I've still got a bit of the Isle of Wight live set with The Band to listen to, but searching the Internets for reviews of the latest Bootleg Series release from Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait, turned up this nice paragraph from Mark Richardson writing on Pitchfork.com that captures a lot of what I thought about original 1970 album Self Portrait, hearing it for the first time in the 90s as I did:
The deluxe version [of Another Self Portrait] also includes a remastered version of the Self Portrait album proper. Returning to it, it’s hard for those of us a generation or two younger to understand the reaction to it not because it paled in comparison to the greatness that came before, because it obviously did. If you’ve spent any time listening to Bob Dylan’s 1960s catalog, you are still trying to wrap your head around the thought that one person wrote the 56 songs on Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline between 1965 and 1969. Self Portrait, next to these records, in that moment, must have seemed like a joke. But later generations hear it differently. We’ve discovered Self Portrait in the used bins, torrent downloads, and streaming services alongside records like Street Legal, Saved, Empire Burlesque, Down in the Groove, and Under the Red Sky. And in this broader context, it sounds quite good, another weird and sloppy record from a guy who released a lot of them. And hearing it again with all the fantastic music that surrounded it, music that further cements Dylan’s Bootleg Series as one of the most important archival projects in modern pop history, it remains a beguiling artifact.
I think Richardson has got it exactly right. For me, Self Portrait is so clearly better than, say, Street Legal, that the idea that it was bad on purpose never made much sense to me. When Bob does makes that kind of "joke" he nails it, like with the awfully brilliant Christmas album. Even better, the Victoria's Secret commercial where he goes "full creep" with a wink, fulfilling his own prophesy from 1965 when he said he could be enticed to "sell out" and lend his music to an advertisement for "ladies undergarments."
That's a Bob Dylan joke. Self Portrait clearly isn't. It's good in an earnest way. But from the first strum of the guitar, Another Self Portrait is more than good. Three tracks later and I was completely transported to those chilly New Hampshire nights freshman year, when every bit of Bob I heard was for the first time.
The opening tune, "Went To See the Gypsy", drips with melancholy subtext, stating, out loud, the emotions already lurking in my head as I approach my 40th birthday, and look back 20 years to the days when my new found friends-for-life, Rick and Ryan, turned me on to all the Bob greatness that never got played on the Classic Rock radio.
In those sessions, and with those two people, I revealed my own self portrait to an extent that a wise college graduate never would again.
I haven't talked to Ryan in 5 years, haven't seen or heard from Rick in 15. No one has.