Friday, September 27, 2013

Disc Three of Another Self Portrait Provides Rare Glimpse of Dylan’s Return at the Isle of Wight

New Morning by Ennyman
Self Portrait was Bob Dylan’s tenth studio album, released in June 1970 by Columbia Records. This summer’s release, Another Self Portrait, is the tenth set in the Bootleg Series.

Self Portrait was Dylan's second double album, primarily featuring cover versions of well-known pop and folk songs. Having been proclaimed the bard of our generation, critics seemed to take it as an insult for him to do other peoples’ songs. Upon reflection it’s evident that Dylan was, to some extent, paying tribute to his roots and to his peers.

Another Self Portrait offers a whole lotta new material to chew on from this period which some people called lame and, essentially, crap. By way of contrast I know at least one person who called it his favorite album. Truth be told, it’s a gold mine here.

If you’re a long time fan you’ll recall that Dylan abandoned Woodstock to become the featured highlight of a similar music festival in England called the Isle of Wight. This rare concert appearance, Dylan’s first since the famous motorcycle accident that enabled him to bow out of the public eye for three years, is now available on the third CD of Another Self Portrait, should you choose to get this slightly more expensive but more complete collection from the period. I’ve listened to Isle of Wight ten times thus far (this week) and thought I’d take a moment to share a few of my impressions.

I’m fairly certain I’ve already heard a couple of the songs from this concert on KUMD’s Highway 61 Revisited hosted by John Bushey. Manifold thanks, John, for your remarkable collection of rare Dylan tracks assembled from various concerts about the globe this past half century. For over ten year I’ve scheduled my life around catching Highway 61 Revisited, which now airs on Saturday evenings at 5:00 p.m. and can now be heard in streaming audio anywhere in the world via KUMD.org.

The 1969 Isle of Wight Festival took place on the last weekend of August, eleven days after the close of Woodstock. A lot of people expected Dylan to be one of the highlights of Woodstock since it practically took place in his own backyard, but by the time Hendrix was closing the show at dawn Monday, Dylan was already settled across the sea.

This was actually the second year of the Isle of Wight music festival. In ’69 the headliners included Joe Cocker, The Who and the Moody Blues. But it was Dylan who made it a legendary event.

Dylan's previous trip to England, not to be confused with the one documented in the film Don't Look Back by D.A. Pennebaker, included the Manchester concert of 1966, which has also been preserved on Bootleg Series, Volume 4. That previous experience must have been on Dylan's mind when he went back to England for the Isle of Wight show.

One is struck by the contrast. In '66 Dylan famously walked on stage at the outset and held the audience in the palm his hand with an acoustic set beginning with She Belongs To Me, then presenting Fourth Time Around, Visions of Johanna, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Desolation Row, Just Lie A Woman and concluding with his eloquent anthem Mr. Tambourine Man. After a break to set up instruments for the band, Dylan and his wrecking crew proceed to smashmouth the audience with this new sound he'd wrapped his songs in. It was raw and, for many, still confusing. There were hecklers. He was called a Judas. But the band played on.

Interestingly enough, here at the Isle of Wight Dylan once again opens with She Belongs To Me. The second song selection is from new material no one had ever heard yet, I Threw It All Away. He sang with a new kind of voice here, too. Some have called his Nashville Skyline voice "affected" but then, wasn't his early Woody Guthrie sound something he created as well? 

In his previous visit to England Dylan showed a ragged vitriol that stunned some people. At the Isle of Wight he carried himself with an entirely different countenance. It was as if he'd made some kind of peace with himself this past three years. Songs like I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine and Lay Lady Lay, as well as the resurrected Scottish folk song Wild Mountain Thyme, showed the tenderness of his heart. There were no real "finger-pointing songs" in this bunch, except maybe Like A Rolling Stone, but even here it was sung with a softtened edge.

The performance also telegraphed the manner in which his next thirty years of performing would go. The acoustic songs and those with full accompaniment were more seamlessly woven into a whole piece of cloth. It was no longer Part I and Part II.

And he was still taking chances. The performance was not a side show at the carnival. It was simple and unspectacular in many respects. The songs were his gift to an audience that had gathered to hear.

Some people have called Dylan a minstrel, and in the encore he and The Band (Robbie Robertson and crew from the House at Big Pink) offered up the somehow chant-like Minstrel Boy, sung like an end of the night melancholic bar song, the chorus comprised of haunted harmonies. The following year it would appear on side four of his original Self Portrait, but it seemed so un-Dylan, like much of that album. And yet, in its own way it is so Dylan. In the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, this simple song kept playing in my head. And as I passed through my days this week it has frequently returned.

Who's gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?
Who's gonna let it roll?
Who's gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?
Who's gonna let it down easy to save his soul?

If you came up short and only purchased the two-version set of Another Self Portrait, you're missing something. This is a very special addition to the puzzle that is Dylan.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dylan's previous tour to the UK was in 1966, the "Judas" toyr; Don't Look Back was of the 1965 all acoustic toyr. Nashville Skyline had already been released, so those songs were already familiar to the IOW crowd (of which I was one).

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks for the corrections. I corrected the 66 and 65 reference so that I don't mislead anyone.

Yes, I knew that Nashville Skyline was already out, but the vocal tone was different from earlier music. I did not express it well here...

What was your experience of the concert? I remember reading that the following year things got out of control and it was scary, something like Altamont.

Anonymous said...

"This rare concert appearance, Dylan’s first since the famous motorcycle accident that enabled him to bow out of the public eye for three years..."

Forgive me for another correction, but Dylan played the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall on 20th January 1968...

Anonymous said...

"This rare concert appearance, Dylan’s first since the famous motorcycle accident that enabled him to bow out of the public eye for three years..."

Forgive me for another correction, but Dylan played the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall on 20th January 1968...

ENNYMAN said...

Thank you again for this correction. Looks like I need to hire a fact checker....

I should probably relegate my blog entries to my impressions of the material, though my intention is to be helpful by creating context.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Not to be pedantic, but Dylan played another gig that year - he joined the Band onstage at the Mississippi River Festival on July 14th.

Admittedly he did use a false name, but he was there!

Anonymous said...

Please don't hesitate to write about your passions. I think this blog post is one of the best I've read on the topic.

Anonymous said...

(Following on from my comments at 4.21am on September 28). Thanks for your response, I enjoyed your article and I love the CD of the IOW concert. I think Levon Helm had said that another ten songs or so had been prepared, but the set as it stands is well paced and beautifully balanced. The concert is unique as far as I can see in terms of Dylan's voice. When there at the time I remember enjoying Dylan, but feeling slightly underwhelmed; but everyone wanted more. It's one of those concerts - with the help of this CD - that is better understood in retrospect, as in Neil Young's Tonight's the Night tour, which I was a bit bemused by at the time but appreciated much more when the album came out.
The whole IOW experience in 1969 was fantastic. I went as a 16 year old kid wearing a great paisley shirt and I remember the crowd being the most polite and peaceful crowd I'd encountered. One musical highlight was Tom Paxton, who proved that (as Dylan said in the Biograph interview) the lone balladeer could blow away an army if he knew what he was doing.
I also went in 1970, but for went home early after running out of money. The fact that I missed Henrix is the one regret of my life. Although there was some hassle at times, I don't think it was on the Altamont scale.
I also agree with you about the "entirely different countenace" that Dylan presented at the IOW compared with 1966; the change between the figure "wanting to go home" at the end of Scorsese's film and that of Dylan at the IOW (and the Johnny Cash show) is staggering.
Finally, I enjoyed the label on the IOW CD, featuring a pig and the "Sign of equality"; I have an old Great White Wonder bootleg - double album in red and green vynyl - with the pig sign and "sign of quality.
Thanks again for the article.
Alan

DamianBalassone said...

Thanks for your article again Ennyman. The concert certainly is a rare treat for the Dylan fanatic. I agree with the previous comment, "The concert is unique as far as I can see in terms of Dylan's voice" - this is the only full concert where Dylan sings in his Nashvile Skyline voice (he does so in cameo performances on the Johnny Cash Show and the Woody Gutherie Tribute). The mellifluous Nashville Skyline voice was only ever heard again for a few cuts on Self Portrait, but by New Morning it was gone forever. The highlight of this Isle Of Wight concert for me was Dylan's versions of the JWH tracks "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine". You can feel that he is very close to the spirit of those songs still (recorded only the previous year) and they come across as parables to me. Beautiful parables. The tracks that appeared on Self Portrait (i.e. Rolling Stone, Minstrel, Belongs to me, Mighty Quinn) are slick pieces of work too - I can see why they were released at the time (though they seemed out of context on Self Portrait - perhaps that was the intention). "It ain't me babe" seems to be stripped of any venom, but fascinating just the same. Dylan seems so relaxed, almost angelic from the stage. What about when he calls Manfred Mann a great band, and receives absolutely no response from the hippy audience.
Looking forward to your next post.