Bob Dylan

Idiot Wind

Composed by Bob Dylan

Song Review by

"Idiot Wind" was one of the songs Bob Dylan wrote, probably in the summer of 1974, following his comeback tour with the Band, for his Blood on the Tracks album. This group of songs, easily his best collection since New Morning four years earlier, and for many his best work since Blonde on Blonde in 1966, marked a creative rebirth for the 33-year-old singer/songwriter, but they came at the cost of describing romantic and philosophical torment. Troubles in Dylan's marriage have been blamed for the anguish heard in the songs, and whether or not that's true, the harrowing "Idiot Wind" is the statement of an angry, frustrated man who frequently sounds a lot like Bob Dylan. This protagonist strikes out in many directions, though the focus of his ire keeps coming back to someone with whom he is involved emotionally. In the mid-'60s, Dylan had often written scathingly critical songs such as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Positively 4th Street" that skewered people personally and unmercifully, and "Idiot Wind" was a return to that style. The beginning of the song seems at least an attempt to fictionalize the story, as the narrator explains the fame and fortune he has achieved and denies rumors about him: "I can't help it if I'm lucky." He then complains that his fame isolates him, that people who see him, their minds filled with distorted facts about him, "can't remember how to act." This leads him directly to criticism of a person close to him; even she can't relate to him. "You're an idiot, babe," he tells her witheringly in the chorus, "it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe." As the song goes on, the narrator expands his criticisms grandiosely, though he still seems to be talking about a failed relationship that fills him with disgust and even self-loathing. By the end, he has included himself in his indictment: "We're idiots, babe/It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves." Dylan recorded "Idiot Wind" backed by steel guitar, organ, and bass, on September 12, 1974. He may not have been satisfied by this take, since a week later he went back into the studio and recorded a version with only a bass backing his acoustic guitar and harmonica. But the test pressing of Blood on the Tracks that was made in November used the first version. Then, in December, Dylan decided to do some re-recording, and while at home in Minnesota for Christmas, he hired local musicians and cut new versions of half the album's songs, among them "Idiot Wind." In the meantime, he had drastically revised the lyrics, completely replacing one of the four long verses and strengthening various lines. The overall meaning of the song was the same, but it had been improved and made somewhat more general. A new line about a chestnut mare seemed to be a reference to former Byrds leader Roger McGuinn, who had a well-known song called "Chestnut Mare," while a line that had traced the idiot wind from the Grand Coulee Dam (a place celebrated by Woody Guthrie) "to the Mardi Gras" now took it from the dam "to the Capitol," a seeming reference to the Watergate scandal that had recently toppled President Richard Nixon. More significant than the lyrical revisions was the different musical interpretation. Now fronting a rock band, Dylan sounded enraged and aggressive, where he had been sad and mournful earlier. "Idiot Wind" was now a far more powerful song, one of the highlights of Blood on the Tracks, released in January 1975. Perhaps in part because he had reconciled with his wife, Dylan did not perform "Idiot Wind' during the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Tour that fall. But he added it to the spring 1976 leg, first performing it in concert in Lakeland, FL, on April 18. The version performed at Colorado State University on May 23, which contained numerous minor lyric changes (including the elimination of the chestnut mare reference, perhaps in deference to Roger McGuinn, who was on the tour) ,was filmed and recorded, then issued in September on the Hard Rain album and broadcast on the network television special of the show. After that, "Idiot Wind" disappeared from Dylan's set lists, and no one else seems to have recorded it. In 1991, the second recording of the song from September 19, 1974, was released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 [Rare & Unreleased].

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Blood on the Tracks 1975 Columbia / Legacy 7:47
The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 1991 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 8:52
The Genuine Bootleg Series 1996
No Image 1997 Columbia / Columbus
Masterpieces 1998 Columbia 10:01
No Image 2001 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 7:50
Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Time Out of Mind 2001 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 7:48
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 7:47
The Collection, Vol. 3: Blonde on Blonde/Blood on the Tracks/Infidels 2005 Legacy / Columbia 7:47
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia Records / Sony Music 10:12
More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14 2018 Columbia Records / Legacy / Sony CMG / Sony Music 9:14
Shelter from a Hard Rain Gossip 9:45