Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Dylanology: in defense of "Self Portrait"

A little bit of a departure from most of the posts on here. I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, and I've recently started listening to the famously unlistenable double album...and not only do I like it, but I think that the folks who have condemned it have seriously been barking up the wrong tree. The songs on "Self Portrait" look to be part of the same collaboration with The Band that saw the Basement Tapes, the live performances represented on "Before the Flood", and more broadly part of the same live performance tradition that produced the "Rolling Thunder Review" shows. All of these are non-standard Dylan releases in that they're not organized around any sort of a particular concept, except very broadly, and the songs themselves are less introspective, more representative of American music as a whole. What I think Dylan is doing in Self Portrait is exploring the same vein of Americana that the Basement Tapes documents, and in the process putting forward his personal favorites of the time. Unlike some reviewers, I don't believe that the cover of "The Boxer" by Paul Simon is intended ironically, for example. It sounds like a song Dylan just wanted to cover.

That folks at the time wouldn't like the Self Portrait of an artist, would be mystified by it, speaks volumes. This is Dylan as Dylan presents his interests and likes to the world unvarnished and unadorned, raw, without any consideration for making any other over-arching statement.

*on edit: to see some of the similarities, listen to the "Self Portrait" versions of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "She Belongs to Me", both of which are live, and compare them to the songs on "Before the Flood" and the Official Bootleg Series "Rolling Thunder Review". 

No comments: