Long Time Gone: Bob Dylan’s tribute to Maggie Walker that became a prelude to Shelter from the Storm

By Tony Attwood

During 1962 Bob Dylan went meandering around folk and blues music composing a whole variety of songs as he explored possibilities at every level, before finally arriving at Hard Rain.  Hard Rain doesn’t exist within all these preliminary songs, but it somehow seemed to emerge from this cascade of words and melodies that sought to reflect a whole range of issues concerning the human condition.

So far in looking at these songs we have seen this extraordinary variety of pieces covering fun-laden requests for forgiveness, expressions of absolute desire, lost love, comedy, civil rights and the despair of nothing having ever changed in man’s inhumanity to man.

Long Time Gone – which was written soon after “Long Ago Far Away” can be heard as a very early rendition of what was eventually to become “Shelter from the Storm” (although by the time it did become “Shelter” it had gone through a lot of mutations).

“Long time gone” is itself also a re-working of “Maggie Walker Blues” as can be seen from the opening lines…

Bob Dylan sings

My parents raised me tenderly
I was their only son
My mind got mixed with ramblin’
When I was all so young
And I left my home the first time
When I was twelve and one
I’m a long time a-comin’, Maw
An’ I’ll be a long time gone

“Maggie Walker” opens

My parents raised me tenderly,
They had no child but me.
My mind being placed on rambling,
With them I couldn’t agree
Just to leave my aged parents
And them no more to see.

After this Maggie Walker goes in its own direction but the feeling of the song has similarities to Bob’s re-working.   Here’s a version by Doc Watson and Clarence Tom Ashley – I’ve added the lyrics of the next verse below.

There was a wealthy gentleman
Who lived there very near by.
He had a beautiful daughter,
On her I cast an eye.
She was so tall and slender,
So pretty and so fair.
There never was a girl in this whole wide world
With her I could compare.

So moving on to Bob’s version…

Here he is creating his own mythology, exactly as most folk and blues singers did, to add to their own mystique.

Consider this verse as a way of creating a past you’ve never had

I remember when I’s ramblin’
Around with the carnival trains
Different towns, different people
Somehow they’re all the same
I remember children’s faces best
I remember travelin’ on
I’m a long time a-comin’
I’ll be a long time gone

I particularly like his protestations of who he is and what he’s done

If I can’t help somebody
With a word or song
If I can’t show somebody
They are travelin’ wrong
But I know I ain’t no prophet
An’ I ain’t no prophet’s son
I’m just a long time a-comin’
An’ I’ll be a long time gone

Sorry Bob, but for some people that prophet is exactly what you became.

The song has been picked up and reworked in some interesting ways…

So you can have your beauty
It’s skin deep and it only lies
And you can have your youth
It’ll rot before your eyes
Just give to me my gravestone
With it clearly carved upon:
“I’s a long time a-comin’
An’ I’ll be a long time gone”

Ah yes, the ultimate mythology of the bluesman.

Here’s an interesting alternative version…

 

Not everyone hears the link with Shelter from the Storm, but it shines out for me.

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Indeed, the old blues man’s end isn’t always what he imagined.

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

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