Written and media by Kevin Dunne.
Music fans, let us rejoice together. It has been three years since Bob Dylan released his last Bootleg Series, The Witmark Demos (1962-1964), leaving many fans wanting to hear more sweet, sweet unreleased songs from the fabled and mystical folk singin’ enigma. The tenth edition of the Bootleg Series, titled Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), aims to do what Dylan originally set out to do with Self Portrait–get rid of the enigma mystique.
For those of you who are unaware of the history of Self Portrait, listen up, because this isn’t just to meet a minimum word count, it will come in handy later. Bob Dylan had been praised as a messiah, a prophet, and a savior by millions. As a result, Dylan and his family were constantly harassed by overeager fans who held no respect for the singer’s privacy and despite moving several times, could not escape the traps of fame. Dylan did the unthinkable and he released an album, as described in his autobiography, where he, “just threw everything I could think of against the wall and whatever stuck, released it, and then went back and scooped up everything that didn’t stick and released that, too.” What’s the saying? We are our own worst critic. Well, in Dylan’s case, he wasn’t, and nearly everybody hated the album, causing him to lose much of his fan base and good standing with critics. After destroying any image of being the Shakespeare of the music scene, Dylan had his life back.
So why release a bootleg of demos, alternate takes, and unreleased material? I think that overtime, people, Dylan included, have come to see just how important Self Portrait is. The album marks a man burning his way up the career path in terms of originality, courage, and popularity and Self Portrait flies in the face of those notions. It is perhaps one of the most down-to-earth albums ever released and the song choice shows the deliberation and care Dylan put into the album, despite the pretense of the singer opposing it. The title of the album obviously implies the personal connection and reflection Dylan poured into the album, as many who worked with him on the album have attested to over the years. With Another Self Portrait, Dylan has let the smoke clear and given people time to look back and see the struggle he went through in the making of this album. By showcasing another album that implies how he saw himself at a given point in time, he does one of the hardest things a human being can do; he lowers the cautious and mysterious shield he has spent a lifetime building and allows others into his life to see him for what he is. Another Self Portrait gives listeners the lenses to finally interpret Self Portrait in the context needed and gives us a brilliant view of a man driven to the edge by his own words and uses them to bring about his own downfall.
The album, released August 27, contains three discs, two of which contain demos, alternate takes on songs, some live songs, and songs without overdubs. Each one offers a unique perspective into Dylan’s thought process and when compared to Self Portrait, The Basement Tapes, New Morning, and Nashville Skyline, shows the genius behind each album. A majority of songs are from Self Portrait (or else I wouldn’t have spent so much time talking about it), with a good handful from New Morning, a follow-up of sorts to Self Portrait. The third disc, Isle of Wight Festival (Live 1969), is equally as important to the other two in showing a rare side of Dylan as the other discs and Self Portrait did. Woodstock was happening right where Dylan was living in ’69, so to avoid further harassment from the hippie types, he declined playing the festival and played this one instead. This disc, much like the other two, showcases Dylan as a changing and cognizant musician who carefully calculated his career move.
Ultimately, Another Self Portrait helps to interpret the album which brought Dylan to a human level and gives listeners an understanding into the mind of one of the most creative and forward-thinking musicians in all of history. Self Portrait redefined Dylan and Another Self Portrait helps us see those changes and really appreciate his music, and the music that helped mold him, all the more. I would say that this is one of the most important albums you can listen to and involve yourself in and helps one to find Dylan when he considered himself to be lost.
A lovely essay with a surprisingly touching ending. Am listening to the 2 CD set and its warm and enjoyable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hadn’t he already shattered the 60s icon though with JWH and Nashville Skyline though. Perhaps lyrically JWH was strong enough and Nashville skyline had good production values, plus who could argue with the voice. He was already redefining himself I mean. I guess what self portrait seemed to be lacking was quality and original material. We can see that there was quality beneath the poor production and that as far as recording the songs of others, that’s how he started, so it’s just him being himself and yes, shunning the persona and career that is to be found on Don’t Look Back which is a not a bad thing. It makes me think of Jordan choosing to play baseball. Choosing not to be “great” but still pouring himself into it. Some say Dylan washing this choice while others think he had no choice because his greatness had left him. It is probably both. But “human Dylan”- plenty to like about that fellow. By the way, I quite like New Morning.
I won’t argue with the man’s voice, I think it’s wonderful, but with JWH and Nashville Skyline, Dylan was still kind of in his niche and a lot of musicians had already sort of ‘gone country’ like he did, so he wasn’t doing anything too out of the ordinary there. JWH was still centered around balladesque songs with tragic characters, so he was folkin’ it up there too. By the way,New Morning is one of my favorite albums, it’s just a pure delight. As for Self Portrait, I think it was interesting that Dylan chose to do so many covers, but he was trying to get rid of all of his fans that were making it hard for him to have any sort of life. Thanks for the feedback!
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