I Ching

Bob Dylan and the I Ching: Thunder at the Well


I threw the I Ching yesterday
Said there might be some thunder at the well
Peace and quiet’s been avoiding me
For so long it seems like living hell

Bob Dylan, Bootleg version of Idiot Wind

A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying that type of pain, you know?

Bob Dylan, on Blood on the Tracks

From Andy Whitman in Arts and Faith

It’s hard to know how to approach the phenomenon of bootlegs — the real ones, not the officially sanctioned releases that Columbia has been doling out from their vaults for the past eighteen years. Officially this album doesn’t even exist. Except it does, you know, and if you’re a Dylan fan, and particularly a fan of Blood on the Tracks, you might want to track it down. No, I didn’t say that.

The story goes like this: In September, 1974, Bob Dylan hired a handful of NYC musicians, went into the studio, and recorded the batch of tunes that came to be known as Blood on the Tracks. Dissatisfied with the results, Dylan scrapped everything, and then traveled to Minneapolis, where he re-recorded the songs that were then released on the official album. But the New York sessions are widely available, and reveal a fascinating glimpse into the heart and mind of a mercurial singer and songwriter.

In general, the New York sessions are more relaxed and more monochromatic than the officially released songs. Dylan’s dissatisfaction is understandable; he recorded ten tracks that didn’t vary appreciably in terms of tempo or instrumentation, and the official release is far more interesting from a dynamic standpoint. But that’s not to say that there aren’t treasures galore. Almost every song has been tweaked between the New York and Minneapolis sessions, and some of them –notably “Idiot Wind,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” — sound radically different. The snarling tirade on “Idiot Wind” — one of its defining characteristics — is noticeably absent on the New York sessions. More significantly, Dylan simply rewrote most of these tracks. It’s mind-boggling. The verses that Dylan fans know by heart, these iconically memorable lines. seemingly emerged off the cuff. And the verses that were replaced, that can only be heard on the bootleg, are

I threw the I Ching yesterday
Said there might be some thunder at the well
Peace and quiet’s been avoiding me
For so long it seems like living hell

No less revelatory, the imagery leaping off the page, even without the musical accompaniment:

That one didn’t make it on to the official release. Whatever. Most songwriters would give their first born to record songs as great as the ones Bob Dylan never bothered to release. In any event, if you’d like an alternate, but no less remarkable, take on a classic album, the New York sessions deliver in spades. And hearts, both broken and intact.


I Ching
Richard Wilhelm & Cary F. Baynes translation, 1950

51. Chên / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)


The hexagram Chên represents the eldest son, who seizes rule with energy
and power. A yang line develops below two yin lines and presses upward forcibly.
This movement is so violent that it arouses terror. It is symbolized by thunder,
which bursts forth from the earth and by its shock causes fear and trembling.


SHOCK brings success.
Shock comes— oh, oh!
Laughing words— ha, ha!
The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.

The shock that comes from the manifestation of God within the depths of the
earth makes man afraid, but this fear of God is good, for joy and merriment
can follow upon it. When a man has learned within his heart what fear and
trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside
influences. Let the thunder roll and spread terror a hundred miles around:
he remains so composed and reverent in spirit that the sacrificial rite is not
interrupted. This is the spirit that must animate leaders and rulers of men—
a profound inner seriousness from which all terrors glance off harmlessly.


Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK.
Thus in fear and trembling
The superior man sets his life in order
And examines himself.

The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling. The superior man
is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of God; he sets his life
in order and searches his heart, lest it harbor any secret opposition to the
will of God. Thus reverence is the foundation of true culture.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *