“I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.” – Bob Dylan

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”?

Bob Dylan considering Elvis

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.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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25 Responses to “I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.” – Bob Dylan

  1. mutecypher says:

    Isn’t that just a wonderful version of the song?

    You’ve probably seen it, but Rolling Stone came with a special collectors edition of 40 years of Bob Dylan interviews a couple of months ago. For a moment I was worried that it was some secret signal that Bob was in poor health – that doesn’t seem to be the case. Lots of fun, reading through Bob’s comments over the years.

    I found your comment on Elvis’ version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right?” (I correctly assumed you’d already offered up an opinion in your voluminous Elvis writings). I want more kiss-off than wistfulness, but wistfulness is exactly what you’d expect from Elvis as he’d walk out the door. He made it his version.

    On a Dylan note, one of my favorite stories in Chronicles, Vol. 1 is Dylan meeting (well, being the the room as he and his entourage passed through) the wrestler Gorgeous George and being uplifted by some encouraging words about his playing. Ol’ Bob draws inspiration from all over the place.

    • sheila says:

      And in a dovetail with the post below this one: I love that it was Bob Dylan who inadvertently brought about the downfall of Jonah Lehrer. Or – a Bob Dylan fan who knew that something about the quotes Lehrer used somehow did not add up, did not sound right. It was the height of arrogance for Lehrer to try to pull something over on Dylan fans, who KNOW THEIR MAN.

      • mutecypher says:

        Knowing your obsessively compleatist nature, I despair of ever pointing you to something you don’t already know about a topic that engages you, but I was amused (and a bit disgusted) by this article trying to equate Lehrer’s fabrications to Dylan’s own in Chronicles.


        As if Dylan is under some obligation to tell the truth about himself. I have no idea who the true Bob Dylan is compared to the Dylan personae he creates every time someone interviews him (and no special right to know that person, no matter how much I love the music). I think what he does is a form of performance art at least as old as Dante in “La Vita Nuova”.

        • sheila says:

          Ooh – haven’t read that Times piece. Looking forward to it. Thanks!

          I always thought Jonah Lehrer was a lightweight, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought he was facile, shallow. It’s interesting that his book on imagination sounds like it is a sort of “you, too, can be a genius” kind of thing if you try to follow in these genius’ footsteps – (I haven’t read it). A common mistake – but interesting psychologically: He didn’t “have it” himself – he is lacking in something very important (creativity? originality? who knows). He never seemed serious to me, but again I couldn’t put my finger on why. If he had written some piece on Elvis, I might have been able to pick holes in it because I know the topic – the way that Tablet Mag reporter did with Lehrer’s Dylan quotes. You can smell when something’s “off”. It’s amazing he got away with it as long as he did – that’s part of the fascination I have with stories such as these.

          Thanks for the link. Will read later.

      • Sun 215 says:

        Hi Sheila.
        Thanks for your great blog, which I discovered only recently.
        It was such a pleasure reading your entry on Monty Clift, one of my all-time favorite actors.

        By the way, not too long ago a previously undocumented 11 minute studio version by Elvis was discovered and released on the “Follow That Dream” collectors label.
        Thanks again !!!

  2. sheila says:

    Thanks! Blancanieves – may still be out in theaters, although probably not. Saw it at Ebert Fest. Matadors! Snow White! It’s amazing.

  3. My musical roots are “Heartbreak Hotel” coming from an open window. That’s awesome.

  4. Fiddlin Bill says:

    The Elvis cover you have posted here is a very elegant version of the Dylan song. I’ll bet Dylan was proud of that! It implies that Elvis took the song seriously. What could be nicer news to a songwriter.

  5. sheila says:

    Speaking of Almodovar, just saw his newest film I’M SO EXCITED in a screening – I think it opens this week or the next. It’s hiLARious!!

  6. Clementine says:

    The pure poetry of Elvis’ soul shines through this ….nod!…..to Dylan! Though most know that Elvis’ claimed he ….’couldn’t write a lick’…….this performance proves he didn’t have to. No wonder Dylan famously got down on his knees and kissed the X where Elvis stood at Sun Studios!

    • sheila says:

      I love how this Dylan cover was used so prominently in all the beautiful transitions in the HBO doc The Searcher.

  7. mutecypher says:

    I love Bob’s recent recordings of standards – beginning with an album of songs sung by Frank Sinatra. He just released a triple album of new recordings at the end of March. Not bad for a person who just turned 76! I didn’t know I needed to hear Bob sing These Foolish Things or Young At Heart. The guy just keeps surprising.

    • sheila says:

      I love the thought of those who booed him for “going electric” getting a glimpse into the future and seeing Dylan covering Frank Sinatra. They’d be like: WHAT??

      I’ll have to check that out – I’ve not heard it, but I think it’s a brilliant idea!

      But, of course, me being me, my focus here is the inspiration, the guy who made Dylan (and a generation) go, fuck it, the normal world isn’t for me. I wanna be like that guy.

      and it’s not at all surprising that Dylan would write a song that would be one of Elvis’ best recordings in a pretty lackluster decade for Elvis.

      • mutecypher says:

        /I love the thought of those who booed him for “going electric” getting a glimpse into the future and seeing Dylan covering Frank Sinatra/

        “He sold out. AGAIN! AHHHHHHH”

        Love it.

        • sheila says:

          and sold out to the WORST – an establishment guy who didn’t write his own stuff, who sang “old fogey” songs … (this is not my opinion of Sinatra, of course).

          Lord knows what Sinatra thought of Dylan back in the day.

  8. Revelator says:

    Your post reminds me of my favorite Elvis cover of a Bob Dylan song–his brief, informal stab at “I Shall Be Released”:
    Though it’s no more than a fragment, hearing it makes me believe that if Elvis had recorded a full version it would have been the greatest version of the song. He sings as if he was experiencing the lyrics in real time.
    Oh, and the booming mention of “DYLAN” at the end is one of the greatest shout-outs in pop music.

  9. mutecypher says:

    As happy as I was when Bob won the Nobel last year, I was also concerned that Philip Roth was running out of time. If only Phil had followed his own advice…

    Roth himself contributed to the genre with a mordant remark in a 2014 New York Times interview: “I wonder if I had called ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ ‘The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,’ if I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy.”

    I’m looking forward to Bob’s bourbon, supposed to ship this month. It’s gotten good reviews.

    Musician, painter, sculptor, and now distiller. Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan.

  10. sheila says:

    Chilton rules!!

  11. mutecypher says:

    “ If I were to make a musician themed Tarot deck, Bob Dylan would definitely be the “Fool” card. “Mr. Tambourine Man” especially captures the energy of “The Fool.””

    From this wonderful article https://www.stereogum.com/2147461/favorite-bob-dylan-songs/lists/ultimate-playlist/

    Several artists choose “Murder Most Foul” from his 2020 album as their favorite song of his.

  12. Joao Carlos Goncalves says:

    Hearing Elvis singing Tomorrow is a Long Time: Life was worthwhile after all!

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