http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/portrait-1355439517.jpg Self Portrait

Bob Dylan

Self Portrait

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June 8, 1970

(14, 15, 16)
" . . . very highly successful in terms of money. Dylan's concerts in the past have been booked by his own firm, Ashes and Sand, rather than by [this is from Rolling Stone, December 7th, 1968] private promoters. Promoters are now talking about a ten city tour with the possibility of adding more dates, according to Variety.

"Greta Garbo may also come out of retirement to do a series of personal appearances. The Swedish film star who wanted only 'to be alone' after continued press invasions of her life is rumoured to be considering a series of lavish stage shows, possibly with Dylan . . . "

And we'd just sit there and stare.

(14) "Gotta Travel On." Dylan sings "Gotta Travel On."

(15) We take "Blue Moon" as a joke, a stylized apotheosis of corn, or as further musical evidence of Dylan's retreat from the pop scene. But back on Elvis' first album, there is another version of "Blue Moon," a deep and moving performance that opens up the possibilities of the song and reveals the failure of Dylan's recording.

Hoofbeats, vaguely aided by a string bass and guitar, form the background to a vocal that blows a cemetery wind across the lines of the song. Elvis moves back and forth with a high phantom wail, singing that part that Doug Kershaw plays on Dylan's version, finally answering himself with a dark murmur that fades into silence. "It's a revelation," said a friend. "I can't believe it."

There is nothing banal about "Blue Moon." In formal musical terms, Dylan's performance is virtually a cover of Elvis' recording, but while one man sings toward the song, the other sings from behind it, from the other side.

(16) "The Boxer": remember "How I Was Robert MacNamared Into Submission," or whatever it was called, with that friendly line, "I forgot my harmonica, Albert?" Or Eric Anderson's "The Hustler"? Maybe this number means "no hard feelings." Jesus, it is awful.

Before going into the studio to set up the Weathermen, he wrote the Yippies' first position paper, although it took Abbie Hoffman a few years to find it and Jerry Rubin had trouble reading it. A quote:

"I'm gonna grow my hair down to my feet so strange till I look like a walking mountain range then I'm gonna ride into Omaha on a horse out to the country club and the golf course carrying a New York Times shoot a few holes blow their minds."

"Dylan's coming," said Lang.

"Ah you're full of shit," [said Abbie Hoffman in Woodstock Nation], he's gonna be in England tonight, don't pull that shit on me."

"Nah I ain't kiddin, Abby-baby, he called up and said he might come . . . "

"You think he'd dig running for president?"

"Nah, that ain't his trip he's into something else."

"You met him, Mike? What's he into?"

"I don't know for sure but it ain't exactly politics. You ever met him?"

"Yeah, once about seven years ago in Gertie's Folk City down in the West Village. I was trying to get him to do a benefit for civil rights or something . . . hey Mike will you introduce us? I sure would like to meet Dylan . . . I only know about meetin' him through Happy Traum . . . "

"There's an easier way . . . Abbs . . . I'll introduce you. In fact he wants to meet you . . . "

Would Self-Portrait make you want to meet Dylan? No? Perhaps it's there to keep you away?

(17) "The Mighty Quinn" sounds as if it was a gas to watch. It's pretty much of a mess on record, and the sound isn't all that much better than the bootleg. The Isle of Wight concert was originally planned as an album, and it's obvious why it wasn't released as such – on tape, it sounded bad. The performances were mostly clumsy or languid and all together would have made a lousy record. Two of the songs had something special about them, on the evidence of the bootleg, though neither of them made it to 'Self Portrait.' One was "Highway 61 Revisited," where Bob and the Band screamed like Mexican tour guides hustling customers for a run down the road: "OUT ON HIGHWAY SIXTY-ONE!" The other was "It Ain't Me Babe." Dylan sang solo, playing guitar like a lyric poet, transforming the song with a new identity, sweeping in and out of the phrases and the traces of memory. He sounded something like Billie Holiday.

It's certainly a rather odd "self-portrait": other people's songs and the songs of a few years ago. If the title is serious, Dylan no longer cares much about making music and would just as soon define himself on someone else's terms. There is a curious move toward self-effacement; Dylan removing himself from a position from which he is asked to exercise power in the arena. It's rather like the Duke of Windsor abdicating the throne. After it's over he merely goes away, and occasionally there'll be a picture of him getting on a plane somewhere.

(18) "Take Me As I Am Or Let Me Go." The Nashville recordings of 'Self-Portrait,' taken together, may not be all that staggering but they are pleasant – a sentimental little country melodrama. If the album had been cut to "Tired Horses" at the start and "Wigwam" at the end, with the Nashville tracks sleeping in between, we'd have a good record about which no one would have gotten very excited one way or the other, a kind of musical disappearing act. But the Artist must make a Statement, be he Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, or Tommy James and the Shondells. He must enter the studio and come out with that masterpiece. If he doesn't, or hasn't bothered, there'll be at least an attempt to make it look as if he had. If Dylan was releasing more music than he's been – a single three times a year, an album every six months or so – then the weight that fixes itself on whatever he does release would be lessened. But the pattern is set now, for the biggest stars – one a year, if that. It's rather degrading for an artist to put out more than one album a year, as if he has to keep trying, you know? Well, three cheers for John Fogerty.

Because of what happened in the middle Sixties, our fate is bound up with Dylan's whether he or we like it or not. Because Highway 61 Revisited changed the world, the albums that follow it must – but not in the same way, of course.

(19) "Take a Message To Mary": the backing band didn't seem to care much about the song, but Dylan did. My ten-year-old nephew thought "It Hurts Me Too" sounded fake but he was sure this was for real.

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