As we finally begin to wind down this massive album (forget law school; I feel like I started this damn thing somewhere during my undergraduate studies), I find myself welcoming a song like "It Hurts Me Too" with open arms. It's not particularly great or anything - Dylan basically gives a bluesy, stripped-back rendition of a song that is probably as old then as Bob is now, claiming the track for himself (as is his wont - more on that in a second) while not doing too much to overwhelm the tune. What makes it a more fun listening experience, then, is that it's stripped-back, a more cozy listening experience than the Disney-fied takes on some (hell, most) of the songs on here, a bit of an oasis from all the puffery and what have you that makes up this weird, weird album. It probably says a lot that all I'm really asking for at this point is three minutes of innocuous, pleasant blues, but that's where I am right now. There's the pleasant I've had to get used to, and this kind of pleasant, and I prefer this kind of pleasant.
When talking about "It Hurts Me Too", the RS review brings up Dylan's legacy of occasionally pilfering songs, some from the public domain, others from more well-known tunes, and turning them into his own. This is, as longer-time readers of this blog will know, something that I've touched on a few times (usually to the effect of me getting torn a new one - such is life). One can be thankful that it's become rather a dead issue, something that has more academic value than anything else. I think, at this point in our lives, we can forgive Dylan for his occasional (some might say "more often than necessary") nicking of older songs and recasting in his own vein. After all, Dylan has certainly built up enough goodwill over these many years that when he finds himself in a controversy (such as the Love and Theft/Confessions of a Yakuza imbroglio) most of us are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Then again, we're talking about 1970 here, only a decade into Bob's career, when the topic is undoubtedly fresher (I kind of envy the RS crew, being able to write about this godforsaken album without the weight of 40 extra years of amateur sleuths - cough - taking a stab at figuring it out) and the wounds a little fresher as well. The RS review takes a nasty jab at Bob, suggesting that with all the songs Bob claims as his own on Self Portrait, Bob'll make a few extra shekels and "thousands of people will get a phony view of their own history". That might be a tad overblown, but certainly still a point to consider. Dylan has already had enough barbs flung at him at this point, what with the theft of folk melodies and his numerous career choices and what have you (I'm reminded of that Oscar Wilde quote, for some reason...), and the notion of Bob co-opting a genre of music for his own means is a worrisome prospect indeed.
Which, then, brings up maybe the one avenue of this damned album I haven't gone down yet - what the hell is up with Bob putting his name to so many of the songs that are clearly not his? The whole Self Portrait thing is a horse that's been well-beaten to death, so I'll try to leave that aside as much as I can. But the idea that Bob stuck his name on many of these songs (as the RS review intimates - "plagiarism" is a nasty charge to throw out there) does give us pause - you have to wonder, amongst other things, why Bob would go through the trouble when there were plenty of people that would say "what did you have to do with writing 'Belle Isle', exactly?", or what Dylan would actually gain from suggesting he might've had something to do with a well-known blues song that may very well have been written when Bob was still in footy pajamas. And the more I think about it, the more I find myself playing devil's advocate (as I often do), imagining that Bob might have been winking at us, or just outright saying "yeah, I've nicked some stuff before - deal with it", or something like that. I hate it when things don't make sense, and there's a lot about this album that doesn't.
As you might very well imagine, I'm glad that these series of posts are coming to an end, so that I can write about songs that are a) good, and b) don't have such an oppressive weight hanging over them. But I can't help but finding myself a little wistful, at the same time. Don't worry, I haven't lost my marbles (yet); it's more the idea that I won't be dealing with the history of Bob in quite the same way ever again. I'll be writing about classic albums, including one candidate for the greatest album ever recorded (certainly the greatest album about lost love ever recorded), I'll be writing about terrible albums (including one or two that might actually top this one for sheer awfulness), and I'll be writing about mediocre albums (it'll be fun to see which ones end up falling in that camp, considering it's been years since I've given a few of them a spin). But I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be writing about an album with THIS much baggage attached to it, one with as many talking points as the health care debate, and one that has confounded and even outright angered listeners for damn near four decades. That's something special. It's a pretty crappy world to immerse yourself in, but it's easy to immerse yourself all the same.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009