For Bob Dylan’s birthday
“When I first heard Elvis Presley’s voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” – Bob Dylan
“Nobody was going to be my boss” is one of my favorite comments from a fellow musician on the impact Elvis had. There’s also this from Keith Richards’ great memoir. My favorite comment about Elvis very well may be George Harrison’s response to the question from an interviewer about his musical roots. Harrison, surprisingly, said he didn’t have any musical roots. The only “root” he could think of was from when he was a kid in Liverpool, hearing “Heartbreak Hotel” playing through an open window.
But Dylan: hearing a song, hearing a singer, on the radio, and suddenly knowing that “nobody was going to be my boss”?
Elvis recorded Dylan’s song “Tomorrow is a Long Time” in 1966. Dylan had written it, and recorded a demo of it in the early 60s. He played it in his concerts, and others started recording it. (Everyone recorded it, including Odetta, which is how Elvis heard it.)
No matter. Elvis’ cover was buried on the soundtrack album for the movie Spinout, and it didn’t make a splash of any kind (and it should have, it’s a high point of his 60s recordings, and different from anything else he ever did, before or since.) Elvis sang a couple of other Dylan songs during his live shows in the 70s, “Don’t Think Twice,” and “I Shall Be Released” – and he liked “Blowin in the Wind”, and would sing it around the piano with his buddies (there’s a tape recording of this), even though it seems like Elvis and Dylan would have had nothing in common, especially socially/politically. But “Tomorrow is Such a Long Time” is the best of all of these. It’s haunting, eerie, James Burton showing his genius with his Telecaster. Dylan officially released the song in 1971, I believe, after a decade of performing it live, and a decade where everyone and their grandmother had recorded it. It was one of those songs.
Bob Dylan: “The highlight of my career? That’s easy, Elvis recording one of my songs.”
Coda: I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s film Rolling Thunder Revue for my Film Comment column.
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