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Visions of Johanna

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Commentary

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Visions of Johanna is one of Dylan most ambitious lyrics, and for that reason alone it’s due much respect. By pop music standards Visions is an epic, a tragic opera that ruminates on how love can overcome the emptiness of our lonely and otherwise pointless existence.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I don’t think it’s one of Dylan all-time greats.  There are some lines, at least to my mind, that really misfire:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 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

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Too many easy rhymes there for me.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “She’s delicate and seems like the mirror” seems awkward every time I hear it.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 “Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it”. Somehow that’s interesting, if incomprehensible.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 1 “The ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain”. Blind’s Man Bluff is a game of tag, so I don’t understand what a key chain has to do with it.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 And what about that bit about the “fish truck explodes”? What?

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Many of the Dylan commentators love the next to last line – The “harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain.” Dylan author John Hinchey writes:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 the skeleton keys are a dense macabre, but they are also the keys to the kingdom, master keys that open the secrets of the rain, itself one of Dylan’s master symbols. Rain in Dylan is always associated with women. But it seems to function as a symbol not of women but of the emotional lie, even as he identifies the life of the spirit as the wind, here figured in the harmonica music.”

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Now I remember why I hated some of my college literature courses. I think the line is nonsensical, but maybe that’s just me.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 But for all its obvious faults, I don’t there can be any argument that Visions is one of Dylan more interesting works. In Visions, Dylan took the popular song to places it doesn’t usually go, from rhyming “moon” and “June” to reflections on the meaning of existence. Visions – like many Dylan songs – is literature on the phonograph.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 According to me, Visions attempts to show how the power of love – in this case the narrator’s love for Johanna –can transcend the ugliness and hopelessness of a cold and indifferent world. The fact that the love affair seems to have ended makes it even more poignant. Many have commented that the overall theme of the song – the realization that love is the answer only after love has escaped the cage – is similar to Eliot’s masterpiece, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Dylan has returned to this same theme again and again throughout his career. Shelter From the Storm, Farewell Angelina, Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Isis. For Dylan, the love between a man and a woman is our great hope for salvation, but it is always somehow slipping just out of our grasp; it is always in some way or another either unattainable or ultimately short-lived.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 The very first line – “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?” – draws the listener in by addressing a question to him directly. It similar to the way Hank Williams starts I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Hear that lonesome whippoorwill?
He sounds too blue to fly

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The next line might be my favorite Dylan lyric of all: “We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it”. The existentialists – the heroes of my college days, Camus and Sartre – wrote entire books that attempt to capture that feeling of despair and hopelessness. Dylan does it pretty well in just two lines.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 2 With the next few lines, Dylan describes the humdrum and banality of a relationship of mutual convenience that he has with Louise, who is perfectly fine in her own way but obviously lacking in comparison with his Madonna, Johanna. A new character – “little boy lost” – appears in the third stanza, apparently Johanna’s new lover. Dylan ends the songs with a series of outlandishly surrealistic images that describe the emptiness of life without love.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 There are some juicy biographical elements involving Joan Baez (again) that are just too entertaining to leave out. As discussed earlier, Dylan and Baez had dissolved a relationship not too long before Visions was written. The name Johanna is so close to Joan it seems to beg the listener to make the connection. Dylan refers to Johanna as “Madonna”, which was a term often used to describe Baez in her mid-sixties earth mother, flower-child period. Dylan biographer Anthony Scaduto describes an interview with Baez in which she says that Allen Ginsberg once asked her whether she thought the song was about her. She felt that Ginsberg was trying to get her to say it was, possibly at Dylan’s instigation.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Baez hinted at her own thoughts on the matter in her song Winds of the Old Days, a song in which she provides her reaction to the news of Dylan’s “comeback” tour in 1974:

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 And get you down to the harbor now
Most of the sour grapes are gone from the bough
Ghosts of Johanna will visit you there
And the winds of the old days will blow through your hair

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 A version of Visions appears on Live 1966. It’s good, but the overlong harmonica break detracts from the overall effect.

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28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 A version from the Never Ending Tour.

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30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Marianne Faithfull is an excellent interpreter.

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32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Visions of Johanna wins!

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39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Lyrics

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 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

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 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 ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 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

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 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

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 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

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Source: http://www.bobdylancommentaries.com/blonde-on-blonde/visions-of-johanna/