I've always wondered what it was about "Tomorrow is a Long Time" that appealed to Elvis Presley so much, to the point where he would record his own version for one of his crappy movie soundtracks (the phrase "crappy" can apply to both the movie and the soundtrack, in general). Quite frankly, I wonder why Elvis would bother with a Dylan song at all; after all, this is a guy who used to joke when he had bad breath that "it feels like Bob Dylan's been sleeping in my mouth". But we have Elvis' version of this song nonetheless, and it's a surprisingly good version, a down-home Mississippi Delta touch attached to the tune, Elvis putting in a pretty decent vocal performance (although there are moments where he does something with his voice that reminds me why I don't like him more than I think I ought to, if that makes sense), a casual take on a love song that succeeds because it's so darn casual and laid back. You'd never have thought to turn the song into a crawling blues track, but Elvis and his producers did, and they get kudos for that.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Funny enough, the Elvis version is probably the reason why Bob chose to record the song in a bluesier style for the New Morning sessions, a version that would be left in the vaults yet again. Listening to the song, you can definitely tell that Bob had that version in mind, both in the literal (the slower, more blues-like arrangement, with a pedal steel doing some nice work) and in the more abstract (the "ah-ooh" backing vocals reminiscent of the Jordanaires, the somewhat amateurishly picked solos), although Bob fleshes things out a little more with his full New Morning band behind him. One presumes that this version was never going to have a shot at making the album - especially considering how much more jazz-influenced the official version would end up being - so listening to it can feel more academic than anything else, like it's Bob just having a goof in the studio before he got to "One More Weekend" or whatever. All the same, it's a fun goof, a nice little window into Bob's mind, and a weirdly fitting tribute to Elvis that works just as well as "Went To See The Gypsy" does.
And yet, for somebody like me that has such great affection for the Greatest Hits II version, recorded for what was supposed to be Bob Dylan In Concert way back in 1963, there's something kind of blasphemous about these bluesy recordings, like Elvis and Dylan are taking something chaste and pure and slapping some mud on it. That isn't to say that I don't like those versions, or that there's something wrong with turning a tune into a blues number; it's more that the original version, so beautifully downcast and gentle, so full of quiet wistfulness, is probably best served in its original state, a gently picked acoustic guitar the only accompaniment to Bob's gorgeous lyrics (some of his best of the acoustic era). It makes a kind of sense that this song, like "Mama, You Been On My Mind", was consigned to the vaults upon its release; both songs are as direct in their emotion as any Bob has ever recorded, and maybe Bob didn't want anybody to get the wrong idea.
Of all the emotions that Bob has managed to capture in his lyrics - anger, disdain, happiness, joy, pain, agony - the one that he never really quite gets to is loneliness; he's sung about isolation, but that's not quite the same thing. For whatever reason, we never get to hear much about the great loneliness that Bob must have felt all throughout his life, both in the literal sense (the 1966 tour springs to mind), and in the mental (that mind of his keeping people away by mere virtue of his almost crushing genius); we know so much about Bob in his public life that any glimpse at the private Bob, no matter how fleeting, is as treasured as gold. And that is what makes "Tomorrow is a Long Time" so valuable, because we get a very small glimpse at Bob singing about loneliness, even in the context of a love song, as he waits for his true love to be back with him and spins off words that tell us just how hard that wait can be. But, to me, what really sums up the loneliness of the song (more so than the lyrics, which I think I will get some disagreement over, and I don't blame you) is Dylan's performance, one of his most brutally direct of his early days, a quiet emotion in his voice not even heard on his most well-known classics. I hear that song and I think of that young man, all by himself, singing about his beloved, and it's as heart-wrenching as anything I could imagine. And yet I cannot help but listen to it over and over again, because of that heartache, and because it's so beautiful in its sadness. There's plenty of that in Bob's catalog, but few songs touch that emotion as well as this one does.