Bad Bob? Another listen to Dylan’s most derided era
‘Self Portrait’, Dylan’s first album of the 1970s, was his attempt to besmirch his image as a cultural icon. It worked. Will the most recent trawl of the archives change any minds?
So what was this shit, anyway? Well, noted the critics (including fans and arbiters of taste alike), the double album was little more than a mottled collection of covers, country-and-western songs and some originals. Of the two dozen songs, only eight were credited to Dylan – two of these were instrumentals, one song had a two-line lyric, four were recorded live at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, and another was little more than a rewrite of a 1950s hit song.
Where were the urban-amphetamine narratives, man? Where were the sacred texts, man? Where was Dylan the oracle, man? Well, Dylan the oracle was alive and kicking against the pricks.
According to Dylan, Self Portrait was an attempt to smash the glass case that surrounded him and his songwriting, to besmirch the image of him as an all-round cultural icon, seer and sage.
The Bootleg Series, Vol 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)
“That album was put out,” said Dylan in the early 1980s, “because at that time I didn’t like the attention I was getting. And I was getting the wrong kind of attention for doing things I’d never done. So we released the album to get people off my back. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. To me, it was a joke.”
How has it aged?
Well, who’s laughing now? Fast-forward 43 years, and we have the imminent release of Bootleg Series Vol 10: Another Self Portrait. Dylan’s Bootleg Series was initiated by his manager, Jeff Rosen, in 1991, and has within 20 years and 10 volumes fastidiously sorted through specific era recordings of Dylan’s that have often uncovered nuggets from the songwriter’s archives.
There is a lot of detritus in the Series output, too, of course, but if you’re into joining the Dylan dots then the “bootlegs” are instructive items to browse through.
And Another Self Portrait is especially so, primarily because it hopes to rescue from the bargain bin the most critically derided (and, perhaps, most misunderstood) of all Dylan’s records. Context is all; sometimes years need to pass and information needs to filter out in order to discover and then walk through various entry points.
No one is saying Dylan’s rep has been saved by this most recent trawl through the vaults, but there’s enough going on to change some opinions. If the plan behind John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline was to strip down myth, then the intention of Self Portrait was to build some kind of reality.
Adorned with, yes, a different (somewhat more technically advanced) self-portrait, Another Self Portrait is available as a two-CD set, a vinyl version, and a de-luxe edition four-CD set.