Bob Dylan’s best songs – Idiot Wind #10




bob dylan 1974

It was gravity which pulled us in and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart.
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom.
~Bob Dylan (Idiot wind)

Idiot Wind. Yeah, you know, obviously, if you’ve heard both versions, you realise, of
course, that there could be a myriad of versions for the thing. It doesn’t stop. It
wouldn’t stop. Where do you end? You could still be writing it, really. It’s something
that could be a work continually in progress.
~Bob Dylan (to Paul Zollo, April 1991)

…”Idiot Wind” [album version] is shock treatment. The voice that had been so gentle in “Simple Twist” now is right in your face, one moment reasonable and remarkably lucid, the next moment filled with fury.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)

Finally a new post in my series of Bob Dylan’s 200 best songs.

  1. The Song Title
  2. From The Experts
  3. Studio Versions & recording sessions
  4. Lyrics
  5. Live versions
  6. Sources

The Song title

Most probably the title of the song was inspired by Dylan’s art teacher Norman Raeben. Dylan attended art-classes held by Raeben at his studio in Carnegie Hall in the spring of 1974.

Five days a week I used to go up there, and I’d just think about It the other two days of the week. I used to be up there from eight o’clock to four. That’s all I did for two months…
~Bob Dylan (to Pete Oppel – Nov 1978)

According to Paul Williams – Norman Raeben’s widow acknowledged to Bert Cartwright that “idiot” was one of Raeben’s  favorite words. “According to Raeben’s observation of life, there is an idiot wind blowing and blinding all human existence” and a fellow student reports that Raeben called Dylan an idiot all the time.

Check out:

Dylan also speaks of “the wind” in relation to criticism in an interview with Marc Rowland (September 1978):

…if they’re out to say something, they’re going to say something and there’s very little you can say against it unless you want to defend yourself against the wind, you know.

From the Experts

Seen first as a sort of ‘Positively 4th Street Revisited’, the version Dylan chose to release is not the album’s most successful MGraysong. The too-personal bone-scraping jars: ‘Someone’s got it in for me / They’re planting stories in the press . . . / I haven’t known peace and quiet / For so long I can’t remember what it’s like . . . / You’ll find out when you reach the top / You’re on the bottom . . .’ It also produces, in Dylan, a need to step back from that extra-personal quality somehow: and he does so in the wrong way, by stylizing his delivery of the anger, so that his voice at those points comes across with a faked-sounding passion. (The original version, which Dylan got cold feet about releasing, needed no exaggerated delivery; its angry eloquence is genuinely personal, and all the more thrilling for being so scrupulously sotto voce.) Yet this is a small element in the song. It deepens into one of infinitely greater emotional range than a ‘Positively 4th Street’. The idiot wind that blows is the whole conglomeration of things that assail our integrity and of love that renders us hapless and out of control. The song locks us in a fight to the death, in a contemporary graveyard landscape of skulls and dust and changing seasons. Destruction and survival again.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)
The gloves are off in this song; Dylan dares everything, which is part of the song’s appeal. “We pushed each other a little too Paul williamsfar,” he says in the early take, “And one day it just jumped into a raging storm.” So now, perhaps, he needed shelter from the storm his marriage, his shelter, had become. The harmonica solo that closes the New York version of “Idiot Wind” is particularly poignant, and deserves a mention here.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)
On the other hand, the one earmarked for the ‘New York’ version of the album [test pressing version] is one of the most clinton2chastening, bittersweet vocals the man ever committed to tape. By this juncture Tony Brown is no longer burbling away in the background – he is leaning into every line…  Even as he sinks into silence, the singer finds a certain sweet release, surrendering the song to one of his most plaintive harmonica codas. A full-on tour de bloody force is what it is.–[Album version] Indignation has now replaced introspection. The tone of that final verse is almost sneering, making the change of heart that comes in the chorus with ‘We’re idiots, babe’ wholly unexpected, and not altogether convincing. Nor do the Minnesotan musicians add a great deal to the song, playing with a singular lack of flair, as if wary of challenging Dylan musically. The new version may have come quick – apparently four takes – but the song was now caught between two conflicting stools
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

Studio versions

There are two officially released & one much bootlegged version available:

1 Blood On The Tracks version (album version) – recorded December 27 blood-on-the-tracks-album-cover
2 Bootleg Series 2 version – recorded September 19* Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series 2
3 Test pressing version (or often referred to as the “Organ version”), recorded September 16 bob dylan new york sessions

*Clinton Heylin suggests (in his book “Still On The Road”) that it could be September 16 for BS2 & September 19 for TP version.

 

September 16, 1974 – Test pressing version
overdubbed October 8, 1974

Even as he sinks into silence, the singer finds a certain sweet release, surrendering the song to one of his most plaintive harmonica codas. A full-on tour de bloody force is what it is.
~Clinton Heylin (Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol. 2, . 1974-2008)

I really thought that what Paul Griffin and I did (September 19) was far superior to what was used on the final version of the album. Nothing can touch our version of “Idiot Wind”.
~Tony Brown (from the book: A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks)

This is my favorite version, and a very different one than the album version. The vocal is mournful, soulful, barenaked, but highly effective. The sound is sparse (only guitar (Dylan), bass (Brown) & some overdubbed organ (Griffin)), and a third of the song has different words (lyrics will be compared further down in the post).

Dylan’s singing is gentle throughout, which somehow serves to make the song more vicious than the later, louder version. Softspoken anger can be more threatening, more self-righteous, than uninhibited hollering.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Vol 2: The Middle Years 1974-1986)

 

September 19, 1974 – Bootleg Series 1-3 version

Similar to the TP-version, but no organ and slightly different lyrics.

December 27 – Album version

Now this is a very different beast. A third of the lyrics is different and Dylan’s vocal sounds aggressive, he’s at war.

Relevant recording sessions for Idiot Wind:

The Lyrics

… I thought I might have gone a little bit too far with Idiot Wind. I might have changed some of it. I didn’t really think I was giving away too much; I thought that it seemed so personal that people would think it was about so-and-so who was close to me. It wasn’t. But you can put all these words together and that’s where it falls. You can’t help where it falls. I didn’t feel that one was too personal, but I felt it seemed too personal. Which might be the same thing, I don’t know. But it never was painful. ‘Cause usually with those kinds of things, if you think you’re too close to something, you’re giving away too much of your feelings, well, your feelings are going to change a month later and you’re going to look back and say, “What did I do that for?”
~Bob Dylan (to Bill Flanagan – March 1985)

According to Clinton Heylin, who’s had access to Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks notebook” (where Dylan entered handwritten drafts of eight of the album songs), Dylan had changed the lyrics to Idiot Wind many times before he entered the A&R Studio in NYC September. This was clearly an important song, and a hard one to write.

Clinton Heylin: The man can claim he set out to write something that ‘seemed so personal that people would think it was about so-and-so’ till he is blue in the face. ‘Idiot Wind’ began life as a letter to a Sara:

[From the notebook (“original” 4th verse):]

I haven’t called you for days and days,
And it hurts me more than it bothers you,
It wasn’t that I didn’t care,
It was just something that I must’ve been going through.
I figured I’d lost you anyway,
What’s the point of past desire?
There would be your voice and mine.
Trying to talk through wire.
Finally got my eyesight back,
And saw you for what you are,
No reason to get all messed up,
I think I’ll watch you from afar.

I’ve compared some important versions.

“Original” New York – September 16
(Test Pressing)

Notable Changes

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it but when they will I can only guess.
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy,
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me.
I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at,
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Sweet lady.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
I threw the I-Ching yesterday, it said there might be some thunder at the well.
Peace and quiet’s been avoiding me for so long it seems like living hell.
There’s a lone soldier on the hill, watchin’ falling raindrops pour.
You’d never know it to look at him, but at the final shot he won the war
After losin’ every battle.
[Album version – December 27] 
I ran into the fortune teller,
who said beware of lightning that might strike.
I haven’t known about peace and quiet now for so long
I can’t remember what it’s like.
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out
of a boxcar door,
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done,
but ain t the final end he won the war
After losin’ every battle.
I woke up on the roadside, day dreamin’ about the way things sometimes are
Hoofbeats pounding in my head at break-neck speed and making me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies.
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.
[Album version – December 27] 
I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way
things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot
through my head and are makin’ me see stars
[Live – Fort Collins 1976 (Hard Rain version)]visions of your smoking tongue
Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb,
Blowing through the curtains in your room.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
It was gravity which pulled us in and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart.
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom.
I noticed at the ceremony, that you left all your bags behind
The driver came in after you left, he gave them all to me, and then he resigned.
The priest wore black on the seventh day, waltzed around while the building burned.
You didn’t trust me for a minute, babe. I’ve never known the spring to turn
So quickly into autumn.
[Album version – December 27]
I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had
finally made you blind
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth
has changed, your eyes don’t look into mine
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat
stone-faced while the building burned
I waited for you on the running boards, near the
cypress trees, while the springtime turned
Slowly into Autumn
Idiot wind, blowing everytime you move your jaw,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
[Album version – December 27]
Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
We pushed each other a little too far, and one day it just jumped into a raging storm.
A hound dog bayed behind your trees as I was packing up my uniform.
I figured I’d lost you anyway, Why go on? what’s the use?
In order to get in a word with you, I’d have had to come up with some excuse.
It just struck me kinda funny.
[Album version – December 27]
I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the
books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been
wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory–[Live – Fort Collins 1976 (Hard Rain version)]
I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the clothes you wear
Every time I come into your door, you leave me standing in the middle of the air..
I been double-crossed too much, at times I think I’ve almost lost my mind
Lady-killers load ice on me behind my back, while imitators steal me blind
You close your eyes and part your lips, and slip your fingers from your glove
You can have the best there is, but it’s gonna cost you all your love
You won’t get it for money
[Album version – December 27]
I been double-crossed now for the very last time
and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline
which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain
I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your
holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry
 Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

Live versions

The song was performed 15 times with the Rolling Thunder Revue II  in 1976 and then was stop until 1992 when it was performed
40 times. It has not been played since.

The Warehouse
New Orleans, Louisiana
3 May 1976, evening

Hard Rain

…‘Idiot Wind’, which, as Dylan grows ever more engaged, bursts open and pours out its brilliant venom.
~Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)

Hughes Stadium
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
23 May 1976

Derwent Centre
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
11 April 1992

Trädgårdsföreningen
Gothenburg, Sweden
28 June 1992

Sources

 

-Egil

8 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Idiot Wind #10”

  1. I always thought the word “hounded” in this line:

    I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory

    Was “haunted.” Never realized my mistake until reading this brilliant post and checking the lyrics on bobdylan.com. I actually like “haunted by your memory” better. But what an incredible song. All three versions, plus the “Hard Rain” live take, bring something different to it. I prefer the original New York version, but the live version is absolutely riveting in its anger.

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. What an excellent song, man! I think my favorite is the album version, but the New York version is excellent also. I can’t wait to see more song posts from your 200 best songs series!

  3. I agree with Mike the Fort Collins version for me is the performance that makes the hairs on one’s neck stand up. The vocal delivery, the vitriol, the passion and the sheer breath taking brilliance of the performance. Words crafted and delivered with such angst. A truly remarkable moment of magic on film. We will hopefully one day see these concert gems released in some sort of dvd format preferably on Blu-Ray to capture the best audio quality.

  4. I would truly hate to be on the receiving end of this song if I were in the midst of a divorce.! with all the background information, it could be a book unto itself. what is amazing here is the fact that the different versions he sings gives each version a different meaning

  5. the version at Fort Collins is the most vicious rendition of this song I have ever heard> He doesn’t sing this song; he spits out the words. and we all listened with our jaws hanging open. I wish the Video Sheriff or who ever would make this concert available again

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