Much More Than Just ‘Another’ Self Portrait

Back when Dylan could really sing.
Cooling out in Woodstock, making great music.

Bob Dylan (re)paints a masterpiece for the 10th edition of his Bootleg Series

By Michael Goldberg

I misheard Bob Dylan back in 1970 as I lay back on the single bed in my room at my folks suburban home in Marin County and listened again and again to Dylan’s then-new and controversial album, Self Portrait, as it played on my shit Zenith portable stereo. There were no lyrics included with the album; no liner notes. Just a very long list of musicians who had played on it. Dylan sure wasn’t offering any help in figuring out what he was up to, but then had he ever?

Self Portrait seemed confusing at first, a two-record set dominated by covers of other people’s songs. Other people’s songs? What the goddamn was the man who had intellectualized rock songwriting doing singing “Blue Moon” and ‘The Boxer’ for God’s sake?

It’s fitting that I start this column with the word “I,” and that I’m telling you about myexperience, the experience of one middle class 17-year-old boy who was ignorant of the history behind many of the songs Dylan covered on Self Portrait.

I didn’t know B. Bryant, the writer of “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go),” nor F. Bryant, who along with B. Bryant wrote “Take A Message To Mary,” (both songs included on Self Portrait) were famous Nashville songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who wrote hits for the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, George Jones and many others. Or that “Little Sadie,” which Dylan claimed to have written, had been recorded almost 40 years earlier by Clarence Ashley. Hell, I’d not yet heard of Clarence Ashley. And who were the Lomax’s, who along with F. Warner, were credited with writing the gold rush ballad “Days of 49”?

I was 17. What the bejesus did I know?

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