Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bob Dylan: "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (2/20/78 Tokyo)

Dylan's rhythm section for the first part of the 1978 world tour was Rob Stoner on bass and Ian Wallace on drums. Stoner was a big part of what had made Desire and the Rolling Thunder Revue work so well musically. Wallace was new to Dylan, but he had a respectable resumé, including a stint with King Crimson. Not the first band you associate with Dylan, but musically serious, to say the least.

They didn't mesh. Stoner would later complain that Wallace was all wrong. "Ian Wallace, man, had a beat like a cop," Heylin quotes him as saying (p. 318 in my copy of Behind the Shades). Rob Stoner also had a way with words: I never knew what he meant by this, but it sounded like a great way to put someone down.

I mean, I do know what he meant: he goes on to say that Wallace "couldn't swing from a rope." And that may be so. But on this rendition of this song, February 20 in Tokyo (and "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" was only performed nine times, according to Olof, and only in the first leg of the tour, in the Far East), he's awesome.

The arrangement is classic '78: stately in pace and mood, full in instrumentation, with piano embellishments bringing out the finer points of the lyric's lyricism. You can hear it in a January rehearsal here, and that's a well-nigh definitive version. Live, in the version I have, there are two main differences. One is that the country steel guitar is gone, replaced by a gut-twisting gospel-soul guitar part in the verses and a sax solo in the break. The inflection goes from white to black.

The other is that Wallace's drums are much, much louder. He's playing essentially the same part as in the rehearsal, a simple thump, but - probably due to the acoustics of the room and the tape, which is after all a bootleg, so you have to deal with this kind of thing - here it just sounds like he's whacking the life out of his kit. It's a massive, bruising sound, and it makes for a fantastic tension underneath what is supposed to be the tenderest of Dylan's ballads. Beat like a cop, indeed. I love it.

Well, there is a third difference. Dylan's vocal on the live version is, well, live: full of passion and excitement in a way the rehearsal outlines, but doesn't really fill in. Both are great, and both should be released.

I like the Japan leg of this tour more than most Dylan fans seem to. I like Budokan, and I like the stuff that didn't make it to that record.

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