The Best Songs: Jerusalem Tomorrow by David Olney – R.I.P. Mr. Olney

I woke up this morning to the sad news about David Olney’s death. He died after a massive heart attack on stage during this years 30A songwriters festival.

8 years ago we published this post about his song, Jerusalem Tomorrow. Mr. Olney wrote to me after that to say how grateful he was that we loved the song and we talked a bit about songwriting and the life of being a songwriter. He was a lovely person and we will miss him and will honor his legacy by playing his music. Rest in peace, Mr. David Olney.

Jerusalem Tomorrow was first released on Olney’s album Deeper Well in 1989, but it was with Emmylou Harris’ magnificent interpretation in 1993 that it became well known, and it was then I discovered it.

Townes Van Zandt’s short list of favorite music writers included Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan, and David Olney.  Obviously Olney keeps pretty good company, and deservedly so.  Jerusalem Tomorrow sounds like a song Townes would have been proud of.

2012 version, video directed by Jack Irwin:

Newly released on March 20, 2012, The Stone is the latest in David Olney’s thematic mini-album series.

The opening track, ”Jerusalem Tomorrow,” is a powerful spoken-word piece narrated by a con-man healer who “can’t make a dime” since a stranger came through town ahead of him who “has everyone convinced he’s for real.”  A backdrop of Sergio Webb’s acoustic guitar steadily drives the music forward as the story unfolds.

Allmusic on Emmylou’s 1993 version:

But it is on Olney’s “Jerusalem Tomorrow” that the weight of the album rests, with Al Perkins’ whining pedal steel and Sam Levine’s clarinet winding their way through the mix. The story involves a charlatan who heals the sick and makes a mute speak, a false prophet who feels his game is being eclipsed by a strange, wandering Galilean who doesn’t charge for his works of wonder. When the false prophet encounters Jesus, he decides to go along with his game as long as his way is paid, and prepares to go into Jerusalem the next day. Given that it is spoken and not sung, Harris dislocates her way of conveying emotion in a song; that she becomes convincing as a male figure is another shapeshift, and finally that there is no overly moral tone in her delivery, but strictly one of empathy, opens up not only the song, but Harris and the rest of the album to an entirely different set of critical criteria.

Emmylou Harris – Jerusalem Tomorrow:

Lyrics, Jerusalem Tomorrow:

Man, you should have seen me way back then
I could tell a tale I could make it spin
I could tell you black was white
I could tell you day was night

Not only that I could tell you why
Back then I could really tell a lie
Well, I’d hire a kid to say he was lame
Then I’d touch him and I’d make him walk again

Then I’d pull some magic trick
I’d pretend to heal the sick
I was takin’ everything they had to give
It wasn’t all that bad a way to live

Well, I’m in this desert town and it’s hot as hell
But no one’s buyin’ what I got to sell
I make my lame kid walk
I make a dumb guy talk

I’m preachin’ up a storm both night and day
Everyone just turns and walks away
Well, I can see that I’m only wasting time
So I head across the road to drink some wine

This old man comes up to me
He says, “I seen you on the street”
You’re pretty good if I do say so myself
But the guy comes through here last month
He was somethin’ else

Instead of callin’ down fire from above
He just gets real quiet and talks about love
And I’ll tell you somethin’ funny
He didn’t want nobody’s money

I’m not exactly sure
What this all means
But it’s the damnest thing
I swear I’ve ever seen

Well, since that time every town is the same
I can’t make a dime I don’t know why I came
I decide I’ll go and find him
And find out who’s behind him

He has everyone convinced that he’s for real
Well, I figure we can work some kind of deal
Well, he offers me a job and I say fine
He says I’ll get paid off on down the line

Well, I guess I’ll string along
Don’t see how too much can go wrong
As long as he pays my way I guess I’ll follow
We’re headed for Jerusalem tomorrow

Love the song, love both Olney’s and Harris’ versions.

– Hallgeir