All day I’ve had ‘Positively Fourth Street’ playing in my head – in two versions! It has something to say to us in this Lenten season, and is quite appropriate for International Poetry Day.
Bob Dylan’s original is an angry cry of pain about false friendship. He sings what we have all felt. It can be crushing to realize those who we thought were our friends just wanted ‘to be on the side that is winning’ – that we were actually just assets, allies or tools to them, or perhaps even just toys or fashion accessories. We feel foolish as well as used. False friends who are dissatisfied with their ‘position and their place’ can be more interested in name dropping us and claiming a friendship than they are in us. They may feel a need to put us in our place as a way of mollifying their own feelings of inadequacy and drive for dominance. It can take us a while to realize that Dylan is right – it’s not our problem.
But we do each have our own problems or issues, and sometimes it is us who have a lot of nerve to say that we are friends. How true are we to our friends? Are we who claim to be Christians real friends of Jesus? Do we make real friends with the poor and pushed aside whom he loved so much? We know the pain of rejection and hypocrisy yet we also inflict it on others.
After the pain and the anger come sadness. Brian Ferry’s version of Fourth Street is not that of an angry young man. It is knowing, somewhat world weary, and sad. We know what people are like. We know what we are like. We know that something potentially good has been broken. Ferry doesn’t change the words or the tune. He just sings it differently. Listen to the tune. The bittersweet sadness was always there. There’s a lightness in the music too. As we come to terms with betrayal, it becomes part of our story in a different way. We don’t want revenge, we want understanding. We want others to ‘stand inside our shoes’. Yet we know that they may choose to go another way – as we ourselves often do. This too we can integrate into our experience and move on.
Fourth Street always has an unfinished feel to me. There is another step, and it is hinted at in the last stanza. Standing in each other’s shoes holds out the hope of transformation and reconciliation. Understanding another’s experience can move us to act differently and to see the other differently – it doesn’t have to be a drag to see them. It is the hope of the incarnation in which God stood inside our shoes in order to lead us back to right relationships.
Perhaps now Positively Fourth Street will let go of me?