July 26, 2021

Peter Stone Brown Archives

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Ginsberg on Idiot Wind

This is just part of the Ginsberg section in the book ‘NYC Babylon: From Beat To Punk’ by Victor Bockris, published by Omnibus Press.

There is a lot more about Dylan but this bit blew my mind. Ginsberg pins down with quite alarming accuracy and insight some of the truly rare and unique magic Dylan makes onstage. I hope Dylan has read what his friend Allen had to say about
him as a poet, and a performer.

The interview was taped in Dec 77. He’s talking here about Idiot Wind:

Well, it just seemed a very noble song, like the kind of nobility you don’t often see, the nobility of a great bard. Which is what the whole Rolling Thunder tour was about. And also a very strange alchemical thing in the sense that he had to take all this money and all this machinery and all this electricity to create a ten-foot-square spot where he would be completely free to stamp his foot in time to what he hears in his own head as music, and create on the spot a new rhythm each time
he played ‘Idiot Wind’ or any other song, and play each song differently each time with all the musicians completely there in their bodies, alert, listening, sensitive, receptive, and respondent to his changes of time and beat, his elongation of the vowels, so they get up on the stage and howl, in the sense of elongated vowels, with complete self-confidence and authority and solace, solitary loneliness, in the middle of 27,000 people and half a million dollars worth of equipment: in a ten-foot square place where one person can totally express
himself freely and actually express a good deal of the emotion of the crowd of people around him, speak for people in a sense, speak for others, speak for himself and others at the same time. So ‘Idiot Wind’ seems to me like an acme of that.

On the Hard Rain album, even in diminished volume, there’s still the sense of slowdown of time and the slowdown of the song and even the gaps in the song where there’s a moment of silence, and you don’t know whether the song is continuing, and all of a sudden it continues with the same logic as before. So he’s stepping in and out of time. It’s
noticeable in the fantasticalness of his pronunciation of consonants. The thing that I kept thinking is that expression on his face which looks like pain and/or disdain, or sneer, is really just a mouth working, his face trying to pull back his
teeth to pronounce his ‘t’s clearly enough to be heard into the microphone, to hear a single ‘t’ or an ‘s’ above all the roar of the other electrical instruments, to be heard as a human syllable and be understood by the ear so that music had word, it had word in there. That’s why he’s a great poet in the sense of great orator. That’s the best oratory I’ve heard, or the best recitation of poetry. It was a great poetry reading …

In between the concerts we made movies, almost every day there was a scene to act in, so that would take up half a day or morning: we worked very hard putting on a concert and making movies simultaneously, no chance to get up and laze around all day and not worry about anything and then jump into another concert. Dylan actually was working on the afternoon of a concert: like going out to Kerouac’s grave in a caravan and sitting there, and then having a concert in Lowell that night. Singing all the night before and having to
get up at 10 am or something, a lot of energy.
Since the tour, he’s just disappeared from my vision. Gone back up to heaven.