A little over a year ago I got the DVD of the HBO documentary on Elvis Presley titled The Searcher. It’s fantastic. One moment that stuck with me most was when they discussed his recording of a Bob Dylan song, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”. The bluesy/country sounding tune is a soulful ballad about loneliness and sleeplessness caused by being separated from a lover that’s unlikely to return.
If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time,
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again
I have all of Dylan’s ‘60s albums but I couldn’t recall ever hearing the song before. That’s because it never appeared on any of his studio albums. A live version, recorded at New York’s Town Hall on April 12, 1963, was included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, released in 1971. A demo recorded in ‘62 had been bootlegged (as well a 1970 outtake), so it was known to many. Between ‘63 and ‘65, Joan Baez, Ian & Sylvia, and Judy Collins had recorded versions of it, but it was the ‘65 recording by folk singer Odetta that caught Elvis’s ear. At the time he had become very disenchanted with his own career. He knew the movies and music he was making were bad, and he wanted to dig deeper, but as it’s widely known, there was a certain puppet master pulling his strings. He had become interested in the burgeoning Folk music scene, especially the music of Dylan. Writer Alan Light says in The Searcher, “He was looking for some connection to music that still made him feel the way that music had made him feel when he was younger.” Light states that Elvis didn’t love Dylan’s voice “but he was interested in this imagery, and this language that drew from Gospel and the Blues.” Harmonica wizard/multi-instrumentalist/session man Charlie McCoy, who had played on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde albums, played Odetta Sings Dylan for Elvis. Presley’s haunting 5:19 long version was included as one of the bonus tracks on the soundtrack for his film Spinout (it did not appear in the film). Dylan has called Presley’s version “the one recording I treasure most.”
The song would be covered many times over the next half-century, including versions by The Kingston Trio, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, and contemporary acts like Nickel Creek, Justin Rutledge, and Chely Wright with the Milk Carton Kids. To my surprise, Rod Stewart did it on his classic Every Picture Tells A Story album. How did I not ever catch that? It’s the song right before “Maggie Mae”. Well, as I listen now I think “Oh yeah, I love that song!” Stewart’s arrangement is a little different than any previous version, with Ronnie Wood’s pedal steel guitar and Dick Powell’s violin/fiddle giving it a nice country-rock touch. I must not have noticed it was a Dylan song somehow. But this discovery of Elvis’ version, thanks to the documentary, is such a revelation. And I should have known it too. Ever since I had seen the doc I was looking for a decent vinyl copy of Spinout. Turns out that I already owned a copy. Way back in the mid-‘00s a co-worker had given me several Elvis albums that were too beat-up to play, but I had kept them for the covers and had put them in a box in storage. It also turns out that of all those E records, this one was in pretty good shape. How about that for luck?
Luck is in short supply these days. Back in January I was informed that I have to vacate my apartment of 19 years, along with the other eleven tenants. The building’s owner had sold the property to a development company back in October, so this was expected. They claim to have plans to remodel but deconstruction and rebuilding sounds more likely as it is the fashion these days. Since it wasn’t an official eviction, they gave us four months to move, and freed us from any further utility charges. So I set out to find a new place, but since a 2-bedroom, 900 square foot apartment like mine rents for twice of what I’m paying now, my chances of finding a place I could afford were slim. I considered leaving Dallas for the suburbs, maybe living closer to my mother. The thought of having to live in a modern complex wasn’t very appealing. My old place was built in the 1950s and was occupied by adults. Then I got lucky. I found a place close to my current apartment. Less square feet and $220 more, but it was in a unique “boutique” apartment building built in the 1930s, and one I had driven past countless times and had always admired. I signed a lease and put down a deposit. I bought a used IKEA Kallax shelf that I could put over 1,200 of my records in. I was excited for a change in my life…then Coronavirus happened.
The last two people I have shaken hands with was the guy I bought the Kallax from and the leasing agent for the new apartment. Both times I felt a little apprehensive making that physical contact. The news had just starting getting heavy about the crisis, but it hadn’t hit me hard just yet. I celebrated by going out and treating myself to margaritas and Mexican food. I was alone and there were barely a dozen other people there, so I thought the freak-out panic was ridiculous. Fortunately I had just stocked up on toilet paper the week before. Now, three weeks later, Dallas County has issued a Shelter-In-Place order that began at 11:59 PM tonight (3/23), lasting until April 3rd, at 11:59 PM, which means everyone in any non-essential line of work, must stay home except for food and medical needs. So as of tomorrow, I’m out of a job, at least until the order is lifted, in which I hope to be able to return to my job of 19 years. It’s most likely the order will be extended past April 3rd, which just happens to be my move-in date for my new digs. All my long-awaited plans are now up in the air. I don’t want a new job. I don’t own a car (I drive a company vehicle and will have to give it up), and the Texas Summer is right around the corner. Sadly, I have friends who have family that have been infected with the virus and at least one that has lost a loved one. It could be far worse for me. 2020 really sucks so far.
Tomorrow is indeed, a long time… I also didn’t realize that Elvis’ version was used in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders. And even though I’ve watched and re-watched the season one finale of The Walking Dead many times, I didn’t know Dylan’s ‘63 version played over the final scene and closing credits. I’m sure I recognized it as Bob and wondered what song it was, but never looked it up. It plays as Rick Grimes and the original gang of survivors watch the CDC in Atlanta explode into a fireball. The group had thought they found sanctuary. Their zombie apocalypse was just starting. All their tomorrows had just become a long time away. Ironic.