Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bob Dylan Song #158: Tomorrow Is A Long Time

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.

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.

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Liam Gallagher said...


Matt Waters said...

Yeah, great point about Bob mostly eschewing a soulful analysis of loneliness throughout his body of work. When present in his songs, it is an emotion usually residing around edges, overpowered by stronger, more easily definable feelings. [like anger on ‘Idiot Wind’] In this regard, Dylan is far less abstract, and far more accessible, than people realize.

It’s why I love ‘I’m Not There’ so damn much. You could see that composition had immense potential to vividly explore the most desolate of states, mind spheres that other artists may have been able to reach, but not express. [Ironic isn’t it, that ‘Desolation’ Row is filled to the brim with memorable characters?]

That ‘I’m Not There’ is still effective even without comprehensible lyrics speaks to its amazing, raw power. Alas.

Anyway, I know this was kind of off topic, but I really agree about that point re: Dylan and loneliness.

Robert Spencer said...

Actually it was Odetta, not Elvis, who turned the song into a "crawling blues track." Odetta covered "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" before Elvis sang it. I have no idea where she picked it up from, or whether she is responsible for her distinctive arrangement of it or got it from someone else. But anyway, Elvis heard her version, and covered that. Play Odetta singing the song and then Elvis singing it, and you'll see that Elvis actually stuck close to her arrangement and phrasing.

Sean Keeley said...

I'm not sure I agree about Dylan not singing about loneliness. Maybe he doesn't do so directly, but "Not Dark Yet" and "Most of the Time," for example, are incredibly lonely songs.

Anonymous said...

Elvis cut that Dylan song at his Grammy Award winning album session, 'How Great Thou Art', funny the only grammies he ever got was for his gospel work and wasn't Dylan's first grammy for his gospel song, 'Gotta serve somebody'. Anyway he was always inspired when cutting gospel and that inspiration touched home when he cut this great song. It got buried as a bonus song on one of his movie soundtracks. He may have made a joke about Dylan live in Vegas, never thinking for one moment that it would one day end up in a live album after he passed away and the RCA vaults started to run dry. Anyway he said his throat was dry, not that his breath was bad. Its obvious he respected Dylan cause Five years later in 1971 he launched into a frantic eight and a half minute amphetamine driven spontaneous take of 'Don't think twice', with riveting guitar work from James Burton, what it lacked in the exclusion of full lyrics it was compensated in repetitive use of certain verses, similar to his arrangement of Leiber and Stollers, Houndog in 1956. An edited version was soon released but wasn't much to write home about. Luckily the full jam version appeared in the 1979 album, Our Memories of Elvis vol 2.

Anonymous said...

Presley did not record "Tomorrow" for a soundtrack; it just ended up thrown onto the LP. A number of quality looked-over 1960s Presley tracks ended up that way.

Besides "Don't Think Twice" (I disagree that you need all 9 minutes of the jam, although it's obvious Presley enjoyed it), he also sang a few lines of "I Shall Be Released" at a recording session, before stating, "Dylan," as if the song summed up the singer to him. I never understood that line about "Dylan slept inside my mouth," but it's clear Presley did know some Dylan songs.

I've also read Dylan said "Tomorrow" is his favorite cover version.

David George Freeman said...

Hello Tony, The Bob Dylan Project allows every version of every Bob Dylan song to be listened to. We link to your song via the "Additional Information" hyperlink. Join us inside Bob Dylan's Music Box and enjoy great music.