The Story Behind “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan and Why He Wanted It to Be Like a Painting

Bob Dylan took an eight-year break from touring between 1966 and 1974. The news of his Tour ’74 caused ripples all around the world. He was reconnected with The Band, and they performed 40 arena shows in 21 cities. There had been occasional one-off concert appearances like The Concert for Bangladesh or a guest appearance on The Johnny Cash Show, but this was a full concert tour. After years of relative seclusion, Dylan was back in the limelight. He released Blood on the Tracks in January 1975. Reviews weren’t all positive upon its debut, but it is now regarded as one of Dylan’s best albums. Let’s look at the story behind one of its songs, “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan.

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Someone’s got it in for me
They’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is, I wish they’d cut it out quick
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

It Seemed Too Personal

Dylan had recently divorced, and many fans interpreted the song as autobiographical. In 1985, Dylan told author Bill Flanagan, “I thought I might have gone a little bit too far with ‘Idiot Wind.’ I might have changed some of it. I didn’t really think I was giving away too much; I thought that it seemed so personal that people would think it was about so-and-so who was close to me. It wasn’t. But you can put all these words together, and that’s where it falls. You can’t help where it falls. I didn’t feel that one was too personal, but I felt it seemed too personal. Which might be the same thing, I don’t know. But it never was painful. ‘Cause usually with those kinds of things, if you think you’re too close to something, you’re giving away too much of your feelings, well, your feelings are going to change a month later, and you’re going to look back and say, “What did I do that for?”

Idiot wind
Blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the back roads 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

He Wanted the Song to Be a Painting

Dylan was taking art classes at Carnegie Hall with Norman Raeben. “Idiot Wind” was a derogatory phrase used by the teacher, and Dylan may have picked it up from him. In 1978, Dylan told Rolling Stone, “He put my mind and my hand and my eye together in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt. And I didn’t know how to pull it off. I wasn’t sure it could be done in songs because I’d never written a song like that. But when I started doing it, the first album I made was Blood on the Tracks. Everybody agrees that that was pretty different, and what’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and also, there’s no sense of time. There’s no respect for it: you’ve got yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little that you can’t imagine not happening.”

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

Permission to Be Angry

Dylan has always had a profound effect on other entertainers. In 2021, Sinead O’Connor told Entertainment Weekly, “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. That’s why I love Bob Dylan. He’s utterly honest. He can be real f–king nasty.”

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

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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