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.”