Self Portrait: A Curious Agglomeration

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Some scattered double thoughts for a scattered double album:


–What’s the deal with Dylan including versions of songs on his studio albums where he hasn’t even gotten his words right? That’s true here for the live “Like a Rolling Stone,” and it was true for “Girl from the North Country” with Johnny Cash on the previous album. For god sakes, do another take! Find another version!


–This album begins with “All the Tired Horses,” an earwormy melody sung in a high octave by a chorus of women. Is this really Dylan, I wondered, or some mistake in my Spotify playlist? So I googled it. Nope, it’s Dylan.


–While Googling it, I came across Greil Marcus’s 1970 Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait. The review begins, “What is this shit?”


–Apparently Dylan resented the “voice of a generation” moniker, so he attempted to record an album utterly bereft of “social and political import,” as Pearl once termed it. Of course, such apoliticism is impossible, especially for voices of generations.


–“Early Morning Rain” really had me grooving yesterday. “You can’t hop a jet plane / like you can a freight train / so I’ll be on my way / in the early morning rain.” I had almost proclaimed it Dylan’s most underrated track, until I remembered it was a Gordon Lightfoot song.


–Other covers of popular songs on this album include “Blue Moon” and “The Boxer.” There are a half dozen classics and traditionals here. A weird motif of frontier life sung by that chorus of women keeps reappearing. If not for that connective motif, this music could come from the happy hour band at the Marriott.


–If this is a self-portrait (the cover an impressionistic watercolor of a face, which spans the contrast of blue and red), we can assume Dylan imagines his internal self as much less incisive and complex than the world believed. So he’s just a simple guy after all? The rest was accident? The explosions of sounds? The ingenious collusion of surreality and American mythology, of personal conflict and political injustice?


–Never underestimate Quinn the Eskimo, a nothing character, hero of a nothing song.


–What is this shit?

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