes back to the first Cultural Marxist, Georg Lukács," he said, referencing the Hungarian Marxist intellectual, "who became deputy commissar for education, and what did he implement? Comprehensive sex education. Exactly the stuff we see with the gender theory, the queer theory, these very perverted books in the school library teaching children to become sexually active and sexually aware. Why? Because what are they going to do? They're going to become, frankly, little perverts and they're going to go home, and their parents are going to say no, and they're going to use the rebelliousness of the teenage years — of the youth — to say you don't understand me." If you can thus "separate a new generation away from its parents," family, religion and culture, he concluded, they can be led wherever you want."

    And their cause has adopted the same trappings of violence as pervade other right wing efforts:

    ""I've been screaming about this for years. It's like screaming into a hurricane," said Lindsay. "And now all of a sudden, the wind has changed. The wind's at my back now." As parents and the working class wake up to the "nonsense" of CRT, he said, and also to what he called "this radical agenda, especially with the gender and sexuality stuff and the pedophilia, that your children are genuinely in danger of groomers that the Marxists have brought in," said parents were reaching the point where they'd "die for [their] kids."

    Lindsay claimed a political scientist had imparted this wisdom: "There are just a couple ways a cultural revolution gets stopped. One is you have a character like Putin come in and start killing journalists and take authoritarian power and stamp it out. The other is that parents wake up." In Lindsay's telling, those things sound eerily similar."

    I believe Somerby may be infected with this garbage because Somerby started railing against identity issues and professors around the time of the publication of Lindsay's last book: Lindsay and Pluckrose (2020), "Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everyone." This is about when Somerby began his kick focusing on race and gender and claiming that it was harming liberal politics.

    So, I believe that Somerby has not only become a Fox News viewer, but has been reading and absorbing the contents of right-wing propaganda books as well. And swallowing them hook, line and sinker, regurgitating their contents in his daily essays here.

    Not a few of these guys claim to have formerly been liberal, but in Lindsay's case, he seems more like an opportunist and demagogue, now latched onto the conservative bandwagon because that is where the gullible readers and conservative backers with money can be found.

    1. Not only that, I saw Somberby with Bob Dylan, *after* he had gone electric!

    2. anon 10:26 - you're not sane

    3. You didn't read the linked article, did you?

  3. Dylan wrote songs of whiney grievance that gave disenchanted youth a chance to identify with the lyrics. The less specific the lyrics, the better. He threw in some hip attacks on wealth, and what would now be called entitlement or privilege, while pursuing those things for himself. He borrowed causes, such as Hurricane Rubin Carter, without actually pursuing real activism, hence the complaints from real folk singers such as Ochs and Paxton. The white middle class kids to whom Dylan most appealed resonated to his nasty lines without worrying much who they were about.

    This is why it is very silly when Somerby grabs a Dylan lyric and tries to tie it to something meaningful. Dylan was never about that.

  4. "even as it notes the fact that these three speculations don't make chronological sense!"

    Dislike of someone or even a break with them typically doesn't happen as a discrete event in time but over a longer period, gradually building up. The obvious break between Sedgwick/Warhol and Dylan may have been preceded by a longer period of irritation, disgust, etc. before a precipitating event noticeable to others. That's why this article makes the speculation despite the public chronology. Who knows how long Dylan may have felt negatively about people before leaving them behind?

    Somerby doesn't do nuance. So he suggests that these analysts didn't reason well. I think Somerby doesn't understand people very well. But that is moot because his actual purpose is to bash expertise and undermine claims to knowledge.

    It wouldn't be surprising if people such as Ochs and Paxton disliked Dylan for his success, despite his lack of commitment to any cause except himself. They were the real deal but a mass youth market isn't going to follow someone demanding effort toward change instead of posturing of the type Dylan promoted.

  5. "the current play list goes something a great deal like this:

    Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Tump Trump Trump Trump Trump Giuliani"

    It would be very simple to review each of the segments on MSNBC or CNN for content and list the topics discussed. They would look nothing like Somerby's list. I am not going to waste my time, but I would be surprised if Biden, Putin, Hillary, Durham, and many others were not also mentioned, along with Truckers, Covid, Government funding deadline, and many other current news events.

    If all that Somerby hears is Trump, Trump, Trump, maybe the problem is with his own ears and attention span.

  6. "That unwise, ugly reference to East Bumfuck County pretty much did it for us. That, plus the ugly comments the reference occasioned as the creepy crawlers of our own tribe slithered out of the woodwork!

    If you aren't appalled by behavior like that, we'll suggest that you step aside for a while and take stock."

    I feel the same way about Somerby himself. What did it for me was his reference to Maus without mentioning that it was banned on Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed by his defense of Crumbleys without mentioning the anniversary of the Stoneman-Douglas school shooting.

    Somerby has jumped some kind of shark and it would be nice if he would hang it up and go away for good.

    1. “ Somerby has jumped some kind of shark and it would be nice if he would hang it up and go away for good.”

      Who doesn’t know that this would be a dream come true for your coven.

    2. Notice how well Cecelia has absorbed Somerby's message about standing in another person's shoes! She attributes "dreams" to her others (e.g., us liberals) based on her own spite, not any understanding of who we liberals are. Note the nasty, ugly word "coven" to call @11:32 a witch and the rest of us a cabal instead of actual people with our own interests and needs.

      Somerby only ever lectures the left on empathy. Is it because he knows that folks such as Cecelia are a lost cause (reference intended)? She misses the point so regularly that it seems clear she has no interest in catching it. But we are Somerby's targets for blame? Phooey on that!

    3. Anonymouse 2:23pm, Gaggle of geese it is then.

    4. What does that mean?

  7. "Channeling Sartre, these scholars all say that there seems to be "no way out!""

    Go look up No Way Out and see what Sartre actually meant by it. I guarantee it won't have anything to do with Somerby's usage.

    1. This is interesting, not because of No Exit (Sartre's actual title, not No Way Out), but because of the phrase used by Sartre, les autres (The Others).

      "No Exit (French: Huis clos, pronounced [ɥi klo]) is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original title is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. The play was first performed at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in May 1944.[1] The play begins with three characters who find themselves waiting in a mysterious room. It is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's especially famous phrase "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people", a reference to Sartre's ideas about the look and the perpetual ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object from the view of another consciousness.[2] But the phrase “L’enfer, c’est les autres” may also be a reference to the use of the “les autres” as a slang term for the German occupying forces during the war."

      That phrase translates to: Hell, it is the others.

      At least Somerby has the sides correctly aligned. The neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the right are more equivalent to les autres than the left would be.

      But no one on the left considers the right to be an occupying force. These are home-grown assholes, not an invasion, and they have arisen because the right gave away their party to the extremist right. Sartre, in real life, worked against occupied France as part of the resistance during WWII. So the reference is imperfect. The play was written and performed during WWII.

      In this sense, The Others were not victims but perpetrators, and those living under them were the victims. But this is not WWII and we have no been invaded, and there is no real analogy to the others in our current history.

  8. Replies
    1. You troublemaker.

    2. Anonymouse 11;48pm, in his mom’s basement.

    3. At least his mom has a basement, unlike yours.

    4. I’m sure we’re all very happy for Greg in his arrangement.

    5. Hey, I'd take the insult happily for even a scrap of decent argument from Cecelia. My Mom has been gone a long time now and She didn't have a basement, but perhaps if I was camped out in a like a like situation, as one suspects many regular posters are here, I might have developed better skills in navigating the roadblocks set up in the guestbook to effective posting that takes on Bob. Hard to believe, pathetic as it is, that Bob hasn't played a part in this. Oh well, glad I have left my fans wanting more.

  9. "Here in our tribe, we have almost no observable skills..."

    How many journalism awards has Fox News won?

    "With that said Fox News have won ZERO awards for excellence in broadcast journalism from NONE of the prestigious or even secondary organizations who present them. Peabody Awards? NO! Emmy Awards? NO! duPont-Colombia Awards? NO! Fox News are the pornographers of the press and peddle nothing but journalistic smut and propaganda."

  10. Somerby is ever so offended by the reference to East Bumfuck County, calling it ugly and those using the term sleazes and slimy.

    But the term Bumfuck is derived from US military slang referring to the middle of nowhere.

    Collins Dictionary defines Bumfuck as "a remote or insignificant place".

    I came across the term today in a novel called Misjudged, by James Chandler:

    "swabbing the courthouse floors for the umpteenth time on this snowy day in Bumfuck, Wyoming,"

    So, Somerby's insistence that this must arise from prejudice against the South and dislike of the The Other is obviously mistaken. The word doesn't have the pejorative associations that Somerby ascribes to it.

    I do think Somerby is a bit prudish, despite his admiration of Bob Saget's rape and incest jokes, uncomfortable with the notion of bumfucking I suppose. The military used to be a man's outfit and has a lot of these colorful terms. In a spirit of patriotism and thanking our troops for their service, I think Somerby should cut our soldiers some slack on this one.

    All in all, he seems pretty foolish in his objection to this bit of Americana. But right wing hissy fits are always a little histrionic.

    1. that is informative and interesting, thanks.

  11. Our two Bobs: Joni Mitchell said that "Positively Fourth Street" showed her you could write a song about anything. I thing She meant Dylan had defined a feeling of betrayal, and let it flow with warts and all pettiness and anger. Bob's account of the song's history is straight out of Anthony Scaduto's early book on Dylan, which I carried around in Junior High.
    There is little point in pretending Trump hasn't been hard on us, and Bob seems a really bad case. The Progressive, pro Bernie line was that Republican support for Trump would quickly wain in mid America, they had just had it with the compromises of mainstream Democrats.
    The opposite turned out to be true. However we had smirked to excess, a lot of people on the right we had assumed were better people turned out to be...not. As traumatized people often do, Bob endlessly blamed the wrong folks. It's hard to remember a time Bob admitted a misjudgement.
    So, those of us hanging onto to the notion that a Country where Donald Trump poles above 15 percent is still worth saving, can only look at at Bob and say "there but for fortune." As to the Guest Book, which once featured a lot of sharp people (yes, some are still around, and thank you for it), it now resembles the last acts of MacBeth, where only the dolts and cutthroats still surround the King. -Greg