By Tony Attwood
… a totally personal view of some of the best moments from across the decades.
Looking through the masterpiece which is Mike Johnson’s on-going review of the Never Ending Tour (which as I write this has reached episode 126 I was surprised to find how few mentions there were of “Idiot Wind”). And indeed to find that Bob abandoned the song on stage in 1992. Mike gave the opinion – and a very valid one I think – that, “It must be a hell of a song to sustain, all that outrage and anger, over so many verses.” Adding, “It flashes like fire or not at all. It can’t be tamed. There is no sweetening the bitter pill. It is an aggrieved beast. “I think the 1976 Rolling Thunder versions are probably the best in performance terms….”
And as I don’t think we’ve published the video of that 1976 performance before (although Jochen fully examines it in his article on the song) so I thought I would add it here… except this video and recording isn’t quite all that it seems. But then I got suspicious with what I was hearing, and so for once didn’t leap in with my own commentary but instead read of the text beneath the video. If you take a read, you’ll see how this was achieved. It is not quite all that it seems.
And anyway, besides the very clever technical trickery used to achieve this there is the fact that the Rolling Thunder isn’t part of our “Never Ending Tour” series so I ventured on, seeing if I could find anything from our series.
The truth is Bob hasn’t performed this song that much, but this is from 1992, and it is a version that really does stand out for me… and it is interesting to compare with the full-on version above.
You can tell from the very start that this is a different approach – there is all the sadness and desperation, and yet it is more reflective than aggressive, with the music suddenly taken right down at the end of the opening sequence of lines.
And I find that works with the additional desperation of the following musical phrases – a desperation that also follows within the chorus. In short the vocal, for me, reflects the hopelessness of the lyrics which the approach of taking the whole song full on.
Consider, for example, the way Dylan now approaches the “I woke up on the roadside” series of lines – there is a total desperation in this musical arrangement, and the following lines – which then contrasts with the “Idiot Wind” lines of the chorus.
What’s more the instrumental break stays completely in line with the pain and anguish that Dylan brings forth in his vocals. Indeed the guitar part achieves this not just with the virtuosos performance by the fact that it includes pauses.
What’s more the upsinging that Bob engages in seems very much in keeping with the pain of the song – which is not always the case when used elsewhere, in my opinion.
This is not a comfortable version to listen to but then
One day you'll be in the ditchFlies buzzin' around your eyes Blood on your saddle
are not exactly comfortable lines. Indeed the harmonica solo makes this point even more strongly. So strongly in fact that although I am nominating this as a highlight, it is not, I must admit, one that I want to return to over and over. It is indeed a case of taking pain to the highest level that one can in music without simply playing discords one after the other.
Having played this version several times while preparing and writing this little piece, I feel I don’t want to hear it again. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because there is too much right with it. The music really does reflect all that is in the words – and there is only so much of that which I can take.
The (very personal) Absolute Highlights series
- 1: John Brown 1987
- 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- 3: She Belongs to Me
- 4: Tangled up in Blue
- 5: I and I – power without meaning
- 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.
- 7: Perfection in desolation – Gates of Eden
- 8: Girl from the North Country.
- 9: When He Returns
- 10: It’s alright Ma
- 11: Satisfied Mind
- 12: Visions of Johanna
- 13: Dark Eyes
- 14: Man in the long black coat
- 15: Don’t think twice (2000)
- 16: Silvio (1998)
- 17: Gates of Eden (2000)
- 18: One Too Many Mornings 2001.
- 19: It’s all over now baby blue 1994
- 20: The Wicked Messenger
- 21: Positively 4th Street (1994)
- 22: I and I
- 23: Restless Farewell
- 24: Botony Bay
- 25: Blind Willie McTell
- 26: Desolation Row
- 27: Love Minus Zero – 1992
- 28: Spanish Boots in Prague
- 29: The Levy’s Gonna Break