Friday

Bob Dylan

Self Portrait - 1970
Writing about something as common as a Dylan album here at the Heat Warps goes somewhat against the grain. Fortunately, all bets are off when it comes to Self Portrait. Widely accepted as the most bizarre entry in his catalog since its release, the album is a mish-mash collection intended to either throw followers off his scent, one-up the bootleggers or gather up the various facets of his personality into a double album package. Whatever its intention, Self Portrait sold well upon its initial release but was ceremoniously torn apart by its critics. To their credit, there was an awful lot to wrap your head around here: multiple versions of the same song, brass-led instrumentals, choral numbers, weird cover versions, Dylan duetting with himself and a few ramshackle live cuts from the Isle of Wight thrown in for good measure. To quote Greil Marcus' opening line of his Rolling Stone review "What is this shit?" 36 years on it's still hard to answer that question, though one thing's for sure; whatever this shit is, it's pretty damn fascinating. An album of tremendous depth and ambition, Self Portrait is unfairly burdened by the formula Dylan laid out in the years preceding it. If this one isn't already in your collection, set aside some quality time to reap the rewards of a proper listen. My introduction to it was on a 16 hour road trip, nearly every mile of which was reserved for this album. My favorites have always been "Days of '49", "Living the Blues," "Wigwam" and the live version of "Quinn the Eskimo", notably for the squall of feedback that chases Robbie Robertson's guitar solo around like a pair of squirrels on a tree. More than any other Dylan record, listening to Self Portrait is an experience unique to every listener. Enjoy yours. Happy Thanksgiving.

5 comments:

ge said...

A close pal of BD chose this as his fave album: Bob Neuwirth; at least that's the story Al Aronowitz told...re BN's meeting with T.J. Kaye the producer in the West Village [he shows up 4am I presume with a pile of coke at Kaye's front door and talks his way up saying he wants to play TJ his fave Dylan, this'n...] http://alaronowitz.com/column23a.html [Part 2...]

Anonymous said...

WOW! my 1st thoughts were how could anyone listen to one album for a 16 hour road trip? but good sir, I should have known better given your tastes! after listening 4 times straight thru last nite, it was the 1st thing I did this morning upon wake. Thank you, this is truley a special listening experience. I don't get it? how could this not be appreciated? keep up the wonderful work. -christopher

bruis said...

'all bets are off'

What a great subtitle for this odd album. Yes it sold almost like a beatles album when it came out, I remember being one of the few who didn't bother, but yes it is fun. And Bob himself liked to confound those who took him oh so seriously.

Dave said...

Many thanks for posting this as I haven't heard it for many years. I was disappointed when I first brought it back in the early seventies but it's tough to follow up stuff like Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 which I had also just discovered at the time. I still thought it had some good tunes then and I now feel the same way hearing it again after such a long time.

Peter said...

Dylan's reading of "Copper Kettle" is a magnificent balance of sweet romance and arrogant vitriol. This entire album is fabulous in its absurdity.