We should have known.
When Dave Edmunds was hired to create an updated 1950‘s soundtrack for the third-rate teen sex romp, “Porky’s Revenge,” he enlisted Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, and even Carl Perkins, among others, to record period covers for the film. The odd man out was the semi-retired ex-Beatle, and Edmunds’ neighbor, George Harrison, who insisted on recording an unreleased Bob Dylan song entitled “I Don’t Want To Do It.” When obtaining the publishing rights, the legend goes that Dylan never bothered to copyright this composition he must have played for Harrison between 1968 and 1970. Years later, a bootleg of Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” demos called “Beware Of ABKCO” included skeletal versions of “If Not For You” and “I Don’t Want To Do It.”
If Dylan couldn’t even be bothered to copyright, let alone record, this gem, what other unknown treasures could be hidden in vaults? While his musical career, official and otherwise, had been documented as no other, it was still a shock to discover Sony Legacy was releasing previously unheard, mostly unbootlegged, and some even undocumented, recordings from the “Self Portrait” era. Especially since we were already expecting a set of “Blood On The Tracks” outtakes. (Reportedly they will be released on volume 11.)
Before we get into “Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-1971),” it’s important to place the original 1970 double vinyl album, “Self Portrait,” in context.
Dylan, like or it not, with his untraditional and uncompromising style, had become the voice of truth, the voice of reality, the voice of a generation. The voice of authenticity. From “Blowin’ In The Wind” to “Blonde On Blonde,” Dylan rode the wave of chaos and unrest that was the 1960s, thriving as he took everything - musically, lyrically, chemically - over the edge. This reached a head when Dylan was, reportedly, seriously injured in a motorcycle mishap. Another James Dean? Another man done gone?
Back in the pre-internet days, rumors spread differently than they do today. People talked. The word spread: Was Dylan seriously hurt? If so, how badly? Would he ever write and perform again? There were even rumors Dylan was detoxing, or in a vegetative state.
As we all know now, Dylan was relaxing and recovering, and hanging out and jamming with members of The Band. When Dylan emerged, he was no longer living on the “edge,” no longer the Czar of the Zeitgeist. Early 1968 saw a kinder, gentler Dylan, back with an acoustic guitar and a softer voice, and messages full of Biblical homilies. The following year came a full fledged country album, back when “country” meant redneck, pro-Nixon, pro-Viet Nam war, anti-protest, anti-long hair rock and roll. Back in the days when you could be beaten up, or jailed, for being a “stinkin’ hippie.” Was Dylan drifting over to the other side? Was everything before this a joke? Or was this the joke? Or was he serious?
I'd like to share two examples that typify Dylan’s reputation at the time. One was Christopher Guest’s spot-on schizophrenic protest/country imitation of Dylan in the National Lampoon’s Woodstock parody, “Lemmings,” called “Positively Wall Street.” The second was a made-up caption that appeared in Creem magazine in 1972. There was a still of Dylan playing his acoustic guitar for a group of children on the set of “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid.” Underneath, it read something like this: “The kids asked for ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ but all he could remember was ‘I Threw It All Away.’”
Remember, Dylan was not touring, writing or recording much, not doing many interviews, not playing their game, just his own, with his own set of rules. Certainly not picking up where he left off in 1966. It would be a few years before he headed back on the road, and record stellar albums like “Blood On The Tracks.” We had no idea if we would ever get Zimmy back.
By withdrawing at the height of his powers, then disappearing, Dylan intensified his own myth, despite his wish to do the exact opposite. Dylan skipped Woodstock, and headlined an overhyped show at the Isle Of Wight in the summer of 1969. After booing him in 1966, British fans came out in droves to see the resurrection of Judas. Just weeks before the concert, the first rock bootleg, “Great White Wonder,” made its way into the marketplace.
It was under these circumstances, “Self Portrait” was recorded. What Dylan had in mind has been debated and discussed since the album’s release. Even Dylan’s take on “Self Portrait” have changed over the years, from defensive to dismissive. What were we to believe?
“Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-1971)” somewhat addresses this question. It’s like your photographs from your holiday trip. You just pick the best ones to show people. The question is, of course, why was the released version so different?
In preparation for this review, I not only listened to the 2 CD set a few times, but programmed it on my phone to experience it in pseudo-chronological order. I also dug out my old vinyl copies of “Self Portrait,” “New Morning,” and 1973’s “Dylan.’
I bought “Dylan” when it was new because, well, it was the “new” Dylan album, and I kind of liked it, even after reading I wasn’t supposed to. I had yet to get any of his 60’s classics at this point, so this spent a lot of time on my turntable. I obsessed over it until I could buy “Planet Waves.”
I never hated “Self Portrait” either, because I read some positive things in Michael Gray’s “Art Of Bob Dylan: Song and Dance Man” in 1981. The following year I found a pristine, used vinyl copy in Boston’s Nuggets record store for $4.99. I listened to the album occasionally over the years, probably the last time about ten years ago when I bought an import CD version.
Hearing it again this week after spending time with “Another Self Portrait” was still quite a shock. The album is all over the place, with different Dylan voices and different arrangements. A bunch of covers, mostly credited to Bob Dylan (not even “Trad. arr. Bob Dylan”), true new originals few and far between, most of them with little lyrical content, and radical reworkings of old songs with the Band from the Isle Of Wight.
The album starts off with the strange, hypnotic, “All The Tired Horses,‘ with a female chorus repeating two lines over and over. The next song is one of the strongest, the first of two mellow covers of Lead Belly’s “Alberta.” Then comes the country classic, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.” It was a highlight when performed as a duet with Tom Petty on the 1986 “True Confessions” tour. Here, however, it sounds like Dylan is trying to be a Jim Nabors impersonator.
He sounded totally fake. Goollly!
That’s where the trouble began.
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