Picking out a definitive performance of one of Bob Dylan’s many songs is an impossible task. When you’re as ubiquitous as music itself, as the freewheelin’ troubadour most certainly is, then chances are, no matter the fan, they will all have a different opinion on the perfect rendition of the song. However, for this writer, the greatest showing of Dylan’s ‘Idiot Wind’ came in 1976 as part of his famous Hard Rain TV special.
Dylan was in the middle of his notorious Rolling Thunder Revue and decided to provide NBC with a view of his new swashbuckling set. By this point, Dylan had been in the public eye for well over a decade and had seemingly only just begun to refine his sound. Far removed from the nervous folkie with his acoustic guitar and a head full of lyrics, the Dylan production was now a much bigger affair.
The NBC special, recorded in May but aired in September 1976, was a seismic event for the American public. The network, as well as for Dylan himself, had huge expectations as the planned show landed him a coveted spot on the front of the TV Guide. It put Dylan, the former protest songwriter, front and centre for American music and iconography. This would, in many ways, be the performance to cement him as a mega-star, the culmination of the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue, with the debut TV performance of his long-awaited album Hard Rain.
Instead of winning over the masses with a performance that would go down in history for all the right reasons, it is rather remembered as the turning point in Dylan’s public persona. The moment when he became a stand-off-ish figure who was now no longer concerned about appeasing the masses. This was something made abundantly clear on the biggest platform of them all.
Dylan barely cracked a smile during the whole special; rumours swirled that he and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sara, had been arguing for the entire Colorado visit and Dylan, weighed down by stress, was at the end of his respective tether which had affected him artistically. Rob Stoner had also spoken about how the band may have hit the bottle a little too hard before they took to the stage on that fateful evening. All of this may lead you to assume that he didn’t put in a good performance of his songs, but you’d be dead wrong.
The singer delivered in spades when it came to the art of performance. Never one to provide much extra padding to his show, the rendition of ‘Idiot Wind’ is particularly brilliant, perhaps owing to its caustic nature.
A ferocious rock and roll tale, the song is spewed out bile, that proves for all his wonderful, sweet touches and poignancy, Dylan’s often at his best when his pen is moved by rage. There are couplets with humour and mirthful scorn akin to the pithiness of the eponymous punk poet John Cooper Clarke. It’s a brutal tirade that any rapper would be happy to host on a diss track, all housed in a rolling earworm of a melody to boot.
This performance of the song, from 1976, is simply superb. It is ballsy and brash, backed up with perhaps Dylan’s greatest touring band and one of his finest moments with the track. Below, you can witness the greatest performance of ‘Idiot Wind’ Bob Dylan ever gave.