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Dr. Bob Sums Up

TIME, JUNE 22, 1970

 

It's Dr. Bob Dylan now. Though he is the most reclusive figure in rock today, Dylan showed up at Princeton University last week to receive an honorary doctorate "as one of the most creative popular musicians of the last decade." Dylan did not make a speech. He did not have to. His personal summing up was about to come out on a two-LP album (Columbia) appropriately entitled Self Portrait, For a man who charged his way through the 1960s like an Orpheus in Hades, the Dylan of Self Portrait is in an astonishingly contemplative mood. As with John Wesley Hording (1968) and Nashville Skyline (1969), the old fire of protest burns low. Obviously, there is time now to look around, time to accept tributes and time to bestow them in return.

Perhaps the album's most startling moment is hearing the prophet who once sang Masters of War and The Times They Are A-Changin' now croon his way like Bing Crosby into a classic from the 1930s:

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone,
Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own.

As a tribute to Rodgers and Hart, complete with humming chicks in the back-ground. Blue Moon is schmaltzy but fun: a lighthearted and amusing wave at an era that preceded Dylan's birth. Even better are his versions of Paul Simon's The Boxer and Gordon Lightfoot's Early Mornin' Rain, the one just a shade more punchy than the original, the other just a shade more dawn-lit. Best of the borrowed songs, though, are his soft-slippered strolls through the California Gold Rush song Days of '49 and the woodsmoky American folk song Copper Kettle, as well as a brisk canter down that paean to a restless heart, Gotta Travel On.

But as the album cover (a self-portrait in oils, blue-nosed and rather grotesque) makes clear, this is an album primarily about where Bob Dylan has been. Like a Rolling Stone and, at long last, The Mighty Quinn, both recorded live at the Isle of Wight concert last year with The Band, are swinging mementos of the great years before Dylan's retirement in 1966. Even new songs like It Hurts Me Too and Living the Blues recall the sturdy timbers of John Wesley Harding and the country leisure of Nashville Skyline,

These exercises in nostalgia will be no help for the Dylan faithful, who regularly look to him for an indication of pop music's next new direction. The best they can do is ponder several of the new Dylan songs that seem to be exploratory sketches from a low-key musical notebook. There is, for example, Wigwam, in which Dylan goes "da-da-da-da" to a slow marching tune while—believe it or not—a choir of bugles and low brass urges him along.

Then there are Little Sadie and In Search of Little Sadie, two versions of the same song, in which Dylan changes harmonic direction as often as a halfback zigzagging for the goal line. Finally, there is All the Tired Horses, a poignant "original" spiritual, in which Dylan does not sing at all, just leaves it to an all-girl chorus. How's that for a new direction?


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