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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 11:45 GMT 

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After a lot of head scratching and navel gazing, and with a little bit of advice from Tom the door-to-door ice cream salesman, I have an analysis of one of Bob’s finest songs, Visions of Johanna, for your consideration and discussion.

The song is basically a dark night of the soul and either a lament for a lost lover or a longing for a perfect love (or both).

I would suggest, for the sake of this narrative, that Bob has split from his lover (Johanna) and is living with two friends (Louise and her lover) in their loft space. In his book Chronicles, it is documented that Bob stayed at a lot of different friends’ places in the 60s during his time in New York.

Louise sympathises with Bob’s heartache, but later goes to sleep to leave Bob to stay up all night and through to the dawn with his thoughts.

The song is written in five stanzas. I will give my comments after each one:

Stanza 1:
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

‘And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it’ - Louise is sympathizing with Bob’s heartache but also telling him that it is fate and that he should just accept it.

Country and Western music – that bastion of hard-luck-songs, just isn’t connecting with him. He feels numb and detached.

Seeing Louise in love with her partner and ‘Lights flicker from the opposite loft’ only accentuate his feelings of isolation that other people are enjoying life and love and he isn’t.

Stanza 2:
In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

This first lines suggest the power of women in love’s game is something that Bob (‘the watchman’) needs to come to terms with. Prostitutes (the ladies) are using their power to mock men and make money.

Louise, with her lover, is reflecting to Bob all the things that he is missing.

‘The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face’ – one of Bob’s most loved lines – and one of my favorites. Louise is peacefully asleep; Bob is still awake, tormented by his thoughts of ‘Johanna’. The ‘ghost of electricity’ could be artificial light, from an adjacent room or a street light, reflecting on Louise’s serene face. The line contrasts Bob’s tormented state of mind to Louise’s peacefulness, in a disturbing and almost violent manner. A brilliant line though, whatever it means.

Stanza 3:
Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

A bit confusing this stanza:

Maybe, Bob is now alone – the others are asleep – and he is talking to himself, internally. The ‘he’ and ‘me’ are both Bob. He is depressed and is questioning his own self esteem.

Or it could be that Bob is talking disparagingly about Louise’s lover. Jealous and resentful that he is in a relationship.

Stanza 4:
Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

Bob vents his frustrations against passive people. Having loved and lost he feels that at least he is an active participant of life.

‘Infinity goes up on trial’ could be the battle between faith and reason, religion against science – the cold reasoning that if you don’t love then you won’t get hurt. Active against passive.

The habit that some people have of collecting art and then thinking that they own a piece of life or of salvation is seen by him to be a ridiculous point of view.

‘Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule’, another of his infamous lines, could be ‘passive’ art critics – like old women that get dressed up to go to a theatre, carrying binoculars to see the performance from their VIP box. They know nothing of real life; they are only interested in their social standing and appearance.

Stanza 5:
The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

Louise (the countess) and her lover (the peddler) wake up. Louise’s lover resents Bob being around. Louise berates him for his insensitivity. Bob has a low opinion of Louise’s lover, hence the contrast in status between countess and peddler.

Bob has been up all night, but he still feels bad; he hasn’t had any kind of divine help (Madonna, she still has not showed) so he gets ready to leave.

The city is waking up (the fish truck is loading) and he now comes to the realization that he (the fiddler) should just keep on keeping on with his singing career. He has a head overloaded with ideas and thoughts that he decides are best channeled into his songwriting and performing.

‘Skeleton keys’ open all doors; ‘rain’ the expression of sorrow. He (the harmonica playing songwriter) now believes his road to salvation lies with himself and his songs. (Good news for us music fans.)

As to who ‘Johanna’ is – it’s not so important, is it? I don’t think knowing who she is would add or detract anything from an amazing song. It could also be that Johanna is not a real person at all, but a yearning for a perfect love – either from a woman or from God.


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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 12:44 GMT 
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To back all that up, i was told she was in fact an Asian Woman. sent by God. I have been told.


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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 20:47 GMT 

Joined: Mon June 15th, 2009, 02:35 GMT
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It all sounds quite possible, but I would venture to suggest there are multiple interpretations to this (and to most) Bob songs. I have always seen a spiritual dimension to this one, with Johanna having a biblical ring and maybe implying a vision of some truth that the singer is searching for. Meanwhile, he's stuck in this sordid world with the likes of Louise and her lover, so entwined, so earthy. In the last verse he rejects all this, implying that even though the spiritual truth seems unobtainable he still feels the need to pursue it.


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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 21:02 GMT 

Joined: Wed June 14th, 2006, 10:23 GMT
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A most thoughtful and welcome post John99. I love a lot of
what you say about this magnificent song.

I would say that the least controversial statement in Bobland
is: "Visions of Johanna is a truly great song.'' You would also
find little disagreement with the statement: "Visions of Johanna
is one of Bob Dylan's greatest songs, if not his greatest song.''

As an aside, I wonder if the parents of the much-loved moderator
about these parts, Ms Johanna Parker, named her after the song?
She mentioned in a post recently that she is about to turn 29, which
means she was born in 1982. In other words, the Christian born again
period was well under way and Blonde on Blonde was about 15 years
old. In any event, Johanna is a lovely name, I think; markedly more
delightful (in my view) than variations like Joanne and Joanna,
though those too are lovely names.

As to the 'meaning' of the song, I think you can read lots of stuff into
it, but the best way to go is to just sort of roll with the idea that there
are a couple of women somewhere on or off the scene, and that the
narrator (or narrators) is/are musing on them.


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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 21:12 GMT 
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Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.


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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 21:58 GMT 
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John99 wrote:
After a lot of head scratching and navel gazing, and with a little bit of advice from Tom the door-to-door ice cream salesman, I have an analysis of one of Bob’s finest songs, Visions of Johanna, for your consideration and discussion.

The song is basically a dark night of the soul and either a lament for a lost lover or a longing for a perfect love (or both).

I would suggest, for the sake of this narrative, that Bob has split from his lover (Johanna) and is living with two friends (Louise and her lover) in their loft space. In his book Chronicles, it is documented that Bob stayed at a lot of different friends’ places in the 60s during his time in New York.

Louise sympathises with Bob’s heartache, but later goes to sleep to leave Bob to stay up all night and through to the dawn with his thoughts.


I like picturing that it may have been conceived like that, and it then makes it even better to watch the poetry fill in the maybe real events.

The next part you said is the best example of that

John99 wrote:
‘The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face’ – one of Bob’s most loved lines – and one of my favorites. Louise is peacefully asleep; Bob is still awake, tormented by his thoughts of ‘Johanna’. The ‘ghost of electricity’ could be artificial light, from an adjacent room or a street light, reflecting on Louise’s serene face. The line contrasts Bob’s tormented state of mind to Louise’s peacefulness, in a disturbing and almost violent manner. A brilliant line though, whatever it means.



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PostPosted: Mon March 12th, 2012, 22:06 GMT 
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SquareTotemPole wrote:
A most thoughtful and welcome post John99. I love a lot of
what you say about this magnificent song.


As an aside, I wonder if the parents of the much-loved moderator
about these parts, Ms Johanna Parker, named her after the song?
She mentioned in a post recently that she is about to turn 29, which
means she was born in 1982. In other words, the Christian born again
period was well under way and Blonde on Blonde was about 15 years
old. In any event, Johanna is a lovely name, I think; markedly more
delightful (in my view) than variations like Joanne and Joanna,
though those too are lovely names.



That is a pretty name, and I didn't realize it was a real name for JohannaParker, but thought it was a made up screen name: "Johanna" from the song, and Parker from the action character. Peter Parker. (The super-human Spider-man, everywhere at once, :lol: because of being a moderator)


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 01:29 GMT 
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SquareTotemPole wrote:
I wonder if the parents of the much-loved moderator
about these parts, Ms Johanna Parker, named her after the song?
She mentioned in a post recently that she is about to turn 29, which
means she was born in 1982. In other words, the Christian born again
period was well under way and Blonde on Blonde was about 15 years
old. In any event, Johanna is a lovely name, I think; markedly more
delightful (in my view) than variations like Joanne and Joanna,
though those too are lovely names.
Could you get a room with your visions of Ms Johanna please?


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 07:33 GMT 

Joined: Wed June 14th, 2006, 10:23 GMT
Posts: 813
Location: St James Hotel
You're probably quite right Belle Laugh.

More fool me. Who these days would put their own real
name on a forum such as these?

I suppose it just sounds like a conventional Western name,
so I took it at face value. Of course, the name I go by is
on my birth certificate, well certainly an anagram of some of
the letters. Well, a couple of the letters. Three, I think it is,
now that I review the letters involved.

In other words, it is as true as the average.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 13:08 GMT 
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raging_glory wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.


Yes - if it was called 'Visions Of Annoying Goofy Cow ', it would be easier to accept that reading....


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 13:10 GMT 
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raging_glory wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.


What reason is that? Not lovely enough for you? I don't think it makes a big difference, but that's a strange phobia.

Did Dylan lift the ending from Gene Clark's "If You're Gone"


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 13:41 GMT 
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henrypussycat wrote:
raging_glory wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.


What reason is that? Not lovely enough for you? I don't think it makes a big difference, but that's a strange phobia.

Did Dylan lift the ending from Gene Clark's "If You're Gone"


Why would you assume it has anything to do with loveliness? Very odd.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 15:49 GMT 
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raging_glory wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.[/q

What reason is that? Not lovely enough for you? I don't think it makes a big difference, but that's a strange phobia.

Did Dylan lift the ending from Gene Clark's "If You're Gone"

Why would you assume it has anything to do with loveliness? Very odd.


OK, mystery man, what could it possibly have to do with? Did she commit some sort of social crime? Something else that you find repulsive? What, you don't like her singing and that repels you? I assume you're representing some deep and hip aesthetic choice; what is it?


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 16:14 GMT 
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How could it possibly be about Joan Baez?


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 16:24 GMT 
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Bennyboy wrote:
How could it possibly be about Joan Baez?


You ever had an ex-girlfriend you missed? That's one possibility that seems plausible enough.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 16:25 GMT 
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henrypussycat wrote:
raging_glory wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.


What reason is that? Not lovely enough for you? I don't think it makes a big difference, but that's a strange phobia.

Did Dylan lift the ending from Gene Clark's "If You're Gone"


the reason is this. it's not a strange phobia at all, but a reasonable logical presumption to think that one of dylan's most paramount songs couldn't be reduced to an allegorical story about a particular person. Johanna is a little bigger than Joan, or any one person, in my opinion. an allegorical story is still a story, and i would find it strikingly surprising that he would be attempting to write a story song three albums after he publicly declared he was tired of them. not to say that Joan could not be a part of the meaning of this song.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 16:40 GMT 
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Troubadour64 wrote:
Visions of Johanna is probably his finest song. It is like a prism, bending the light. Different colors all true.



The only thing I have read that I couldn't accept was that it would be specifically about Joan Baez. My mind rejects this for some reason.
What reason is that? Not lovely enough for you? I don't think it makes a big difference, but that's a strange phobia.

Did Dylan lift the ending from Gene Clark's "If You're Gone"

the reason is this. it's not a strange phobia at all, but a reasonable logical presumption to think that one of dylan's most paramount songs couldn't be reduced to an allegorical story about a particular person. Johanna is a little bigger than Joan, or any one person, in my opinion. an allegorical story is still a story, and i would find it strikingly surprising that he would be attempting to write a story song three albums after he publicly declared he was tired of them. not to say that Joan could not be a part of the meaning of this song.


"Publicly declared"...Dylan's a strange bird if he's anything like what some of his fans expect. You'll get closer to the real Dylan if you read Chronicles (or read it again).

So it works better if the "Johanna" represents "ex-girlfriend" in general? "Not to say"...exactly, and so what? Why is it important to a Dylan listener that it really not be Joan? That's what I'm curious about. Adults are allowed two minds about things like ex-girlfriends. To me, the song's always been about reaching the end of patience with something and longing for something else and I've no idea who Johanna might be or how many of her there are. Again, it's a mere song and there's really no cause for "logical presumptions."


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 17:00 GMT 
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I dunno man, I always assumed Johanna was this mystical beauty who made your head spin and your balls tingle.

Then there's Joan Baez.

Bit of a no brainer really.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 17:07 GMT 
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Bennyboy wrote:
I dunno man, I always assumed Johanna was this mystical beauty who made your head spin and your balls tingle.

Then there's Joan Baez.

Bit of a no brainer really.


er...maybe not, especially since it's pretty well established that Dylan had thus spun and tingled; I realize he's not quite at your level with these things, at least on your planet.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 17:26 GMT 
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i hear ya, i wouldn't say it can't be about Joan. if that's your point, i gotcha.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 17:41 GMT 
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henrypussycat wrote:

OK, mystery man, what could it possibly have to do with? Did she commit some sort of social crime? Something else that you find repulsive? What, you don't like her singing and that repels you? I assume you're representing some deep and hip aesthetic choice; what is it?



Woman.


Seriously......what has touched you off? Why are you taking personal offense at an opinion I directed an no one? The tone of both of your replies is unnecessary. You also know nothing about me as I am the farthest thing from hip that you could imagine. I don't think I have ever been rude to anyone here on this forum.

Simply because it reduces what is a grand song, to something more simple. For me, it just strips away the depth of what is the most spectacular song. I can maybe wrap my head around Madonna being Sara since Bob has said she and Allen Ginsberg were the only two saints he knew.


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PostPosted: Tue March 13th, 2012, 21:26 GMT 
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henrypussycat wrote:
Bennyboy wrote:
How could it possibly be about Joan Baez?


You ever had an ex-girlfriend you missed? That's one possibility that seems plausible enough.


You ever had a girlfriend that you went off rapidly and had completely put behind you?How could he possibly miss her? He'd not only ditched her within the last year, he'd gone on to marry Sara and father their first child. He wasn't missing Baez. Don't Look Back tells you all you need to know about the non-state of their relationship and the irrelevance that Joan Baez had become in Dylan's life.


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