Dylan in 2010. Image: Alberto Cabello from Vitoria Gasteiz/CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Is there one piece of music, from a Beethoven symphony to a three-minute chart-topper, that you could listen to over and again? Something stirring or quirky enough to triumph over excessive familiarity and get you through coronavirus confinement? I suppose the truth is that there probably is not. But for most of us perhaps, there are recordings that at least bear frequent repetition. Here's one I chose. You may have other ideas ...
Stuck in the car on successive days, with a disinclination to listen to yet more depressing Covid-19 news and a limited choice of CDs, I ended up with Capital Gold and its diet of old hits.
Now I quite like the odd burst of 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and more recent pop nostalgia. But it would help if the playlist changed daily, which it didn't seem to do over the three days I listened to the station on medium-distance drives before the Government announced curbs on leaving home.
Luckily, the daily dose of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone pleased me as I love the song to bits; see this Cover Story edition which produced a lively electronic postbag of the respective merits of Dylan vs the Stones.
But I could have done without most of the other very modest selection of tracks, British and US chart fodder endlessly repeated.
It all reminded of years ago when a neighbour's teenage son would play Don McLean's American Pie anything up to a dozen times in a row, at the obtrusively high volume that characterised the way he watched or listened to all TV and music. "He's a little deaf," his dad would say.
The Cover Story item was published here too recently (October 2018) for Like A Rolling Stone to be the proper choice. But I am sticking with Dylan and going for another of those exquisitely bitter epics, Positively 4th Street written as he flailed about in desperation to leave behind acoustic and folk music.
It has that glorious dismissive opening line - "You've got a lot of nerve to say you my friend" - and this is followed by a tirade of couldn't-care-less-if-you're-down bile before that cruel denounement that owes a little to Robbie Burns. For the Bard of Aryshire: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us.". For the Bard of Minnesota: "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."
Who is Dylan getting at? The list of contenders, standing with reasonable observance of social distancing protocol, might fill a Tesco superstore car park. One of the many people in Greenwich Village folk circles who resented his drift towards rock, maybe. His former girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, a supposed target in other songs, notably Don't Think Twice It's All Right and Boots of Spanish Leather? Phil Ochs, Richard Farina? Or perhaps it was as Dylan suggested, a hearty mix of all those who had displeased him in one way or the other.
Wherever the truth lies, the song is a gem. As a bonus, I've added a clip of Johnny Rivers singing it because Dylan once said he preferred it to his own version. It's well known that I do sometimes turn to covers of his work. With Positively 4th Street Rivers is good, Dylan the master.