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.