Foot of Pride

It doesn’t quite matter how you approach Foot of Pride, there’s something very odd about it.  According to the booklet notes it is very rarely commented upon, and one can understand why.  Apart from the fact that it never made it onto a mainstream album (it’s an outtake from Infidels, along with Blind Willy McTell) it is, well, quite plainly, odd.


Musically it is a variant 12 bar blues – but greatly extended.  In B major you get the B, B, E, B section that you’d expect, and then a chorus section with the repeated “Well there ain’t no going back” bit.


The 12 bar format, we must never forget, was created for the simplest of popular music: the blues.  It is the chordal format for “Well I woke up this morning, blues falling down like hail” – that simple yet elegant statement of falling into the abyss.  It was never intended for something as complex as Foot of Pride with its internal rhymes and lines of ever changing length.


It is probable that this is what Dylan was wanting to play with – just how far can you stretch the old 12 bar format without it breaking.  And the answer is, well, this far.  Which is a long way.


What works here is Dylan’s performance.  If he hadn’t been100% with the lyrics he’d never have got his way around them.  The band hold themselves together in the face of this torrent of words, although they do speed up slightly (shame on you Mr Knoffler).


But for what purpose?  Or is it just an experiment?


Even the opening two lines take us to another world, where the realities of our domain don’t apply.


“Like the lion tears flesh off of a man

So can a woman who passes herself off as a male”


You see my point.  It isn’t actually anything.  That’s not to say it isn’t about anything – it is beyond that.  It isn’t anything.  


The booklet that comes with the boxed set of the Bootleg 1 to 3 collection makes a decent fist of the problem, but even so…   There’s Christian religion allusions mixed up with people who are self-possessed, self-obsessed, inward looking, defensive…  But that first verse really doesn’t quite fit, and the people we are hearing about change from verse to verse without any explanation.


What it reminds me of – and it is a strange think to think about when hearing a piece of Dylan obscuranti – is the cover of Strange Days, by the Doors.  All these freaks and oddities, there for no reason.


It is a really interesting song, not least because of the quality of singing and playing, but above all if you listen to it too much, instead of insight and awareness, the only thing you are left with is madness.  When Dylan says, “I’m going to look at you, til my eyes go blind,” you want to say, “Oh if only I had thought of that.  When he says, “Your time will come, let hot iron blow as he raised the shade,” you are thinking, “I am so glad I never thought of that.”

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19 Responses to Foot of Pride

  1. patsludden says:


    You’re writing them quicker than Bob did! lol

  2. zimmy1 says:

    I always thought Dylan was talking about someone or something?as he mentions “they” so many times.In my mind i always thought it was something religious, good or evil im not sure.

    They sang “Danny Boy” at his funeral and the Lord’s Prayer
    they’ll choose a man for you to meet to nite
    They like to take all this money from sin, build big universities to study in
    They got some beautiful people out there, man
    They can be a terror to your mind and show you how to hold your tongue
    They got mystery written all over their forehead
    They kill babies in the crib and say only the good die young
    They don’t believe in mercy Judgement on them is something that you’ll never see
    They can exalt you up or bring you down main route Turn you into anything that they want you to be

  3. Paul Latini says:

    It is a great song, beautifully performed.

  4. Chuck Gibson says:

    There’s a reference to “foot of pride” in Psalm 36, verse 11, in the King James Version.

  5. zippy says:

    I would have thought the dead person (referred to as “he,” through the song) was actually a woman, presumably bent on climbing the hill of power and influence. Commentary perhaps on the shameful political power games, traditionally the realm of men, which were and are increasingly becoming a blood sport for women too.

    All together I think this is one of his best, in my book. He’s hammering all the right notes and criticizing the worst in society, the plutocrats and politicans who make and break young up-and-comers, like the young lad/lady in this song, without a thought.

  6. anthony aardvark says:

    This recording never fails to elicit the little madness of which Tony refers. Indeed, Dylan’s performance sells it. “There ain’t no goin’ back…” feels as much a threat as a belief.
    Though the aphorism about meeting the same people on the way up as you will when they’re coming down must be ages old, I can’t help but think that he’s quoting Ralph Kramden when he sings it.
    Dylan covers a lot of ground. I love this song too.

  7. Ian Marshall says:

    Your reference “Your time will come, let hot iron blow as he raised the shade,”

    I think it is symbolic of the firey furnace or hell when somebody dies. Sometimes a furnace is within a container and to access it you have to open the door or lift a shutter, so i think it is about the end of a persons life who hasnt lived for christ and is scoffing at God and loving the pleasures of carnality. “Your time will come”

  8. Joseph Griffiths says:

    Apparently this song was written shortly after Dylan ceased being a Christian. Read the lyrics again with that in mind and you may understand what he’s talking about better. Very cynical…

  9. L. Jon Small says:

    Re: zimmy 1’s attempted partial lyric reference –

    “bring you down main route”? main route?! What does that even mean? How does it fit the rhyme scheme? Am I the only one who thinks the following works a little better?:

    They can exalt you up
    Or bring you down, bankrupt
    Turn you into anything
    That they want want you to be

  10. jackstraw says:

    It was 1983 man! Reagan was president! Terrorists! Hijackings, hostages! Lesbians and TV evangelist! “They’d like to take all his money from sin,build big universities to study in,sing amazing grace all the way to the swiss banks” I get it! Haha! He was just finished with his religious kick…it topical with the times! He smoked a shit load of hash and observed.

  11. Baucent says:

    Packed with Biblical references for those who can see them, this is Dylan’s attempt at a Psalm. As pointed out “Foot of Pride” comes from Psalm 36, and like the Psalmist he rants at the wicked, the hypocrites, the rich. Probably he wasn’t satisfied with it since it never made the cut.

  12. steven twyford says:

    Gay pride?
    Is it a anti gay song?

  13. Kimberly says:

    This song has just recently opened up for me. I never liked it very much until very recently. Now I can’t get enough of listening to it. I love the words, his vocal delivery, those sharp harmonica breaks. I think Chuck is correct in quoting Psalm 36:11. I would question Joseph’s assertion that Dylan “ceased being a Christian.” We do not have evidence that he “ceased being a Christian” in 1983 or at any point. Tony, I think your writing on this is excellent. This song is bottomless, like all of the best Dylan songs. And when we listen to it, we should keep this in mind: “May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. See how the evildoers lie fallen – thrown down, not able to rise.” Psalm 36: 11-12 (NIV)

    Keep the analyses coming, Tony. I love reading your stuff!

  14. Kimberly says:

    Also: ‘Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”‘ Luke 9:60

  15. hans altena says:

    I learned to know this song through the record Last Infidels Outtakes, where the backing band sounds blurred, and anyway they hardly know what to do with the structure, only the organ manages to add some tension, and the bass ads some licks, but as if in a rap Dylan’s singing carries the whole song and goes to any unexpected corner the simple melody and rhythm tried to hide, making it into a swaggering powerhouse. But more important, it is one of those songs from the beginning of the eighties where Dylan taps into that same universe of floating images as he did in 65 until 67. It started during the Shot of Love sessions, with Carribean Wind and Angelina and lasted until Brownsville Girl, though there he already applied a much more rational approach, just as in Blood on the Tracks. The difficulty in getting into this dense poetry lies in the fact that in the sixties he delved into the folk roots, complete with biblical allusions, street slang and beat writings that had its origins in surreal and experimental high literature, together it formed a whole that enabled us to understand although sometimes only through intuïtion. In the eighties he became more scriptural and in the same time applied the abstract approach he had learned in the days of Tangled up in Blue, where his rational way of putting it together helped him form a story with it. Here no normal storyline applies and neither do the images flow together, rather more they collide, because this time the field he covers is that of a religious seer and a poet from the realm of rock he himself created and these two impersonations of his gemini nature contradict. It wouldn’t be until Time out of Mind and especially Love and Theft that he found a way to synthesize things by starting to act as a grifter of ideas and images, mashing them together in his mambo of songs that seem to stem from eternity’s well, with an old time feel and a radical modern method of cut and paste. But back to the song at hand, once we have accustomed to the almost schizophrenic nature of the poem and open our ears to the lyrical and intense singing an apocalyptic landscape unfolds where every fragment of the destroyed environment tkes on an ominous meaning, calling for a redemption of the mind. Dare to descend into this maelstrom and maybe you find some reason. For instance, yes, I presume the first victim of Dylan’s wrath is a feminist lost in a man’s world she wanted to adapt to to get as high (low in Dylan’s opinion) as the men themselves, and from there on a calvacade of persons lost in vain passes before our eyes while the singer gives voice to many that pass by this carnavalesk row of people doomed to fall. No need to get into the details, they are quite explicit if you are not hampered by a deficit of poetic imagination and avoid trying to connect what has fallen apart, this burning world before our eyes. Right now as refugees flood over our borders of old Europe, I cannot help but find reason in this strange but powerful song.

  16. harvey gower says:

    A lot of insight here –enjoyable reading. My favorite verse is one with the Eroll Flynn reference and the final nail driven in.

  17. Kevin Porter says:

    Totally agree with L John Small over the word “bankrupt”
    “They can exalt you up or bring you down, bankrupt
    Turn you into anything that they want want you to be”

    And I’ve always thought that the closing lyric was:

    “Your time will come. Let hot irons glow while you lay in the shade.”

    It’s a prophesy of eternal damnation in hell after death for those who complacently fail to address the sinfulness in their lives.

    Foot of Pride seems to me a good companion song to Jokerman.

  18. Tony says:

    All I know is that Lou Reed absolutely killed this song at Dylans Bday bash it was totally amazing, I never read much into his mind, but I love Dylan all the same.. Poet indeed

  19. Paul Lasecki says:

    I have read in more than one place…that Dylan wrote this song in part as a reaction and to express his disappointment in the hypocrisy he eventually saw in some of the leaders of the Vineyard Church. Remember when Dylan first got saved he threw himself completely and totally Intuit he made it 100% commitment going to church every day and bible study every day for months and months. At a certain point, the reports go, Dylan started seeing hypocracy in the only organized Christianity he had been exposed to and some of the lyrics reflected some of the reason why Dylan abruptly cut ties with the vineyard Fellowship.go.

    Some of my favorite some of Dylan’s best images and lyrics here…. I always loved the economy of the line about singing Amazing Grace to the Swiss banks….. And the line about a whore passing the hat around and collecting $100 and saying hey thanks.

    There are so many other great lines in this song right now the only one I’m going to mention is the one it goes there are some beautiful people here man they can be a terror to your mind love that line I absolutely love it I love Dylan’s reading of it and at Bob Fest Lou Reed’s delivery it is classic as well……Gosh…great lines just keep popping into my head…..the rhyme sequence of in these times of compassion when conformities in fashion…… Genius

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