I recently read an article in which a music critic argued for Bob Dylan’s 1970 double album Self Portrait as his best. This provoked so much derision and outrage in the comments that I almost felt sorry for the author. But this is not unusual. Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus opened his review of the record with a surly “What is this shit?” Dylan himself explained in a 1984 interview with the magazine that the record was intentionally bad, a “screw you” to his less discerning fans. And why not? Bob Dylan can do whatever he wants.
Well, the album The Onion’s AV Club calls “almost universally loathed” is being reissued in a four-disc set that includes outtakes and bootlegs, as well as alternates and demo takes from Nashville Skyline and 1970’s New Morning. You’ll find the full tracklist of what will be released on August 27 as Another Self Portrait here. (The album itself can be pre-ordered here.) For a preview, watch the video above of “Pretty Saro,” an 18th century English folk tune Dylan recorded for Self Portrait but never released. As with Marcus’ review and Dylan’s explanatory interview, this comes to us via the stalwart Rolling Stone.
Filmmaker Jennifer Lebeau made the video, which consists of carefully selected photos from the Farm Security Administration and which Lebeau says "literally goes from women on farms with wagons to Rosie the Riveter.” It’s a cool concept and a beautiful song. Might it persuade you to re-evaluate Self Portrait? If you never loathed it but defended it, does this outtake enhance your appreciation of its genius? Maybe you’re in need of a refresher on the confused, amused, and infuriated reactions that this record generates. If so, you may wish to visit this site for “24 minutes of footage of people talking about Bob Dylan’s puzzling” 1970 album.