Bob Dylan and the Fine Line Between Love and Hate

The two Bob Dylan songs below, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and “Idiot Wind,” show a drastic range of human emotions.  Like several of Dylan’s songs, these two were inspired by his first wife, Sara Lownds, who is also the mother of Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers.  The songs reflect the vast divide between being in love and being angry at one you once loved.

The first is “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” released as the final song on Blonde on Blonde in 1966, early in his 1965-1977 marriage to Lownds.  (“Lowlands”/Lownds, get it?)  The song is used to great effect in the recent movie “about” Bob Dylan, I’m Not There.  Although the lyrics are not a clear narrative, the poetry and the music convey pure affection:  “With your silhouette when the sunlight dims / Into your eyes where the moonlight swims  / And your match-book songs and your gypsy hymns.”

The second song, is “Idiot Wind,” written almost a decade later in 1974 and released on Blood on the Tracks as the Dylan-Lownds relationship was crumbling.  The performance below from the 1976 Rolling Thunder Tour is amazing for its intensity and venom.  It’s Bob Dylan punk.  To his surprise, Sara showed up at the concert, and he is performing it for her.  You can see what he is feeling.  This blog post title’s reference to “hate” is not really accurate, as I should describe it more as pain and anguish covered to seem like anger.  But one may only guess her feelings hearing this song.

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
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.

There is some debate about how much of the song is really about Lownds and how much is about other things going on in Dylan’s life at the time.  Dylan being Dylan, he leaves it ambiguous, as it is for the artist to let the listeners hear for themselves.  One of the brilliant touches is the final chorus where the angry finger-pointing evolves into a more understanding and humble “we’re idiots, babe. . . .”    That line sounds more convincing in a slower and sadder version of the song he initially recorded for Blood on the Tracks before rerecording the song and replacing it with the angrier version that ended up on the album.  That alternate version is worth seeking out.  It is available on the first official “Bootleg” series  his record label released in 1991, and it is also available on various unofficial bootlegs of the New York City Sessions version of Blood on the Tracks.

Below is the angry live performance during the Rolling Thunder Tour with Lownds in the audience.  The performance, which is also available on the Hard Rain live album, is worth seeking out. If you’ve ever been angry at someone, put it on full screen and crank it up loud.

Bonus: The alternate slower and sadder version of “Idiot Wind” from the New York Sessions may be heard here.

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    6 thoughts on “Bob Dylan and the Fine Line Between Love and Hate”

    1. Thanks for posting this. How can I have 35 Dylan albums and still not not have so much? I’m down to picking at the “less well received” albums from the 70s and 80s, and it’s become a real question as to what Dylan to get next when I’m in the mood for more. This helped me realize that I need Hard Rain. I had always thought it a bummer that “Idiot Wind” wasn’t included on the Rolling Thunder Revue boot.

      I first got around to listening to the unreleased New York session tracks four or so months ago (I knew the ones from Bootleg 1-3 and Biograph). I find them interesting (especially for the lyrical changes up like those with “Tangled”) but I think Dylan made the right choice to recut what he did.

      You have lots of good stuff here on this blog, and your taste in tunes is to be commended. 😉

    2. I am glad you enjoying the site. Your comments about Dylan remind me of an essay where Chuck Klosterman (I think) wrote once about how is not really a Dylan fan and then went on to list a large number of Dylan albums that he owns. There is so much there.

      I agree that he probably made the right choice about the unreleased New York sessions, although I still like to go back and listen to those versions occasionally.

    3. Enjoyed reading this…..been listening to Hard Rain alot lately. I get on kicks and go with one album for a period of time….so much material to choose from.
      It’s upsetting how they are removing Dylan’s work from You Tube…they are disappearing from my favorites, everytime I turn around another one is gone.
      Just purchased Last Waltz DVD finally, as I was afraid they’d pull those great vids.
      Enjoyed this and your tweets……thanks!

    4. Thanks for the comment. I agree that it is too bad that we cannot enjoy the videos on YouTube. I would think that they did more to encourage sales of the music than anything else, so I am a little puzzled by the decision. The Last Waltz is a great DVD!

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