PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Between the Grooves

Between the Grooves offers our writers' individual, incisive insights into the cloaked, mercurial music and history that permeates the mysterious and allegorical littered world of Blood on the Tracks.

"You're a Big Girl Now" and "Idiot Wind"

#3
"You're a Big Girl Now"

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase

You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days

A few years ago I was watching, again, the great French film Les Enfants du Paradis(The Children of Paradise). About an hour into the first act, Baptiste has introduced himself to Garance, the woman he has loved at a distance, and is escorting her home. They share pertinent details of past experiences and how it has shaped their inner lives. He confesses his love for her. She cannot reciprocate the sentiment, but still embraces him and they kiss. She pulls back. Baptiste, cloudy and lovestruck, murmurs her name. Garance, holding eye contact, smiles and says softly, "Love is so simple." I looked up from the screen and thought of "You're a Big Girl Now", surprised I hadn't noticed it before.

Baptiste's flood of feelings and confession of love for Garance springs from his own inner conflation of dreams and reality. Garance, for her part, understands love more as an affectionate game, a reflection of her independence. The narrator of the song, like Baptiste, expresses romantic idealization. The beloved of the song, like Garance, is independent and self-reliant. The narrator of the song, like the men in the movie, holds no rancor for his beloved. Her independence is a feature of her attraction, it is her knowledge, which he is now coming to understand, even as he holds out the hope that through his understanding she may yet be possessed.

It is not that this is a song about the characters in Les Enfants du Paradis, but a response to the film is informing the narrator's understanding of the woman in question, I am surmising, as it informed Dylan's construction of the lyric. Dylan had definitely seen the film during this period, and spoke of it in several interviews. Les Enfants du Paradis is, in its way, wrapped into Dylan's work in the 1974-1977 period. He admired it as a film that "stopped time", an interest evident in Blood on the Tracks and Renaldo and Clara, conceptually and materially.

In the liner notes for the Biograph box set, Dylan had this to say about the song: "I read that this was supposed to be about my wife. I wish somebody would ask me first before they go ahead and print stuff like that. I mean it couldn't be about anybody else but my wife, right?" That is, don't misread the songs on Blood on the Tracks as exclusively autobiographical or confessional. Bob Dylan as an artist exhibits a great curiosity and an actor's capacity for projection and empathy. The album is filled with indirect references to other works.

It is the ache of the song which is so present in every listen. The plaintive cries mid-verse still cut; this is a sensitive soul in pain. The lyrics provide simple, precise images. The bird on the horizon both establishes an open, empty and spatial landscape, and that there is a currency to love and a price to pay even in reflection and articulation. In the last verse, in lines that border on banal, the narrator notes that great change is afoot, that he is reluctant to change, that it is causing him severe pain. But, as he has acknowledged, this is the hard road to maturity. Few love songs have realized or expressed such understanding. Jeff Carter

 

#4
"Idiot Wind"

"Idiot Wind" has anger issues. It opens on a note of paranoia, its chorus a remorseless string of insults. Over its seven-plus minutes, it levels accusation after accusation at someone who is powerless to respond, and ends with a patronizing attempt at pity. The song has a well-deserved reputation for raw, intemperate vitriol, which makes it particularly suitable for painful breakups. It's at once a postmortem of a failed relationship and a profound denial of such a failure, an anguished demand for explanations that can't possibly satisfy. When my friend's wife left him, he told me he listened to nothing but "Idiot Wind" for weeks, and I believed him.

For the recently rejected, "Idiot Wind" offers emotional triage, giving urgent voice to pressing feelings of disbelief and devastation over a love abruptly revealed as irreparably broken: "Your eyes don’t look into mine." "The wheels have stopped." "I can't feel you anymore." "You'll never know the hurt I suffered." "I'll never know … your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry." But the stark epiphanies are scattered among inscrutable fragments of narrative that render the jilted lover's confusion both grandiose and a little absurd. There's a dead wife, an inheritance, a fortune teller, a chestnut mare, soldiers and corpses, boxcars and buildings on fire while a priest watches impassively. It's fitting that the fragments don't add up and have multiple, contradictory meanings. Only momentum holds them together.

In his vocal delivery, Dylan sustains a level of defiant intensity that begins to seem unrelenting and a little scary. (This is even more pronounced on the live version on Hard Rain.) The reservoir of spite seems bottomless, powering his own tellingly idiotic-sounding yodel on the chorus. He relishes each ambiguous punchline at the end of every verse -- the "sweet lady" and the "you're on the bottom" and the "blood on your saddle" -- even as they begin to cut both ways. It's as though he's willing himself toward catharsis, even though the words won't cooperate. His ferocity doesn't sap itself; he refuses to sound a conciliatory note even when the lyrics seem to demand it. It's always a shock when the song suddenly ends, as there's so much palpable, untapped energy left in Dylan's performance. He's on the cusp of the catharsis that won't come.

It makes sense to turn to "Idiot Wind" with undressed emotional wounds, but not because the song serves as a salve. Instead, it seems to refresh the wound, keeping the flame of anger alive, urging fresh fantasies of vengeance: "I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long, I can’t remember what it’s like," Dylan sings, and he sounds almost pleased. After all, anger in some ways is preferable to facing what's beyond it, the recognition that betrayal is irreversible and fury is impotent.

But "Idiot Wind" also shows how anger finally abandons us to a more unsettling emptiness: "One day you’ll be in the ditch," Dylan sings, "flies buzzin’ around your eyes". The lines are hurled with contempt at a faithless lover, but they resonate, haunting everything that follows. One day, the flies will be buzzing around his eyes, and ours too. Is that what it means to "win the war after losing every battle"? Is that what it will take to be "double-crossed for the very last time," to be "finally free"? Maybe it's best not to be free; maybe it's better to go back to the beginning, listen to the song one more time, go through it all again. Rob Horning

Prev Page
Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.