“Idiot Wind”


(For Rusty, who doesn’t like it)

There’s a certain value in singing this song with a voice that sounds like you’re being stabbed in the heart. From the plaintive opening line, “Someone’s got in for me, they’re planting stories in the press”, to the first rejoinder, “I can’t help it if I’m lucky” almost everything here depends on the delivery.

“Idiot Wind” is the distressed heart at the centre of Blood on the Tracks. At 7:50, and only the second-longest song on the album, it is the 1970s version of “Like a Rolling Stone” (or, better, “Positively 4th Street”), the putdown song to end all putdown songs. As we listened to it in the car the other day I said to Rebecca, the moral of this song is don’t ever divorce Bob Dylan because he will fuck you up.

This is another song that has two very distinct versions. The album cut, with its band and the organ parts, actually harkens back to the mid-1960s Dylan epics like “Desolation Row”. It has a feel that is akin to the kinds of things that he used to do. The New York version, which is longer (and which can be heard on Bootleg Series 2) features only acoustic guitar and bass. It’s very minimal, but it is also not as pained. It’s not as powerful as a result. The flat-toned singing doesn’t bring any power to it. This is an angry song, and it should be sung that way.

Dylan has repeatedly denied that this song is about him and his wife, from whom he would divorce in a year. That seems improbable. Check this out:

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

It’s almost impossible not to read that as an autobiographical statement of the marital breakup of a very famous man. It’s easy to see why Dylan might disclaim its personal intensity though – this is a rage-filled song if there ever was one:

One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes

Blood on your saddle

Ouch. If he wrote that about the mother of his children I just have to repeat: Do not divorce Bob Dylan! He’s not very nice!

The New York version of this song is mostly the same at the beginning, but the final two verses have substantially different lyrics (beginning: “I threw the I-Ching yesterday they said there might be some thunder at the well”) but the meaning is still the same. It also ends with a minute and half long harmonica solo that probably pushes the song too long.

Dylan didn’t perform the song at all in 1975. His website says that he played it fifteen times in 1976, making it a regular staple of the second leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue. An epic version of it closes the Hard Rain live album. Not having listened yet to any of the 1976 tour, I would place the Hard Rain version as my favourite because it is the most pained. It is all in the way that Dylan hits those barbs at the end of every verse. As with a lot of Dylan’s poetry, it’s all in the performance.

Here’s a 1976 live version. I haven’t listened to this yet because I adhere to strict rules, but you can watch.


3 thoughts on ““Idiot Wind”

  1. Rusty

    I’m honored to have a post dedicated to me (truly), but if you’ll read the comments to your own blog, you’ll see that I do think that “Idiot Wind” is a good, maybe even great, song. As you so rightly emphasize, though, it’s mean–very mean. The most chilling line to me, in context, is that “Sweet lady.” You know, the same sweet lady (assuming the “you” being addressed remains the same person throughout) the speaker takes such relish imagining as a rotting corpse in a ditch.
    Now you’ve got me running around gathering versions of Dylan songs from the nooks and crannies of my mostly-but-not-entirely ripped music collection.

  2. Rebecca

    “As we listened to it in the car the other day I said to Rebecca, the moral of this song is don’t ever divorce Bob Dylan because he will fuck you up.”

    That’s right, Baby, and you were only talking about Dylan. 😉

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