Archive for “Another Self Portrait”

Here’s The Truth About Dylan’s “Another Self Portrait”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 31, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Over the course of the last several weeks, we’ve read a good deal of magical — and wishful — thinking about the release of Bob Dylan’s Another Self Portrait.  If the rock critters who currently are claiming the two-album compilation of various outtakes, stripped-down tracks, and unreleased gems are to be believed, then the producers have turned water into wine, coal into diamonds, and gold has been alchemically created from base metals via a Philosopher’s Stone recently discovered in the archives of Columbia Records.

For here is the truth, at least as we see it.  The three most interesting periods in Dylan’s long career are 1) the genius stretch from Bringing It All Back Home through the ’65 tour and Blonde On Blonde; 2) The Basement Tapes; and 3, that mature eruption of late-innings creativity best summarized by The Bootleg Series Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs, which includes songs from 1989’s Oh Mercy to 2006’s Modern Times.  Of all the various periods in Dylan’s half-century of astonishing creativity, the batch of records ranging from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline to New Morning — and including the acknowledged dreck that was most of Self Portrait — is, if not the least satisfying run of albums (you’d probably have to bracket the 1980s period preceding Oh Mercy for that), then let’s call it for what it is: a comparatively weak, uncertain detour in what is otherwise a straight shot from Greenwich Village to artistic Valhalla.

We were mystified, as a teenager, by Self Portrait, especially given how much amazing music was happening at that moment, from the Beatles and Stones to hippy caravans with their saddlebags stuffed with all the Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and nascent Zeppelins.  So to come out now, with what admittedly are some fine, lost Dylan songs, and make a claim, as some have, that this tumultuous period in Dylan’s amazing output is on the same aesthetic level as his best is, let’s face it, hooey.   Given the famous Greil Marcus opener in the Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait — “What is this shit?” — we could say the same now about a fair bit of the hyperbole over this set of songs.

Except, except, there is this: the great Mikal Gilmore’s marvelous cover story in the new Rolling Stone captures the historical moment in what reads to us like pitch perfect balance.  He makes no claims for the songs in the new album other than that they provide perspective lost in what was the official output of the day.  And by ratcheting down the hype, he enabled us calmly to listen to both CDs of the newly found stuff, and to find the gems sprinkled among them.  This is absolutely worth your time and money, even if the whole period of Dylan’s output — as influential as it was, shaking rock music from its jittery psychedelia to the more solid, stripped down country and blues that, in the Stones’ case, would lead to Beggars Banquet, and which would inspire the Byrds to consort with Gram Parsons — was neither as interesting as what came before it, nor as exciting as what was to come.

And then there is this: if you pony up for the box set, it arrives  with the entirety of the Isle of Wight concert recorded on this very day 44 years ago.  Picture the scene: Dylan has skipped the Woodstock Festival in his backyard two weeks previously, flown to England with The Band, and he performs his first concert in four years before a crowd of 200,000, which includes various Beatles and Stones.  And the set he performs, as we now know from hearing the whole thing, ranks as one of the greatest-ever Dylan live recordings.  For all the reports that he was nervous and ragged during this concert, with the fullness of time he sounds relaxed and loose and confident.  He sings in that glottal, Johnny Cash-inspired voice we recognize from “Lay Lady Lay” — in fact, the version of “Lay Lady Lay” is worth the wheel barrow of money you have to pay to get the box set, with this CD — and all in, there may never be as strong a live vocal performance by Dylan that you’ll ever be able to buy, and yes we have the Rolling Thunder Review material.  This live set has none of the jittery, amphetamine punch of ’65 set with The Band, and is wholly more satisfying in sound than the Before The Flood set from ’74.  This live album is pure genius, wholly satisfying, a revelation.

On The Prospect of Dylan’s “Another Self Portrait”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Uncut‘s September issue is now out, and (besides teeing up the August 20th release of Ty Segall’s Sleeper) it gives the complete treatment to the August 27th release of Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10.  The way they preview it, Dylan fanatics can get excited about what’s to come: outtakes of both the original Self Portrait and New Morning, a live album of Dylan and the Band at the Isle of Wight in ’69, alternative versions, etc.  But for those who actually remember Self Portrait, Greil Marcus’s famous opening line in his Rolling Stone review — “What is this shit?” — certainly rang true at the time.

We remember Self Portrait, when we think of it at all, as the double album on which you found the Basement Tapes version of “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo).” To a teenager listening to it — especially at a moment (Summer of 1970) when so much great music was abounding, from Get Yer Ya Yas Out to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s epic, hits-driven season to Mad Dogs and Englishmen and John Barleycorn Must Die — it was enough to make you write Dylan off.  Which at that moment we kinda did, not fully reengaging with him ’til Blood On The Tracks and Planet Waves a half-decade later.

So the idea that now there is about to be released a 35-song compendium, as well as a more expensive complete dive down the rabbit hole, makes us feel… fascinated.  Was there really more to this period of Dylan than we realized at the time? Uncut would make you think so, though as much as they are an excellent filter for new music, and a source of many of our favorite discoveries over the years, they do tend to mythologize the work of artists from the ’60s and ’70s, such that you might think every album from that period, every band and performance, was a masterwork.  It, um, wasn’t.  And even great bands put out dreck (cf. Their Satanic Majesties Request.)

The fact that we still remember Greil Marcus’s review also tells us something about the quality of rock writing back then.  Can you imagine, 40 years hence, anyone being able to recall a single review in the 2013 version of Rolling Stone?  It’s possible we may be able to remember, decades hence, how terrible Jon Pareles’s writing in the Times is, but that’s a different matter, and we digress.

We do still remember that horse’s ass (and the man who, by complaining about the $6.00 ticket prices of their 1969 tour, would goad the Rolling Stones into doing a free concert in the Bay Area, which became Altamont…) Ralph J. Gleason’s review, four months after Self Portrait came out, of New Morning, which rock crits viewed as a return to form, or at least relevance, the antithesis of the creative nadir that Self Portrait was dismissed as.  “It came on the radio in the late afternoon and from the first note it was right…” Gleason went on to imagine that everyone, in every car on the road, heard the same set of Dylan songs, and that realizing the Dylan they loved had returned to form, all was right in the world.  A little later, when Alice Cooper’s great Love It To Death was released, John Mendelsohn — our favorite rock crit of the era — parodied Gleason: “It came on the radio in the late afternoon and from the first note it was right: Alice Cooper bringing it all back home again.”

So, we look forward — as someone whose estimation of Dylan has exponentially increased in the decades since; yeah, we view ’90s/’00s Dylan as more personally relevant, if not more important than ’60s/’70s Dylan — to the new version of Self Portrait.  Even as we wax nostalgic over an era in which an artist’s album could have such resonance, good or bad, as Dylan’s did in 1970, not to mention the power of rock critics to praise or dismiss a work with such world historical importance.

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