By Tony Attwood
Updated 20 September 2017 with link to the song at the end.
If I could be given something impossible, just once, I would ask for the studio tape of Maybe Someday, and the opportunity to remix it. Maybe it is just me, but this is a stunning masterpiece, spoiled (only slightly) by the mix. Oh how I would love to deal with the female chorus. Who did that to the instrumental break? Being first up against the wall when the revolution comes is too good for them.
So, let’s start at verse two. Dylan quotes TS Eliot. And why, you may ask, is this important? Because Dylan comments on Ezra Pound and TS Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, in Desolation Row. And because many Dylan lyric aficionados also know their Eliot.
And because of what Dylan does here in relation to “Journey of the Magi” from which the quote comes. This poem is the poem of complaint and alienation. To paraphrase, it is a poem of, “I came all the way across the bleedin’ desert just for this?” I recall, when I studied Eliot at school, being told that it was a poem is the poem of distress. Quite true, but that and more. The distress is not utterly mental; the mind in a mess. The magi has had enough of the camel too.
And this is where Dylan is in this magnificent rock song. The past is a mess, the mind is a mess, his relationship is a mess: “I got it wrong, but so did you. But maybe someday I’ll get it right. Don’t know about you though.”
Now if you are bemused by all this, do two things. Just consider these lines from Eliot’s wonderful Journey, and then listen to “Maybe Someday”. There is no instant subject connection and yet there is a real link between the two. Here are some Eliot lines…
- Lying down in the melting snow
- And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
- Sleeping in snatches with the voices singing in our ears
- And three trees on the low sky
- …an alien people clutching their gods / I should be glad of another death
Dylan’s response is a three chord classic rock piece which bounces along and leaves all the complexity to the lyrics. The chord sequence is…
- I IV I IV I V I (repeat)
- V IV
- Repeat first line
The performance of the first verse is odd to say the least. If you get to the end of the song and jump back to the start you’ll see just how disconnected this first verse is from everything else. There is a sense of trying to find out what each musician is supposed to do. The drummer seems particularly confused (“how about if I bang the drum here, boss?”) – but maybe that is the editing. Or maybe its just Dylan mucking around.
Eliot’s poem then is the magi going across the desert, complaining like mad and ultimately being singularly unimpressed by the baby Christ.
OK there is no obvious connection between Dylan and Eliot in this first disjointed verse. But the singer is berating the ex-lover in the manner of “Like a Rolling Stone” (just as the Magi is having a go at his God).
Maybe someday you’ll find out everybody’s somebody’s fool
Maybe then you’ll realize what it would have taken to keep me cool
Maybe someday when you’re by yourself alone
You’ll know the love that I had for you was never my own
But then the beat picks up, and we are properly off. There is power and drive here, Dylan at his most perfect rock musician best. And yes we really are in “Rolling Stone” country…
Maybe someday you’ll have nowhere to turn
You’ll look back and wonder ’bout the bridges you have burned
Dylan is also every deceived man’s friend. What young man who has lost his lover doesn’t want to cry out…
You’ll look back sometime when the lights grow dim
And you’ll see you look much better with me than you do with him
If you are a heterosexual guy and you haven’t then sorry, you’ve lived on a different planet from me. Maybe next year…
But then everything explodes, and we are in Eliot’s vision. The magi are on the move, and in typical Dylan fashion time collapses. We jump from the birth of Christ,
Through hostile cities and unfriendly towns
To Judas and the crucifixion:
Thirty pieces of silver, no money down
What is so remarkable about Dylan here is the way he links back to the Eliot poem. The magi can’t be arsed to make the journey to see Christ’s birth. Dylan knows that full well, and compares it with the fact he can’t be bothered to get to the woman,
Maybe someday you’ll hear a voice from on high
Sayin’, “For whose sake did you live, for whose sake did you die?”
Forgive me, baby, for what I didn’t do
For not breakin’ down no bedroom door to get at you
Always was a sucker for the right cross
Never wanted to go home ’til the last cent was lost
Maybe someday you will look back and see
That I made it so easy for you to follow me
That is one of the most extraordinary Dylan verses of all time. We’re in Eliot land throughout – but now who is following who? Is Dylan following Jesus? Is the lover following the singer? Are the fans following Dylan? Are Eliot and Pound still fighting in the captain’s tower? Probably yes, all round.
But we know the couple in Dylan’s song have broken up, and yet, and yet…
Maybe someday you’ll see that it’s true
There was no greater love than what I had for you
That ending is so utterly powerful. “I loved you, I loved you, but it all went wrong. You worshipped me, when there was no need. I simply loved you.” Or to translate into Eliot/Dylan speak, “I didn’t have to make this sodding journey across the desert – I was committed to God anyway. You didn’t need me to do this.”
So what would I do with the remix? I’d leave that funny first verse, because it is so quirky. It makes me think the camels weren’t willing to walk. The second verse is perfect, and the third too.
But then there is calamity. The instrumental break with half the ladies doing a “Ah ha ha” all the way through. Who ever thought of that should be shot (as I intimated at the start).
And so we are back on track, with Dylan coming in a fraction of a beat early, changing the rhythms by one sixteenth of a beat. And “what I had for you” is sung perfectly.
The fade out is awful, but what I could do about that would depend on what is on the master.
Bob, I have no idea what you think of your songs. I don’t know if you have ever sung this in concert. I have certainly never heard it. But, oh, I hope you realise what a stunning masterpiece this is. Thank you for all the fun you have given me over the years with this song.