Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 12. 5 August 1970
Record Review — Self-Portrait—Bob Dylan (double LP) and Zabriskie Point—soundtrack (featuring the Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Youngbloods and Kaleidoscope)
Self-Portrait—Bob Dylan (double LP) and Zabriskie Point—soundtrack (featuring the Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Youngbloods and Kaleidoscope).
All the tired horses in the sun.
How'm I supposed to get any ridin' done?
Over three minutes of girlie chorus chanting these two lines open up the new Dylan package—a beautiful, soft happy double album with 24 songs portraying not so much Dylan the singer-composer, but Dylan the man—Dylan the master. No more vitriolic masterpieces like Positively 4th Street, Can you please crawl out your Window and Highway 61 Revisited—no more songs of sadness like Just like a Woman and One of us Must Know—no more anti-war banners like Masters of War and Chimes of Freedom flung on to record—just a rather contented man, sitting back and taking it easy. A tinge of regret perhaps, contained in the first song, but overall an album reflecting the different moods—the different styles of the guy who once, just for fun, cut a record under the name Blind Boy Grunt, and explained his apparent 'conversion' to rock'n'roll by saying quietly "I just got tired of playing the guitar by myself".
Side One opens with the cryptic, rather sad words of All the Tired Horses and then moves into Alberta No. 4 a slow, drawling blues item containing the age-old line "Alberta, let your hair hang low"; then into I forgot more than you V ever know—an oldie this, with Dylan crooning away in true Nashville Skyline style, mumbled words and all; Days of 49 is something from the John Wesley Harding period—a song about the old miners, with piano and drums dominant; up next is a beautiful version of Gordon Lightfoot's Early Mornin' Rain with piano and harmonica creating a floating, flowing cloud of sound—perhaps the most attractive song on the whole album. The side closes with a quick one In Search of Little Sadie, and opens up on Side Two with Gilbert Becaud's Let it Be Me. You've never heard Dylan singing until you've heard him do this one; for some reason, the backing on this number is chronic, and one woners what prompted him to include this. A speeded up reprise of Little Sadie follows and then into Woogie Boogie a three chord boogie instrumental, complete with honky piano and hysterical Bill Haley-style sax—sounding all in all like Bill Black's combo on an off night. An orchestral backed Belle Isle, a spongy sob story, precedes an even bigger tear jerker in Living the Blues which owes more than a little to Singin' the Blues and includes the classic teen-age lament "I've been living the blues, every night without you"—straight out of 1959 that one; finally a supposedly live version of Like a Rolling Stone sung almost as a take off of the original, with the wheezy voices of a few of the Band in the background. The song, as recorded five years ago and directed at those who, like Dylan were often homeless, had a bite that was caustic enough to override the length of the single—over six minutes. The new version sounds as though Dylan was stoned when he did it.
Side Three opens with Copper Kettle a slow country song with visions of cornmash and hickory, and then straight into the old C and W standard Gotta Travel On which bounces along in good style. After this the cornball tour-de-force, Dylan's sophorific rendering of Blue Moon backed by the weepiest country guitar you ever did hear; this one leaves you stunned, the song for its sheer inanity, the singer for his sheer audacity. Paul Simon's The Boxer undergoes the treatment next, with Dylan double tracking his voice and indulging in some dubious harmonics. It grows on you, although it's cut short from the original version. Following this is a roaring version of The Might Quinn—a real rocker, with Dylan backed by the Band, and obviously enjoying it. Finally Take me as I am, which is nothing more than a pleasant, inoffensive country ballad with steel guitar provided by Pete Drake.
The old Everly Brothers hit Take a Message to Mary opens Side Four with Dylan sounding suspiciously like Marty Robbins. As a straight pop track this is one of the best on the album-solid percussion and old-time female vocal backing. It hurts Me Too and Minstrel Boy are both blues-tinged items, with the latter resembling a track from the second Band L.P. She Belongs to me is a live recording, and perhaps is a bit of a let-down: it s played at a much faster rock pace and loses the delicacy that distinguished the original. Wigwam is a curious thing—merely Dylan humming to a mariachie-style backing—plenty of brass and scat singing. The final track on the album is a reprise of the gentle Alberta, and Bob Dylan's Self Portrait is complete.
It's the overall impression that really counts, not so much the individual songs, for it's Dylan presenting a collection of songs that mean and have meant something to him. For some, the album will be a disappointment—disillusionment with trite songs and stale interpretation. Dylan is finished—as an innovator, but never as an artist. He:s been through folk, rock and country and western and there's nowhere else to go, and tired of competing with the 'tired horses' of the commercial music world—the electric super-hype super-groups—he can well afford to sit back and shrug his shoulders.
All the tired horses in the sun.
How'm I supposed to get any ridin' done?
Soundtracks of movies not presenting music as part of the action are always dicey. Too often, the music depends on the action for full effect, and half the appeal of the sound is lost. It's easy enough to string up a collection of hit songs, place them at appropriate intervals throughout the film, and then release the whole lot on one album as was done with Easy Rider; it's more difficult, however, to capitalise on a soundtrack album that must contain mostly mood music—and Zabriskie Point does contain mostly mood music. Not having been able to see the film yet, this album must be reivewed at face value, and not as a souvenir of the film. For it's certainly an odd collection of tracks—The Grateful Dead side by side with Patti Page!
The biggest contribution comes from The Pink Floyd—an English progressive group who have always made a lot of noise but not too much sense. Dissatisfied with commercial releases such as Arnold Layne and See Emily Play the Floyd turned to long rambling pieces with classical overtones, and on this album this is reflected in their three numbers. Heart Beat, Pig Meat is merely a simulated heart beat with odd sounds and snatches of music interspersed, giving the impression of the opening of an episode of Journey Into the Unknown. Crumbling Land is a rather dreary piece of straight harmony work, and Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up is a rather impressive piece of atmospheric music, which breaks [unclear: If] way through into a howling bass dominated sound. Apparently the group were a little let-down at the lack of use of their material in the film—their delicate love scene music being replaced by what was described' as "some noisy guitar playing", (presumably the dexterous Jerry Garcia!)
The Grateful Dead, featuring guitarist Jerry Garcia, have two numbers featured on the album: an excerpt from Dark Star and a long seven minute Love Scene. Both are instrumentals. Dark Star one of those interminable free-flow instrumentals that so often are passed off as 'progressive', and Love Scene (despite Pink Floyd) a very delicate piece of solo guitar work by Garcia, who takes you along with his rhythm until you find yourself unconsciously relaxing. Maybe, though, you just get bored.
Kaleidoscope, a relatively unknown outfit here (and elsewhere I suspect), have one album on release in New Zealand and two tunes in Zabriskie Point. Both are country orientated numbers, complete with hoedown holler, fiddles and steel guitar—Brother Mary and Mickey's Tune—nothing outstanding, but pleasant enough.
The Youngbloods, originally from Boston, moved to San Francisco when Jim Morrison and all were proclaiming that "the West was best" and if you weren't from San Francisco you were nothing. They turned out a style of good-time music that found success in songs like Grizzly Bear and Merry-go-round and recently cut one of the best rock albums in a long time with Elephant Mountain. Their contribution to the film is a good-time item called Sugar Babe. It's good, but unfortunately it's not enough.
The rest of the album is taken up by an unknown guitarist named John Fahey with Dance of Death—notably unstimulating this; a song called I wish I was a single girl again by what sounds like a middle-aged negro mamma called Roscoe Holcomb backed by cornbread and grits, and most peculiar of all, old-timer Patti Page crooning Tennessee Waltz. Presumably this last piece had some significance in the film—on record, however, it has none.
The album is thus notable for one thing only—its succession of unrelated recording thrown willy-nilly on to one waxing. A pity, for the film looks promising.