|New Morning by Ennyman|
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.
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.