Song of the Day #1,434: ‘Idiot Wind’ – Bob Dylan

Best Albums of the 70s – #1
Blood On the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1975)

I doubt this pick will come as a surprise to anybody, particularly given that Bob Dylan hasn’t placed another album on this list. The 70s wasn’t his most successful decade, but it produced what may well be his best album.

Blood On the Tracks is the quintessential break-up album, a poetic chronicle of a dissolving marriage that simultaneously feels deeply personal and profoundly universal.

As often as I’ve listened to this album, I’ve never given much thought to its title. Are these railroad tracks, covered in the blood of somebody who was just run down by a metaphorical train (“He felt the heat of the night hit him like a freight train,” Dylan sings on ‘Simple Twist of Fate’)? Are these the tracks of a wounded animal (or man)? Or is there blood all over the individual tracks on the album?

Probably all three, knowing Dylan. At any rate, the album chronicles a journey — a painful one. A journey through love and loss, through a “pain that stops and starts, like a corkscrew to my heart” (one of my favorite Dylan images).

Most of these songs have a subdued, melancholy sound that matches the lyrics. The major exception is ‘Idiot Wind,’ which started as a delicate acoustic ballad but was reworked in the studio into a blistering screed. This is an angry and bitter song, but a deeply sad one. Its final verse (changed from the original version) sums up the spirit of the whole album:

“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.”

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out 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 ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven’t known peace and quiet 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, in the final end he won the wars
After losin’ every battle

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
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

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 down 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, 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 like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
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 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

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

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,434: ‘Idiot Wind’ – Bob Dylan

  1. andrea katz says:

    I think my last post evaporated. I was bragging about seeing Dylan’s Riolling Thunder Review in Gainesville 1976 and saying how Blood on the Tracks was the sound track to my college years. The poignance of Simple twist of Fate slays me every time I hear it. I love hearing songwriters in their own voice and Dylan typifies the best of the best for me. By the way, did I insert this or does the lyric go, “whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out QUICK, but when they will I can only guess?” Thanks for this choice today of my all time favorite genius.

  2. pegclifton says:

    I’m certainly not surprised that Dylan would appear as your number one choice. His music and especially his lyrics recently earned him the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” for his body of work. Obama stated that “there is no bigger giant in the history of American Music” I agree. This was a wonderful series on the 70’s–enjoyed it so much!

  3. Dana says:

    Good pickup on the lyric…he definitely says “quick,” :Dylan doesn’t always stick to the script of his own lyrics on the recordings. I’m sure there are other versions where he doesn’t sing the line the same way.

    Hard to say if this album would wind up on top of my list, but it would be close and it is indded no surprise that it tops your list. As we have discussed before, this is arguably Dylan’s best album, certainly my personal favorite., and given how strong his work was before this record, that is really saying something.

    While “Tangled Up In Blue” remains my favorite on this record (and by extension my favorite Dylan song), “Idiot Wind” is probably my second favorite on this album. Love “Simple Twist of Fate” also. Hell, they’re all great on this album!

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