"Idiot Wind" boasts some of Dylan's most malicious lyrics:
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
This song was written in the summer of 1974, when Bob was separating from his then-wife, Sara. Although Dylan has reportedly since denied this song is about his former wife, Bob and Sara's son, Jakob, claims this, and many other songs on Blood on the Tracks, are "his parents talking."
On one level, this is another of Dylan's angry songs of moral condemnation, in the same category as "Positively 4th Street
" or "Masters Of War
." This time, however, the song is more reflective, as the narrator turns the dissecting knife on himself in the final verse, with the lines:And I'll never know the same about you
Your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry
By the final chorus, the "you" has become "we":We're idiots, babe
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves
This lyrical twist elevates the song, causing it to transcend a work of condemnatory catharsis and become a song about the universality of human foolishness.
Dylan re-recorded this in Minnesota while visiting his brother, David. Local musicians were brought in to play with Dylan, while David helped out with production. Dylan liked the results and decided to redo four other songs on the album, including "Tangled Up In Blue
Of the songs Dylan reworked, this one changed the most. Dylan gave it different lyrics and a faster pace than the version he first recorded in New York.
Paul Williams has written that Norman Raeben suggested the word "idiot" to Dylan during an art class in 1974. Raeben's widow later said Norman felt there was "an idiot wind blowing and blinding all human existence," and that "idiot" was one of his favorite words.
Dylan denied that this or any other song on Blood On The Tracks was about his divorce. "That was a song I wanted to make as a painting," he said. "A lot of people thought that song, that album Blood On The Tracks, pertained to me. Because it seemed to at the time. It didn't pertain to me. It was just a concept of putting in images that defy time - yesterday, today, and tomorrow."
The musicians who played on this were not credited on the album because the packaging had already been printed with the musicians from the New York sessions getting the credit.
The line, "From the Grand Coulee Dam to The Capitol" indicates the length of the United States. The Grand Coulee Dam is in Washington State, The Capitol is on the other side of the country in Washington, D.C. The line is also a nod to Woody Guthrie, who wrote a song called "Grand Coulee Dam
Dylan performed "Idiot Wind" on May 23, 1976, at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado. The performance is remembered for its angry, almost boisterous delivery. Sara Dylan was reportedly front row at the concert, prompting fans to believe this is why Dylan sang it with such snarling ferocity. The recording of the Fort Collins concert can be found on the live album, Hard Rain.
Blood On The Tracks was the first album Dylan recorded under his new contract with Columbia Records, which paid him a lot more than his old one. Dylan left Columbia a year earlier to sign with David Geffen's label, Asylum Records.
Ellen Bernstein was Dylan's girlfriend after his divorce from Sarah Lownds. She said that Dylan worked and reworked the lyrics to the song constantly.
An acoustic version recorded in New York and sung with more sorrow than anger was released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3. Glenn Berger, author of Never Say No to a Rock Star, says that after recording it, Dylan asked, "Was it sincere enough?"
Dylan has stated that "Idiot Wind" is about the expression of willpower. He told Jonathan Cott, "With strength of will you can do anything. With willpower you can determine your destiny."
The song is full of Biblical imagery, some obvious and some less so. The "lone soldier on the cross" is a conspicuous reference to crucifixion, and the priest wearing "black on the seventh day" is self-explanatory.
"What's good is bad, what's bad is good," meanwhile, is possibly a reference to Isiah 5:20: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."
This isn't really that much of a stretch, considering Dylan's penchant for using the Bible in his songs.
Blood on the Tracks assistant engineer Glenn Berger recalled Dylan's recording of the track to Uncut magazine:
"He's cutting 'Idiot Wind' and just spitting this mean, angry and hurtful song, and it's so incredibly intense and vulnerable and real. And then he turns to us in the control room and says, 'Was that sincere enough?' I think it was such an intense emotion that he had to make some distance from it, by making that funny remark."
Hootie & the Blowfish lifted some lines from this song ("Said I shot a man named Gray, took his wife to Italy...") verbatim in their 1994 hit "Only Wanna Be With You
." They are huge Dylan fans and did it in tribute, but Dylan took legal action and received a settlement.
This song was a huge influence on Sinead O'Connor. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2021: "Bob Dylan gave me permission to be angry because of his song 'Idiot Wind.' None of us would like to be the person he's talking to [in the song]. That's why I love Bob Dylan. He's utterly honest. He can be real f--king nasty."