So, last week Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And when the Swedish Academy made its announcement from Stockholm, Sweden, there was a wide range of reaction.
Lots of folks liked the idea. A bunch of folks didn’t, some saying that giving the Minnesota-born Dylan the honor stretched the definition of literature to something evidently unrecognizable and others saying that the award cheapened the integrity of rock as an art form. Or something like that.
And in probably the most Dylanesque act in nearly sixty years of being Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriter (or song-and-dance man, teller of wild tales or lots of others things as well) has so far – not quite a week after the honor was announced – made no public mention of the Nobel. In fact, according to a piece on the CNN website, the Academy said Dylan has not returned their calls.
Odd Zschiedrich, the administrative director of the Swedish Academy, talked to the news network on Tuesday, and said, “We have stopped trying – we said everything we needed to his manager and friend, he knows about us being eager having confirmation from him, but we haven’t heard anything back.”
Zschiedrich also told CNN: “We will have the ceremony as usual, he will have the prize even if he is not there. Now we are just waiting for information.”
My reaction? I was surprised by the award (but not by Dylan’s non-response). I’d read over the past several years that Dylan had been considered – or at least nominated – for the Nobel, but I’d also read that he was, in effect, a fringe candidate whose odds were not great. I was also delighted, as Dylan’s work – from the epics like “Desolation Row” and “Highlands” to even trifles like “Wiggle Wiggle” – has been a major portion of the soundtrack of my life and a sizeable influence on my writing and music.
I imagine there’s more I could say, but a look at the nearly 2,000 posts I’ve offered at this blog over the years probably says enough. I’ve written more frequently about Bob Dylan than about any other artist (with Bruce Springsteen, unsurprisingly, being a close second). And I’ll no doubt do so again as memories and music merge here.
The next-to-last thing I want to offer here today is a picture I scavenged from Facebook showing the utterly perfect message presented this week outside Hibbing High School on Minnesota’s Iron Range:
The last thing here today, of course, is music. For the last few days, I’ve been playing Dylan in the car as I make my way around town. Here’s one I heard yesterday: “Not Dark Yet” from the 1997 album Time Out of Mind.
I drove the Texas Gal to work this morning, something I do maybe one day a week, maybe because of the weather or maybe just so we each get an extra half-hour of sleep. I cleared maybe a half-inch of wet snow from the windows and hood of the car, then got inside and adjusted the wipers.
And as I did, I thought about my 1977 Chevette, which had one of the strangest bits of auto design I’ve run across in the dozen vehicles I’ve owned and/or driven over the years: As is standard, the turn signal stalk was on the left side of the steering column: flip it up for a right turn and flip it down for a left turn.
As has also become standard, the signal stalk also controlled the headlight beams: push it forward for high beams, pull it back for low beams. (I’m old enough, of course, to remember when high/low beams were controlled by a large push-button on the floor.)
Where the Chevette differed from any other car I’ve had is that the windshield wiper and washer were also controlled by the signal stalk: Twist the knob on the end of the stalk a little bit forward, and the wipers went into slow action. Another twist forward put them into fast mode. A twist backward provided one sweep cycle of the wipers. I don’t recall what I had to do to wash the windshield, maybe twist the knob further back or maybe push the knob on the end of the stalk toward the steering column.
That was a lot of tasks assigned to one thin stalk of metal.
And for a few years, it was no problem. I got the Chevette – a brown two-door that I called McQueeg after its license plate, which began with the letters MQG (and I have forgotten the three numerals that followed) – in 1984. The Toyota I was driving while in graduate school in Missouri broke down irreparably while I was visiting Monticello, where the Other Half stayed when I was in graduate school.
We got the Chevette for a good price from the local Chevrolet dealer (whom I had known while I was at the Monticello Times); whoever had traded it in had tampered with the catalytic converter so the car could not be resold at retail without a lot of costly repair. We paid the dealer what he’d given for the car in trade, and each of us had a problem solved.
And then came a Saturday night during the summer of 1987. I was living in St. Cloud and heading to Minot State in North Dakota in a couple of weeks. The financing for a much newer Toyota station wagon was in the works when I drove into the Twin Cities’ northern exurbs to spend a day with Rob before I headed off northwest.
I left Rob’s about nine o’clock that summer evening and had the high beams on as I drove along a township road approaching a highway, where I would turn left. As I got closer to the highway, it began to rain, and then a car turned from the highway and came my way. I needed to switch from high beams to low beams, signal my left turn and turn on the windshield wipers, all functions controlled by the single stalk to the left of the steering column. I reached up and evidently tried to do all three things at once . . . and I snapped the stalk right off the steering column.
The oncoming car whooshed past, its driver blinking his high beams in irritation. I stopped at the end of the township road, looking at the signal stalk in my hand. I was baffled, bemused, nonplussed and a whole lot of other adjectives. Eventually, I turned on the interior light and placed the stalk into the socket from which it had broken. I could still signal turns. I could still switch from high beam to low beam and back. I could not use the windshield wipers, but luckily, the slight bit of rain that had started moments ago had stopped.
I shrugged, headed toward St. Cloud without further incident, picked up my Toyota the next day, sold the Chevette with full disclosure to a former student of mine, and in about ten days, I headed to Minot.
And here’s a track that I sometimes think of when I recall that moment on the township road as I held that metal stalk in my hands and wondered what would work. It’s Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken,” and it’s from his 1989 album Oh Mercy.
So as I thought the other day about how the sweet autumn of 1975 ended, I also wondered – as I tend to do – what I was listening to as it did.
Well, it was pretty much the same stuff I was listening to earlier that year, a list we explored in August: A couple of radio stations, the (very good) jukebox in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a slowly growing collection of LP’s in the basement rec room at home. How slowly? During the entire year of 1975, I added six albums to the cardboard box where I kept my LPs.
Well, I was a student, and there was very little cash for records. And I had other priorities: My classes and work at the library, my friends at The Table, my new friend Murl, my newly acquired taste for writing, and – beginning in late October – a growing (and marvelously mutual) attraction to the young lady who in a few years would become the Other Half.
There were two new albums in the basement in November of 1975, though. One of them, bought used from a fellow student if I recall things correctly, was getting a little bit of play: Mood Indigo, a two-record collection of Duke Ellington’s greatest work. I bought it mostly because I happened upon it, but I also knew (from reading if not from listening) that Ellington was one of the great musicians in American history, and if I wanted to understand American music (and I was beginning to realize that I wanted to do so), I had to know Duke Ellington.
The other new album was heard more frequently in the rec room: Bob Dylan’s New Morning from 1970. I was already a bit familiar with the album. When I’d been in Denmark two years earlier and living with my Danish family, I’d occasionally checked out cassettes from the public library, and New Morning had been one of them. I was still learning about Dylan’s work at the time – the only album of his I owned was his second greatest hits collection – and as I sorted through the display bins at the Fredericia library, the sepia-toned portrait of Dylan on the album’s cover was familiar compared to the Danish offerings that made up most of the cassettes available.
What I didn’t know, of course, as I listened to New Morning in my room in Fredericia that autumn and as I listened to it again in the basement on Kilian Boulevard two years later, was that New Morning was seen as Dylan’s hurried response to the critical disaster of Self Portrait earlier in 1970. And it was received as a decent if not great album with several very good songs and a few clinkers. (Chief among those last, I would guess, was the spoken word/jazz piece “If Dogs Run Free,” which I’ve always kind of liked.)
Among the better-received tracks, I think, were “If Not For You” (covered later that year by George Harrison on All Things Must Pass), “Day Of The Locusts” (interpreted as Dylan’s reaction to receiving an honorary degree from Princeton University; according to one account I’ve seen, cicadas were buzzing as the ceremony took place), the Elvis Presley tale “Went To See The Gypsy,” and “Sign On The Window” (covered by Melanie a year later on her Good Book album and covered perhaps more memorably in 1979 by Jennifer Warnes on her Shot Through The Heart album).
I liked all of those, and they and the rest of the tracks on the album slowly wove their way into my ears and memory as I entertained friends, read or otherwise whiled away time in the rec room in late 1975. Here’s the title track:
My search feature told me this morning that among the Billboard Hot 100 charts that have been released over the years on July 25, one of them fell in 1970. I glanced at it, knowing as I did that every record near the top would likely be familiar, tunes I would have heard on KDWB (or on WJON or WLS after dark).
And I thought, “Why not just look at the KDWB survey instead?” So I stopped off at the Oldies Loon website and pulled up the station’s survey for July 27, 1970. (The survey is here.) And every record was more than familiar until I got right near the bottom of the survey, where Glen Campbell’s “Everything A Man Could Need” didn’t ring any bells. I checked it out on YouTube, was reminded that the full title was “Everything A Man Could Ever Need,” and then remembered hearing it and not being very impressed. Neither were the rest of KDWB’s listeners, as the record made it only as high as No. 28 on the station’s weekly surveys over a four-week run.*
So with a survey full of memories – as I’ve noted many times, the summer of 1970 was one of the best radio seasons of my life – what do I do this morning? I thought about playing some games with today’s date, and did a quick scan of the records that would be involved, those at Nos. 7, 15, 22, 25 and 32. And then I went back to No. 25, Bob Dylan’s “Wigwam.”
Back in the summer of 1970, I knew very little about Bob Dylan. I knew about “Lay Lady Lay” from the summer of 1969. I knew about “Blowin’ In The Wind.” I knew he was one of the big trees in the forest of folk and rock and pop music. I didn’t really know why.
But I loved the wordless “Wigwam,” which peaked at KDWB at No. 23 a couple of weeks later (and made it to No. 41 in the Hot 100). I know now, of course, that it came from Self Portrait, the ramshackle album that left most critics and fans baffled and annoyed at best. I know now a lot more about Bob Dylan. There are numerous albums of his that I admire more and enjoy more than I do Self Portrait. There are Dylan songs and Dylan recordings that I admire more than I do “Wigwam.”
But I still love the record, just like I did back in 1970. Because of that, and because it’s not ever been mentioned even once over the course of about 1,800 posts here, Bob Dylan’s “Wigwam” is today’s Saturday Single.
* “Everything A Man Could Ever Need,” from the movie Norwood, wasn’t a big hit nationally, either, making it only to No. 52 in the Hot 100. The record did get to No. 5 on the Billboard country chart and to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
There’s one memorable February 28 in my life, one that stands out above the sixty-two others. And that’s counting today, which I suppose I should not do; it’s early, and things may well happen that make today memorable.
Anyway, the one memorable February 28 so far was in 1976, when I walked across a stage at St. Cloud State and got my diploma for my bachelor’s degree. That didn’t end my college days; I hung around for another year and some months, adding some post-grad stuff and another undergraduate minor. But it was a milestone, and we took pictures and went out for lunch and all that.
And I got records as gifts.
A couple days before graduation, a casual friend had delivered to me a copy of Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway. I was startled. We’d had some intense conversations not quite a year earlier but had not seen each other since then. And I guess those conversations carried more weight for her than they had for me. I remember being puzzled as I watched her drive away. But the record was decent.
And at lunch on graduation day, my girlfriend’s mother – who for a while would be my mother-in-law – passed to me a card that contained some cash. So a couple days after the festivities, I headed over to Musicland in the mall on the west end of town and picked up two double albums: Beginnings by the Allman Brothers Band (a repackaging of the band’s first two albums stuck together) and Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.
Both of my shopping selections had – as has so much else in my life – their roots in my time in Fredericia, Denmark, a couple of years earlier. The lounge at the youth hostel where I lived for a few months was filled most evenings with the sounds of the Allman Brothers’ later albums, and I wanted to know the earlier stuff.
And when I borrowed from the Fredericia library the cassette of Dylan’s first greatest hits album sometime during the autumn of 1973, I was startled to find “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” as one of the offered hits. The track was not on the U.S. version of the album I’d heard several times (and would eventually buy for myself).
But I loved the track, with its harmonica introduction, its rolling piano throughout, its cryptic (and sometimes biting) lyrics, and most of all, the rising building up to the chorus and the descending bass once we get there. So when I had some money to spend, I decided that wanted a copy of the track in my collection, and if the rest of Blonde On Blonde came along, so much the better.
All of that works well this morning, as I’ve mentioned “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” only three times before in the eight years I’ve been writing about music, and I offered it just once, back in 2008. So here, from 1966, is a track that I consider one of Dylan’s masterpieces, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”
The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.
We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.
We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.
We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.
And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.
But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.
I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).
There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.
Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.
Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”
In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.
When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:
Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California Hearing that everything’s warmer there So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue” He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you Little green, he’s a non-conformer
Just a little green Like the color when the spring is born There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow Just a little green Like the nights when the Northern lights perform There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes And sometimes there’ll be sorrow
Child with a child pretending Weary of lies you are sending home So you sign all the papers in the family name You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green Like the color when the spring is born There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow Just a little green Like the nights when the Northern lights perform There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes And sometimes there’ll be sorrow
When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.
Bob Dylan was back in Minnesota this week, playing a festival in his birthplace of Duluth Tuesday night and an open-air gig last night in St. Paul. It would have been fun to see either one, but I imagine there might have been more resonance in seeing the show in Duluth on the shore of Lake Superior.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dylan made no mention of his Duluth/Minnesota roots during his hometown show, and unless I’m very much mistaken, he’s mentioned the port city only once in all of his many published and recorded songs. In “Something There Is About You” from 1974’s Planet Waves, he sings:
Thought I’d shaken the wonder and the phantoms of my youth
Rainy days on the Great Lakes, walkin’ the hills of old Duluth
There was me and Danny Lopez,
Cold eyes, black night and then there was Ruth
Something there is about you that brings back a long-forgotten truth
That mention, however, is more than he’s given the Iron Range city of Hibbing, where his family moved when young Robert Zimmerman was six, and where he stayed until he headed for Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. A search at bobdylan.com shows that Hibbing is mentioned in the album liner notes on his first three albums. The mentions on Bob Dylan (1962) and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) are in the fanciful lists of cities where the young singer supposedly grew, including Gallup, New Mexico, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on both albums and Cheyenne, South Dakota and Phillipsburg, Kansas, on Freewheelin’. (Some Googling seems to show that there is no place called Cheyenne, South Dakota, but is that surprising? No.)
On the back of his 1964 album, The Times They Are A-Changin’, there is a reference to Duluth and specific mention of Hibbing in Dylan’s own notes, titled “11 Outlined Epitaphs.”
the town I was born in holds no memories but for the honkin foghorn the rainy mist an the rocky cliffs I have carried no feelings up past the lake superior hills the town I grew up in is the one that has left me with my legacy visions it was not a rich town my parents were not rich it was not a poor town an my parents were not poor it was a dyin town (it was a dyin town) a train line cuts the ground showin where the fathers and mothers of me an my friends had picked up an moved from north Hibbing t south Hibbing. old north Hibbing . . . Deserted Already dead . . .
There are, certainly, other mentions in Dylan’s work of Minnesota locations. And as I write that, I think first of “The Walls of Red Wing,” a song recorded in 1963 about the reform school for boys whose mention sent a shiver of fear through me and my grade school pals. An outtake from the Freewheelin’ sessions, the song showed up in 1991 on The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991. The version in the video below evidently comes from a bootleg recording of an April 12, 1963, performance at New York Town Hall. (Just as the mention of the reform school at Red Wing chilled me and my friends when I was a child, so now does the mention of “St. Cloud prison” in the latter portion of the song send a shiver – of recognition, not fear – through me; that facility sits no more than a mile from where I write.)
I could go on and on, obviously, panning Dylan’s stream for mentions of Minnesota places, and I may get back to it someday. But we’ll close with one of my favorite Dylan tunes with a Minnesota place reference, this one, evidently, to St. Paul’s Wabasha Avenue in “Meet Me In The Morning” from the 1975 album Blood On The Tracks.
Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha Honey, we could be in Kansas by time the snow begins to thaw.
As Wikipedia notes, however, “The intersection mentioned in the song, 56th and Wabasha, apparently does not really exist.” That’s certainly the case in St. Paul, and it’s also the case southeast of there, in the small Mississippi River town of Wabasha. There’s no Wabasha Street or Avenue in Wabasha, and anyway, the numbered streets there seem to top out at Twenty-First Street, which – truly – dead-ends a half-mile east of Highway 61 just a little ways northwest of Dylan Drive. That leaves us, I suppose, with the idea that the narrator and his object will meet somewhere that does not exist. Or else that Dylan just used “Wabasha” because it sounded good and fit the rhythm of the tune he had in mind. I vote for the latter. Here’s “Meet Me In The Morning.”
As I noted yesterday, and as was the case for a couple of other sturdy songs I’ve written about in the past ten days or so, it was Glenn Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, that introduced me to “Tomorrow,” which I’ve long thought to be one of Bob Dylan’s most beautiful songs.
The first released version of the song was recorded by Ian & Sylvia for their 1964 album, Four Strong Winds. Regular reader David Leander noted in a comment yesterday that “at one point Dylan told them he’d written it for them to record, but I think he told anybody that might record one of his songs that he’d written it for them.” I’ve read in a number of places that the song was inspired by Dylan’s early 1960s relationship with Suze Rotolo (the young woman shown with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but that doesn’t mean that he might not have had Ian & Sylvia – or Judy Collins (from her Fifth Album in 1965) or someone else or no other performer at all – in mind when he wrote the song.
As I also noted yesterday, Dylan has officially released two versions of the song: The first recorded, a demo, was officially released in 2010 as part of the ninth volume of Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series, and – according to Wikipedia – has been available as a bootleg for years. The second version he recorded, a live 1963 performance of the song in New York City, was released in 1972 as a track on Dylan’s second greatest hits album. Wikipedia also notes that a “studio version of the song, an outtake from the June 1970 sessions for New Morning, has also been bootlegged.”
The first Dylan version I heard of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was on that second greatest hits package. (The only video I can find at YouTube with that 1963 live version is from an episode of The Walking Dead. Zombies and a love song don’t match well for me.) By that time, of course, I’d absorbed the Yarbrough version from his For Emily album:
Over the years, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” has been a generally popular song for covers. Second Hand Songs lists a total of thirty-one English-language versions, and more (I didn’t bother to count) are listed at Amazon. I imagine that iTunes and other similar sites would have more yet. As is generally the case, the list of folks and groups who’ve covered the song include the unsurprising and the surprising alike: Among the first category are the Brothers Four, the We Five, the Kingston Trio, Linda Mason, Chris Hillman, Bud & Travis, the Silkie, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Sandy Denny. Less expected (or even unknown in these parts) are Hipcity Cruz, Deborah Cooperman, Barb Jungr, Sebastian Cabot, Magna Carta and Danielle Howell.
I’ve heard at most bits and pieces of those covers in the above paragraph, but over the years, I’ve listened to many other covers of the song, and I’ve tracked down even more in just the past couple of days. One version that’s been mentioned here at least twice in the past six years is the version by Elvis Presley that showed up in his 1966 movie Spinout. Regular reader Porky noted yesterday that Elvis “supposedly learned it from Odetta’s version,” which was on the 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan. I like Elvis’ version more than I used to, but the austere dignity which Odetta brought to her music doesn’t seem to work for the song.
I was surprised to find the name of Hamilton Camp among those who’d covered “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Camp, a mid-1960s folkie, released the song on his 1964 album Paths of Victory. That album is likely better known for his version of Dino Valente’s “Get Together,” which became a No. 5 hit for the Youngbloods in 1969 (after being a No. 31 hit for the We Five in 1965).
Another, far more recent name that surprised me was that of the country-folk group Nickel Creek, which put the song on its 2005 album, Why Should the Fire Die? I enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut in 2000, but wasn’t at all pleased with the follow-up, This Side, in 2002. I may have to give the group another try.
The most enjoyable version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” that I came across this week came from a one-off album from 1973. Several blogs have featured the album Refuge by the duo calling itself Heaven & Earth, and one of my favorite blogs, hippy-djkit, calls the album a “psych folk funk beauty from the early 70’s featuring the gorgeous voices of Jo D. Andrews & Pat Gefell.” There are a couple of other notable covers on the album, specifically takes on Stephen Stills’ “To A Flame” and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “60 Years On,” but the best thing on the album – and maybe the prettiest version I’ve ever heard – is Heaven & Earth’s take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”
Reference to “Get Together” corrected June 8, 2013.
The first two times I saw Bob Dylan in concert, I’m not entirely sure I gave him my complete attention. Last night I did, and I was rewarded with a very good – maybe even great – show.
Last night’s fifteen-song concert at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center spanned fifty years of Dylan’s catalog, from 1962’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” to “Early Roman Kings” from this year’s album, Tempest. A majority of the songs performed by Dylan and his amazingly tight touring band came from the 1960s – including the essential final three: “Like A Rolling Stone,” “All Along The Watchtower” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” – but there were a few other stops along the way.
Those other stops included several songs performed in a country jive pre-rock ’n’ roll style that at times, said the Texas Gal later, resembled the Western swing sounds of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. (I concurred, though I’d thought of the more recent sounds of Asleep At The Wheel.) One of those songs, “Summer Days” from Love and Theft, thus sounded as close to its original version as did anything Dylan and his band offered us last night. (Another of those Western swing-styled offerings was the opener, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from 1967’s John Wesley Harding. Despite having once correctly predicted Dylan’s opening tune, I didn’t even try last night; I would certainly have been wrong.)
Dylan’s well-known propensity for altering the shape and sound of even his most famous songs was on full display last night. Whether seated at a grand piano or standing behind the microphone at center stage – he never picked up a guitar at all – he offered the seven thousand folks in the audience reworked versions of several tunes. The most altered, it seemed to me, were “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” with Dylan’s piano leading the band in rhythmic riffs as he rapidly spat out the lyrics between those riffs. The least altered, along with “Summer Days,” was the gleeful spitefest, “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
The seventy-one-year-old Dylan didn’t speak at all last night except to introduce the members of his band, but he was in good voice – a little gravelly but not as raspy as he’s sometimes sounded lately – and he seemed to be having fun: During his ninety or so minutes on stage, he added his customarily idiosyncratic harmonica solos to many of the songs, occasionally shuffled across the stage (perhaps like the “song and dance man” he once said he was in one of his famously evasive interviews), and interjected a throaty chuckle just before the final phrase of one of the verses of “Things Have Changed,” an addition that brought him a mid-song round of applause and laughter. (Joining Dylan onstage for “Things Have Changed” and two other numbers was Mark Knopfler, whose own group offered a forty-five minute opening set.)
As I noted above, last night’s performance was my third chance to see Bob Dylan in concert. During the first, at St. Paul’s outdoor River Fest in 1989, I was distracted by both my company and by the mass of the forty thousand folks who wedged themselves onto Harriet Island, and I remember only a few moments. My second chance at Dylan live came in the mid-1990s, when Rick and I attended a show at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis. Weighted down with what I now recognize as a nearly decade-long depression, I pretty much noticed nothing.
So I went to last evening’s show determined to absorb it, and I think I did, from the opening bars of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” to the last strains of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” And even though it’s difficult to pick a best moment from a show like last night’s, I’m going to mention three: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” because it should have been on my occasionally discussed bucket list, “Things Have Changed” for that chuckle and Knopfler’s liquid fills, and “All Along The Watchtower” for its fire, both lyrically and during its long closing jam.
This video, from an October 29, 2011, performance in Berlin, Germany, will give you an idea of how “Things Have Changed” sounded last night.
And here, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, is last night’s set list:
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (with Mark Knopfler)
Things Have Changed (with Mark Knopfler)
Tangled Up in Blue (with Mark Knopfler)
Early Roman Kings
A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall
Blind Willie McTell
Highway 61 Revisited
Spirit on the Water
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower
Blowin’ in the Wind
It was at a concert in St. Paul in 1989, my friends and I sitting on a grass bank overlooking the stage at Riverfest, four of us among a crowd that I think was later estimated somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000. (I no longer remember the estimate; I only know that the St. Paul police closed several city streets after the show to let the crowd walk off of Harriet Island north through downtown.)
Before the show started, the four of us tried to guess how Bob Dylan would open that night’s concert. If all of us had been wrong, I doubt that I’d recall any of the four guesses, but my guess – and that’s all it was, based on the opening track of his live album Before the Flood – was correct. When Dylan and his band took the stage, they launched the concert with “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”
Along with a great night of music – Dylan and his band were very good that night – and a chance to march on downtown St. Paul, I also remember a snippet of conversation from before the show, as we talked about which songs we hoped to hear. “Like A Rolling Stone” was mentioned, of course, and one of the four of us wondered, “Can you imagine how many times he’s played that in concert?”
Well, no, I couldn’t then. I had no idea. But today, I do.
Between July 25, 1965, when he first performed the song, and his most recent concert on September 9 of this year, Bob Dylan has performed “Like A Rolling Stone” 1,976 times. Surprisingly – or maybe not; this is Dylan, after all – that’s not the song he’s performed most frequently. That would be “All Along the Watchtower,” performed 2,070 times, with the first performance on January 3, 1974, and the most recent on September 9.
Other songs that Dylan has performed more than a thousand times are “Highway 61 Revisited,” 1,746 performances; “Tangled Up In Blue,” 1,242 performances; “Blowin’ In The Wind,” 1,114 performances; “Maggie’s Farm,” 1,055 performances; and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” 1,026 performances.
Where did I find this information? Right on Bob Dylan’s website at the page that lists his songs and provides a link to each song’s lyrics. I’m not sure how frequently the list of performance dates is updated, but the most recent performances listed come from Dylan’s most recent show, which took place September 9 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Dylan is scheduled to play in Winnipeg, Manitoba, tomorrow night, so those of us who are interested can look at that webpage over the weekend (or later, if need be) to see how soon the list is updated. (There is a separate list at the website of all songs Dylan has performed, including covers; I might dig around in that on another day, but today, I was interested in Dylan’s own songs.)
After checking on the most frequently performed songs, I started digging through the list from the other end. There are a lot of songs on the list that Dylan has never performed in concert. Those come from all portions of Dylan’s long career, although many of them seem to come from just a few sources: the 1970 albums Self-Portrait and New Morning; the Biograph collection; the blues/folk albums of the 1990s, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong; and from the various Bootleg Series collections he’s released since 1991.
But it was the next step up that interested me: Songs that Dylan has performed in concert just once. Only once, for example, has he pulled “Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks out of his bag of tricks, on November 18, 1990, fifteen years after the album came out. Only once has he performed “Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side Of Bob Dylan. (That October 31, 1964, performance was included on the sixth collection in the Bootleg Series: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall.)
So, just because it interests me, here’s the list of his own songs that Bob Dylan has only performed once:
“As I Went Out One Morning” from John Wesley Harding, performed January 10, 1974
“Billy 1” from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, performed March 22, 2009
“Black Diamond Bay” from Desire, performed March 25, 1976
“Brownsville Girl” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed August 6, 1986
“Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks, performed November 18, 1990
“Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” a 1965 single included on Biograph, performed October 1, 1965
“Caribbean Wind,” an unreleased 1981 track included on Biograph, performed November 12, 1980
“Corrina, Corrina,” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed April 16, 1962
“The Death of Emmett Till,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed July 2, 1962
“Farewell,” released with The Witmark Demos, performed February 8, 1963
“Gospel Plow” from Bob Dylan, performed November 4, 1961
“Got My Mind Made Up” from Knocked Out Loaded, performed June 9, 1986
“Handy Dandy” from Under the Red Sky, performed June 27, 2008
“Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” a reading during a concert included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963
“Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963
“Let Me Die In My Footsteps,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962
“Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks, performed May 25, 1976
“Little Maggie” from Good As I Been To You, performed March 18, 1992
“Living The Blues” from Self-Portrait, performed May 1, 1969
“Man On The Street,” a 1961 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961
“Meet Me In The Morning” from Blood on the Tracks, performed September 19, 2007
“Million Dollar Bash” from The Basement Tapes, performed November 21, 2005
“Minstrel Boy” from Self-Portrait, performed August 31, 1969
“No More Auction Block,” a 1962 live performance included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed October 15, 1962
“Only A Hobo,” a 1963 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed April 12, 1963
“Outlaw Blues” from Bringing It All Back Home, performed September 20, 2007
“Oxford Town” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, performed October 25, 1990
“Percy’s Song,” an unreleased 1963 track included on Biograph, performed October 26, 1963
“Quit Your Lowdown Ways,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed July 2, 1962
“Sarah Jane” from Dylan, performed May 1, 1960
“Spanish Harlem Incident” from Another Side of Bob Dylan, performed October 31, 1964
“Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” a 1962 outtake included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, performed September 6, 1961
“10,000 Men” from Under the Red Sky, performed November 12, 2000
“Walkin’ Down The Line,” a 1963 demo included on Rare & Unreleased, 1961-1991, no performance date listed
I’m not at all sure what that list proves, but what I found especially interesting were the songs that Dylan performed for the only time long after they were recorded, like “Outlaw Blues,” “Meet Me In The Morning” and “Oxford Town.” And then there’s the flip side of that: “Sarah Jane,” performed for the only time in May of 1960 and then winding up – in a chaotic and imprecise performance – as the only original on the 1973 album Dylan. (That album, famously, is made up of outtakes released by Columbia over Dylan’s objections after the singer had moved to the Asylum label.)
And I find myself wondering how – even as he carries with him the greatest catalog of songs of the rock era – Dylan can ignore so many great songs, not only those listed here with one performance each but the many more that he’s never performed at all. I guess if I were going to pull one of the tunes listed here from its relative obscurity, it would be “Lily, Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks.
Here’s how it sounded in 1974 during the original New York sessions for that album, before Dylan re-recorded most of the album in Minneapolis.