Bob Dylan | Another Self Portrait
The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-1971) | Expanded, Deluxe Limited Edition
Released in three versions, Another Self Portrait is available on vinyl; a two CD edition of just the unreleased demos; and, replete with two hardcover books and two extra discs, the Limited Edition. The latter includes a book of John Cohen photographs and also a seminal book largely written by Greil Marcus. Marcus was the Rolling Stone critic who, when the Self Portrait was released in 1970, began his infamous review with “What is this shit?”
As Marcus notes in the Another Self Portrait book: “I began a review in Rolling Stone with the words that were coming out of everyone’s mouth…. Instead the album hit #4 and sold three million copies. New Morning, released four months later, reached #7. … Bob Dylan did not release another album of new songs or play a single show under his own name for four years.” After an exegetic, insightful text that examines the songs on the two discs of demos for Self Portrait and New Morning, Marcus concludes with “the truest self- portrait is merely a collection of those things a given person loves.”
The two other CDs included in this Limited Edition are the exquisitely mastered Isle of Wight concert in 1969 with Dylan and the Band (previously available in various sloppy, pirated editions) and the original, remastered Self Portrait album. The Cohen photographs collected in a stunning hardcover entitled Time Passes Slowly show Dylan at ease in seclusion after his disappearance, due to a motorcycle accident, following Blonde On Blonde, and in recording sessions during the period that this Bootleg edition covers.
Following the game-changing Blonde On Blonde was John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and the shocking Self Portrait, which was quickly followed by New Morning. While Self Portrait contained some Dylan songs, it was poorly received by critics—not only for lacking lots of originals but for the odd choices made for covers. New Morning was not extolled for its remarkable originality but was commended for at least being an album of original Dylan material. Another Self Portrait demonstrates that Dylan, at age 29, having already changed the world of popular music forever, was re-examining where he came from.
Even when revisiting older material (“Railroad Bill”) from his roots in the folk/blues revival, and unexpected pop sources (“Take A Message to Mary”), Dylan was engaged in what Marcus calls a process that “opens up new territory: roads shooting out in all directions.” The demos, alternate takes, junked arrangements and discarded songs coming back at us from over 40 years ago portray an artistic search for changeling origins, contemporary altercations and a total disregard for what would be expected from Bob Dylan even regarding original material.
Perhaps the most intriguing entries are two versions of “Went to See the Gypsy” from New Morning. One is a demo and the other a discarded scratch. Both are different from the final album version and express Dylan’s exploration of where to go next, now that he had changed hip culture entirely. Referring to the process, Marcus states that as a listener “you go back in, afraid, as if you hadn’t heard the song, to hear how it’s going to turn out.” This sounds like being in the audience at a Dylan concert in 2013, and with Another Self Portrait (with a new painting on the cover replacing the one Dylan did for Self Portrait in 1970), we experience the shape-shifter who sings in the bootleg version of “Went to See the Gypsy”: “I contemplated every move, or at least I tried.” That line is cut from the officially released version because it’s better to show than tell.
Among all the titles to date in Columbia’s Dylan Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait is without question the most revealing in terms of process; everything sounds like new music. The unreleased content is immediate, thriving and hidden though finally revealed. This is how Dylan makes songs, even when he remakes them. And what the listening public often gets is not necessarily what it wants. It is now best to say, “What is this magnificent shit?”