When Bob Dylan's Self Portrait came out in 1970, everybody hated it. But, by the early '90s, when I discovered it, we weren't expecting Dylan to be the "voice of a generation" or to save us in any way at all--except, perhaps, from the shitty music that flooded the airwaves of our generation. It may not have been his best album but there were a few years there when songs like "Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight)" and "Gotta Travel On" filled my mind as I walked around the desert streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A couple years after I found an old scratched vinyl copy of Self Portrait, the "Royal Albert Hall" Bootleg came out just at the same time that Dylan was having his Philip Roth-like late career resurgence of masterpieces and thus began the release of official bootlegs, or "new old Dylans," each one of which has been somehow revelatory (as well as, inevitably, occasionally disappointing).
Now, we have the tenth volume of the bootleg series, with Another Self Portrait, which collects songs from the Self Portrait, New Morning, and Basement Tapes sessions. And it is the best of the bootlegs since the Royal Albert Hall concert. Beginning with "I Went to See the Gypsy," the record is playful, gentle, and a little erotic, like a morning spent lying in bed. Other old favorites that find new life--or are shown in a new light--are "Not For You," which has a beautiful, mournful fiddle line, "Time Passes Slowly #1," and "When I Paint my Masterpiece."
Where it is the arrangement of "Not for You" that makes this version interesting, it is the lyrical playfulness of this "Masterpiece" that makes it an essential addition to the Dylan canon. When Dylan sings "Sailing around the world in a dirty gondola/ Sure wish I wouldn't have sold my old Victrola/ Ain't nothin like that good ole rock ‘n rolla," it's hard not to smile at the inventive riffing of his imagery and the ever-evolving nature of his songs.Finally, there is "Working on A Guru," a song recorded with George Harrison, which is one of those classic Dylan goofs, like the Nashville Skyline recordings with Johnny Cash, where you can the seeds of the great, fun Traveling Wilburys' songs.Last year, we were at the office late into the night putting out the Best of Baltimore issue and this great radio show came on. I asked "Who is that guy who sounds like Wolfman Jack? He's the best DJ I've ever heard.""That's Bob Dylan, dumbass," my colleague said. It was the "Theme Time Radio Hour" show he hosted on satellite radio from 2006 to 2009. I think of that moment when I contemplate the day when there will be no more new old Dylan, and no more new new Dylan, because those shows, where he riffs his way through musical history are, somehow, of the same nature as the Bootleg series. And when the bootlegs are done, maybe we'll get the Theme Time Radio Bootleg series and discover another new Dylan.