Long Ago Far Away: When Bob Dylan shouted out against man’s inhumanity

by Tony Attwood

This song, which appears on the Whitmark demos bootleg is another from that huge outpouring of songs that ran up to the composition of the absolute masterpiece that is “Hard Rain”.  And indeed we can hear in simple form a number of the themes that occupied Bob’s mind when he came to compose “Hard Rain” perhaps just a few weeks later.

The title comes from Long Ago (and Far Away) which appeared in the 1944 musical “Cover Girl” with Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly, written by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin.  Whether Bob knew the song or not I can’t say.  If this title had been taken and reused in a 21st century recording I’d say yes, because that is the sort of thing we have got used to Bob doing in the latter part of his career, but was he watching the old movies back in the 1960s?  I really don’t know.

Musically the piece gets its edge by fractionally extending the rhythm of the words that have to fit into the music – they do fit in, but only just.  It really gives one a feeling that the whole piece is on the verge of falling over all the time, without actually ever doing so.  And that of course fits with the passion of song’s lyrics.

The meaning is fairly simple: nothing has changed, despite everyone from Jesus Christ to President Lincoln attempting to show us the right way to live.

The opening verse sets out the tone…

To preach of peace and brotherhood
Oh, what might be the cost!
A man He did it long ago
And they hung him on a cross
Long ago, far away
These things don’t happen
No more, nowadays

And so it proceeds – in the second verse we get

The chains of slaves they dragged the ground
With heads and hearts hung low
But it was during Lincoln’s time
And it was long ago

There’s a nod to what was to become Masters of War as well.

The war guns they went off wild
The whole world bled its blood
Men’s bodies rotted on the ground
Of oceans made of mud

(The official lyrics go for a wander at this point, but I think that is what Bob sings.)  And Dylan’s concern about inequality which was so strong in these early days continues down the liine…

One man had much money
One man had not enough to eat
One man he lived just like a king
The other man begged on the street

Everything is broken, everything is awful, and it is here all the time..

One man died of a knife so sharp
One man died from the bullet of a gun
One man died of a broken heart
To see the lynchin’ of his son

The lyrics on the official Bob Dylan site are clearly inaccurate – at least from this recording, and there is one more verse on the Whitmark version which is not included (if you can transcribe it for me, I’d be really grateful.  I’ve had a go but the results can’t be right, and as we’ve discovered before on this site, my ears really aren’t up to the task any more).

And then on the recording we get the first verse again.

The song could have fitted into Freewheelin, but by the time that album was made Bob was so bursting with new compositions, it got relegated and lost.  It’s not a great piece: it is just a solid protest song of the era.  I’m glad it has been salvaged.

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *