This past week has found me with Dylan’s Another Self Portrait, which is Volume 10 of what will probably be an endless number of Bootleg Series. It’s been endlessly fascinating.
Over the recent years, I’ve gnashed my teeth, rended my garments and shelled out the bucks for Dylan’s recordings and my presence in the crowds of his never ending tour. I keep coming away with a sour taste in my mouth, and then I sit down with old recordings of his, bang my head against the desk and marvel at what a supreme fucking genius the man is. I just shake my head. You couldn’t sell me a ticket to one of his current shows with a gun to my head, but I won’t hesitate to sit down with the headphones on, and live in the past.
Look. Those that don’t get it are not going to get it. That’s fine. I understand.
But Dylan is a fucking genius, and he was a brilliant performer in his day.
One of the joys of Another Self Portrait is the live recording of his set at Isle of Wight on August 31st of 1969, backed by The incomparable Band. The performance is amazing. Not flawless, but amazing. Dylan’s voice is sweet. The Band is tight. Dylan hits every song with a simple grace that he’ll never find in his old age as his voice recedes into the mists.
He takes a beautiful traditional Scottish chestnut like Wild Mountain Thyme, and wows the locals with a lovely rendition that is both respectful to tradition, but also his.
It Ain’t Me, Babe comes across with a completely different tone; more mournful than strident. He then proceeds to channel Marty Robbins to give To Ramona an interpretation that would leave Willie Nelson weeping with envy.
And it goes on and on. No song over four minutes and ten seconds; every note spare and well used. And that voice! Sometimes you can’t imagine you’re listening to “Dylan.” When this guy hits his stride, he’s relaxed, confident and unconquerable. I’d forgotten how fucking good Highway 61 Revisted is on this set. The Band swings it with a pure tilt boogie woogie pounded along by Levon Helm and Garth Hudson. These guys are like greyhounds out of the gate; they’ve been lazing around down in that damn basement chasing that rabbit in their minds, and then, BOOM! Outta there, baby, and let’s go! Like A Rolling Stone gets its respect from the crowd, as Dylan eases through it like the bastard son of Patsy Cline and Frank Sinatra; a slick crowd pleaser, bristling with a country lounge lizard ethos that resonates over into I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. When the ender comes around, a Dylan fan is going to have a wry smile, because he just tears into that song I love to hate; Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35 (Everybody Must Get Stoned…). No frills. Just let The Band roll with it, and you’ll have a version that’ll make you smile. Finally.
This set is no secret to Bob fans; it’s been out there for decades. Bootlegs, don’t you know? It’s pretty cool when they take these boots and clean them up, though.
That’s just the live disk that comes with the set. The rest of it is the remastered Self Portrait album and and a whole bunch of really neat outtakes and alternates.
Which leads me to my next observation about the Bootleg Series.
While it’s really cool to have this archive of studio recordings, I have to say that for the most part, the producers got the finished albums right. For the most part, that’s why they’re considered the classics they are. It leaves me wondering if the alternates are merely curiosities; part of the freakshow that makes the Never Ending Tour fascinating, whether in the aspect of masterpiece or train wreck.