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What does Bob Dylan's song Visions of Johanna mean?

Michael Nuzum, Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:23 (nineteen years ago) link

a) the grass is always greener on the other side of the septic tank
b) do your own damn homework, kid

jody (Jody Beth Rosen), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:24 (nineteen years ago) link

It's about sleeping on a loft floor in Greenwich Village with loads of other poets and really REALLY wanting to have a wank but being worried as to whether the arm movement will show through the sleeping bag.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:25 (nineteen years ago) link


jeremy jordan (cruisy), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:26 (nineteen years ago) link

visions of johanna vs pictures of lily

amateur!st (amateurist), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:27 (nineteen years ago) link

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

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"
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

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

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

The peddler now speaks to the countess who's pretending to care for
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

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:27 (nineteen years ago) link

vs. lord of the flies

My Huckleberry Friend (Horace Mann), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:27 (nineteen years ago) link

vs "sketches of winkle"

jodylicious (Jody Beth Rosen), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:27 (nineteen years ago) link

it's obvious, isn't it?

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:27 (nineteen years ago) link

Yeah the bit where his "conscience" "explodes" is key to my reading.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:28 (nineteen years ago) link

Blimey, Tico, yer RIGHT!

mark grout (mark grout), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:29 (nineteen years ago) link

I always thought at went:

Louise, she's all right, she's just near
She's delicate and smells like veneer

Steve.n. (sjkirk), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:30 (nineteen years ago) link

"fish truck"

jody (Jody Beth Rosen), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:31 (nineteen years ago) link

Tico OTM. Whodathunk.

ENRQ (Enrique), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:32 (nineteen years ago) link

Topic within topic:
Which character is supposed to be Nico? Edie Sedgewick? Sara Lowndes?

Doobie Keebler (Charles McCain), Tuesday, 17 February 2004 16:33 (nineteen years ago) link

I cant believe someone couldnt understand what this song is about!! Nuzum, dont worry about paying attention to any lyrics anymore, okay?

wallace carothers, Saturday, 28 February 2004 04:15 (nineteen years ago) link

"Oh, it's so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn"

Sym (shmuel), Sunday, 29 February 2004 00:01 (nineteen years ago) link

four years pass...

I didn't know where to put this and this fucker certainly doesn't deserve his own thread but Zantzinger, don't RIP:


Kevin John Bozelka, Sunday, 11 January 2009 19:19 (fourteen years ago) link

A lowlife to the end:

In 1991, The Maryland Independent disclosed that Mr. Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned; Charles County, Md., had foreclosed on them for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Mr. Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past-due rent, and won.

He pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only nights in jail.

thirdalternative, Sunday, 11 January 2009 19:44 (fourteen years ago) link

five years pass...

is Visions of Johanna seriously about having a hard on and wanting to wank in a room full of sleeping/fornicating people? damn

i also enjoy in line skateing (spazzmatazz), Tuesday, 23 September 2014 18:59 (nine years ago) link

who knows?

u2 removal machine (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 23 September 2014 21:13 (nine years ago) link


Οὖτις, Tuesday, 23 September 2014 21:15 (nine years ago) link

we were one JBR xpost away from the greatest first response ever

Ѿ (imago), Tuesday, 23 September 2014 21:16 (nine years ago) link

four years pass...

he he it is indeed

niels, Wednesday, 24 October 2018 08:03 (five years ago) link

two years pass...

Great interview with Larry Campbell about what it was like to tour/play with Dylan. As mentioned in the interview, the Larry Campbell/Charlie Sexton band (first with Kemper on drums, then Receli) is often considered the best band Dylan had on the NET, and I would agree.


birdistheword, Thursday, 1 April 2021 19:11 (two years ago) link

Thanks for posting this. I've been listening to a lot of 'Love and Theft' tour bootlegs lately. Such a great band. The Warren Zevon covers were so good.

BlackIronPrison, Friday, 2 April 2021 01:16 (two years ago) link

eleven months pass...

No idea where to put this:


60+ essays
150+ photos
350+ pages

the man is simply unstoppable pic.twitter.com/0sheWWgsQd

— Jokermen (@JokermenPodcast) March 8, 2022

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 8 March 2022 19:55 (one year ago) link

I can't wait to read it. Loved "Chronicles Vol 1".

o. nate, Tuesday, 8 March 2022 21:00 (one year ago) link


Not Dork Yet (alternate toke) (morrisp), Tuesday, 8 March 2022 21:08 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from being seen
But that’s just because he doesn’t want to turn into some machine 😀

calstars, Saturday, 7 May 2022 17:01 (one year ago) link

a most reasonable explanation

corrs unplugged, Monday, 9 May 2022 06:39 (one year ago) link

Splendid song & track---also the Persuasions cover---and an appealing alibi, but not for Self-Portrait, which is like a cut-rate greeting card designed by a bot.

dow, Monday, 9 May 2022 16:14 (one year ago) link

(Thinking of that since New Morning was his return to cred after S-P)

dow, Monday, 9 May 2022 16:17 (one year ago) link

four months pass...

Audiobook has an interesting selection of readers.

birdistheword, Wednesday, 5 October 2022 14:14 (one year ago) link

saw him live (for the umpteenth time) recently

setlist almost same every night, heavy on the rough & rowdy material (alas, no murder most foul)

key west was great

but really, who am I kidding, he is just the weirdest legacy live act I've ever seen, it's never really bad, but always just so weeeird... money rolling in, tour goes on forever, just the weirdness of it all, maybe this time emphasized by beeing in a big arena, and people were just applauding, happy... seem to recall people used to disappointed, which was practical, I could be enthusiastic and exegetical, now they just love it

anyway, roll on Bob

corrs unplugged, Sunday, 9 October 2022 19:01 (one year ago) link

After visiting the Lou Reed exhibit at the NYPL, I checked out Light in the Attic's preview of the upcoming release of 1965 demos, and this one for "Men of Good Fortune" stuck out - it has NO relation to the song that later appeared on the 1973 album Berlin:


It's basically a rewrite of Dylan's "Song to Woody," which itself is a rewrite of Guthrie's song "1913 Massacre." (The same demo tape has Reed covering "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.") It's a nice glimpse of a great artist finding his voice, absorbing one influence (in this case Dylan) and virtually mimicking that influence before finding a new path.

birdistheword, Monday, 10 October 2022 04:49 (one year ago) link

xp my MO with Bob shows is to just steadily lower my expectations for the weeks leading up to the show, so I'm usually pleasantly surprised with what actually transpires musically. That said, I haven't seen him in a decade or more, so no idea if that would be different.

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Monday, 10 October 2022 14:01 (one year ago) link

I'm surprised how great his most recent shows have been. I almost gave up on going to anymore after the Americanarama tour. Probably a combination of three things: 1) phrasing improved after the per-rock standards project, 2) stopped changing the setlist, which meant the band was very familiar with the material and were sharper and more precise as a result (downside - if you went to multiple shows, you got the same songs over and over again), 3) on the current tour, he had the lyrics laid out for him (at least for the first leg), so instead of trying to remember, he could read them, and honest to God, he hasn't enunciated this well since the '70s. It's pretty amazing.

birdistheword, Monday, 10 October 2022 14:44 (one year ago) link

*pre-rock standards

birdistheword, Monday, 10 October 2022 14:45 (one year ago) link

yeah good points

and that men of good fortune take is hilarious!

corrs unplugged, Monday, 10 October 2022 19:07 (one year ago) link


The title of Bob Dylan’s latest book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” is, in a sense, misleading. A collection of brief essays on 65 songs (and one poem), it is less a rigorous study of craft than a series of rhapsodic observations on what gives great songs their power to fascinate us.

Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, worked on these for more than a decade, though they flow more like extemporaneous sermons. The chapter on Johnnie Taylor’s “Cheaper to Keep Her,” for example, is mainly an indictment of the lawyers whose profiteering of heartbreak drives the divorce “industry.”

Elsewhere, Dylan writes in oracular riddles. His one-paragraph piece on “Long Tall Sally,” by Little Richard, likens Sally to the Nephilim giants of the Old Testament, and postulates Richard as “a giant of a different kind” who took a diminutive stage name “so as not to scare anybody.”

About half the essays in the book — his first collection of new writing since “Chronicles: Volume One,” in 2004 — are accompanied by what Dylan’s publisher calls “riffs”: even shorter, even looser pieces, in which Dylan attempts to embody the spirit — the philosophy? — of the song itself. On “Poor Little Fool,” by Ricky Nelson: “She sized you up, she was captivating and shrewd and lousy with lies. Oh yeah, you were an absolute blockhead beyond a doubt.”

curmudgeon, Friday, 14 October 2022 12:01 (one year ago) link

Dylan on "My Generation" by The Who via that NY Times article

This is a song that does no favors for anyone, and casts doubt on everything.

In this song, people are trying to slap you around, slap you in the face, vilify you. They’re rude and they slam you down, take cheap shots. They don’t like you because you pull out all the stops and go for broke. You put your heart and soul into everything and shoot the works, because you got energy and strength and purpose. Because you’re so inspired they put the whammy on, they’re allergic to you, and they have hard feelings. Just your very presence repels them. They give you frosty looks and they’ve had enough of you, and there’s a million others just like you, multiplying every day.

You’re in an exclusive club, and you’re advertising yourself. You’re blabbing about your age group, of which you’re a high-ranking member. You can’t conceal your conceit, and you’re snobbish and snooty about it. You’re not trying to drop any big bombshell or cause a scandal, you’re just waving a flag, and you don’t want anyone to comprehend what you’re saying or embrace it, or even try to take it all in. You’re looking down your nose at society and you have no use for it. You’re hoping to croak before senility sets in. You don’t want to be ancient and decrepit, no thank you. I’ll kick the bucket before that happens. You’re looking at the world mortified by the hopelessness of it all.

In reality, you’re an eighty-year-old man, being wheeled around in a home for the elderly, and the nurses are getting on your nerves. You say why don’t you all just fade away. You’re in your second childhood, can’t get a word out without stumbling and dribbling. You haven’t any aspirations to live in a fool’s paradise, you’re not looking forward to that, and you’ve got your fingers crossed that you don’t. Knock on wood. You’ll give up the ghost first.

You’re talking about your generation, sermonizing, giving a discourse.

Straight talk, eyeball to eyeball.

curmudgeon, Friday, 14 October 2022 12:05 (one year ago) link

enjoyed that will probably read the book

corrs unplugged, Friday, 14 October 2022 15:45 (one year ago) link

Dylan on "My Generation" by The Who via that NY Times article

Is that actually Dylan's excerpt? I was confused at first, but it looks like that is actually Ben Sisario channeling Dylan's style. The actual excerpt from the book comes later, in italics, and is read by Oscar Isaac.

o. nate, Friday, 14 October 2022 20:51 (one year ago) link

They’re both by Dylan. The part in italics is a “riff” on the song; the article points out that many of the essays are accompanied by these additional “riffs.”

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Friday, 14 October 2022 21:28 (one year ago) link

Also, Dylan OTM. I’d be interested to hear Townshend’s reaction/response.

Montgomery Burns' Jazz (Tarfumes The Escape Goat), Friday, 14 October 2022 21:31 (one year ago) link

Because Dylan is really known for his riffs

calstars, Friday, 14 October 2022 21:39 (one year ago) link

Has Bob really been irritated by this song for nearly 60 years?

Chris L, Friday, 14 October 2022 21:48 (one year ago) link

Ah now it makes sense, thanks! xxp

o. nate, Friday, 14 October 2022 21:49 (one year ago) link

Didn't realize this:


NME's Q: Which Bob Dylan song did you reject when he sent it to you for inclusion on the Psychedelic Furs 1984 album ‘Mirror Moves’?
Tim Butler's answer: “Clean Cut Kid.”


“It had about 15 verses – it was a long song! (Laughs) He sent it to us because his son Jakob was a fan back then and said: ‘Hey, Dad, these guys are cool’. Richard still has the cassette of it, and it was a huge deal because our father was a big Bob Dylan fan and would buy his records on the day they came out and we’d all sit round and listen to them. He was a massive influence on Richard and I, so to have a song that was written by him sent to us was a great pat on the back.”

birdistheword, Sunday, 16 October 2022 18:08 (one year ago) link

seven months pass...

From a new interview with John Mellencamp by the NY Times:

Mellencamp: I’m going to quote Bob Dylan to you. Bob and I were painting together one day, and I asked him how he wrote so many great songs. In all seriousness, he said, “John, I’ve written the same four (expletive) songs a million times.” I’m going to get in line with Bob on that. It’s always the same song, just more mature or with a different angle.

birdistheword, Tuesday, 6 June 2023 18:09 (six months ago) link

Haha, that's perfect

corrs unplugged, Wednesday, 7 June 2023 05:37 (six months ago) link

three months pass...

Surprise set at Farm Aid, backed by Tom Petty's Heartbreakers! And he's switched back to guitar for the first time in many years!


birdistheword, Sunday, 24 September 2023 06:16 (two months ago) link

so awesome. i’d been watching the Farm Aid livestream for a while & the way i YELLED when he appeared

and with the goddamn Heartbreakers!

best surprise

werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Sunday, 24 September 2023 06:29 (two months ago) link

I love that his most stunning move to play a set of songs everyone knows with a band everyone loves. This is great!

Elvis Telecom, Sunday, 24 September 2023 06:31 (two months ago) link

I love this. I have tickets to the Chicago show. But i really think this might leg of the Never Ending tour

bbq, Sunday, 24 September 2023 07:40 (two months ago) link

*might be the last leg of the Never Ending Tour

I hope I'm wrong obviously.

bbq, Sunday, 24 September 2023 07:46 (two months ago) link

Funny that one of the first things I see on here after having the first disc of Blonde on Blonde on for the first time in ages is a thread started in reference to one of its songs.

I'm not getting the image of the guy who builds a fire on main street and fills it full of holes. Unless it is a call for better gun control or something.

& I thought for a moment I was just about to read that Bob had died.

The book was quite fun and a quick read though I to still need to listen to a lot of it. Though think I was already somewhat familiar with a load of those tracks

Stevo, Sunday, 24 September 2023 09:14 (two months ago) link

“Absolutely Sweet Marie” came on in the car yesterday and I cranked it up, the way it just careens along, it’s like the band are riding flat out alongside each other and grinning.

assert (matttkkkk), Sunday, 24 September 2023 10:55 (two months ago) link

Not strictly necessary o course, but v. fun:
Jason and the Scorchers, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" (original studio version, haven't checked the live ones yet)


dow, Sunday, 24 September 2023 17:29 (two months ago) link

Dylan is playing new songs every night (usually two) and they are covers with some relation to the city he's in. He opened the tour in Kansas City and played Wilbert Harrison's standard "Kansas City." In St. Louis, he bookended his show with two Chuck Berry covers ("Johnny B. Goode" and "Nadine"). And last night in Chicago, it was "Born in Chicago" (probably in tribute to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band as it was the opening track of their debut and Dylan famously recorded and performed at Newport with its members) as well as "Forty Days and Forty Night" by Muddy Waters.

birdistheword, Sunday, 8 October 2023 01:02 (two months ago) link

Saw him tonight. No surprise covers unfortunately. But I loved the new version of Key West that he did. He closed with Every Grain of Sand and it was one of the best live versions I’ve ever heard.

bbq, Monday, 9 October 2023 06:00 (one month ago) link

i will be seeing Dylan in Springfield, Mass in a couple weeks and I will be satisfied with nothing less than a medley of musical numbers from The Simpsons

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Friday, 20 October 2023 05:06 (one month ago) link

He covered Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To the End of Love" in Cohen's hometown of Montreal the other night.


lord of the rongs (anagram), Tuesday, 31 October 2023 15:48 (one month ago) link

Picked up the new book from the archive yesterday, Bob Dylan: Mixing up the Medicine, and based on a quick flip through it looks like a great trove of stuff I haven't seen before. Enjoyed the Lucy Sante piece from it that Dow linked in another thread.

bulb after bulb, Tuesday, 31 October 2023 15:58 (one month ago) link

Glad you liked it: https://lithub.com/how-bob-dylan-blurred-the-boundaries-between-literature-and-popular-music/ ("Not my title!" LS sez)

dow, Saturday, 4 November 2023 21:10 (one month ago) link

Last night's show at the Beacon Theater opened with a verse from Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." Then towards the end of the show, after introducing his band, Dylan said, “Jann Wenner is here tonight. He was kicked out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We don’t like that. We’re trying to get him back in.” Yeeesh.

birdistheword, Friday, 17 November 2023 07:33 (three weeks ago) link

two weeks pass...

Next month is 50th anniversary of the 1974 tour. I’m completely unfamiliar with this era—is Before the Flood the best document of the tour, or is there an individual show/bootleg compliation that’s better?

blatherskite, Thursday, 7 December 2023 17:15 (yesterday) link

My short answer would be that it’s the best available and best sounding representation we have.

Long answer:

The tour was more interesting at the start because the setlist wasn’t set in stone and had a number of surprises. The first show above all had the most (and welcome) surprises, opening with “Hero Blues,” unveiling a few more songs from Planet Waves (nearly everything from that album was eventually dropped from the tour after a few weeks), the great lost outtake “Nobody ‘Cept You” (one of my favorites) and for the only time of the tour, Dylan plays on a Band number, playing harmonica on their great cover of “Share Your Love with Me.” If I could have one show in pristine sound, it would be that tour opening show - I hope a soundboard recording was made but I have my doubts one exists anywhere. That’s the problem with the early shows - they may be more interesting, but they mostly exist as audience recordings and can be rough listening. A soundboard or PA feed was recorded on January 14 but by then the setlist was becoming much more standardized with much fewer surprises. However Dylan’s singing wasn’t quite as mannered as it would be in the final two weeks when he was shouting more and more with less nuance in his phrasing. Unfortunately those later shows are the only ones that were professionally recorded. The upshot is that the Band played better as the tour went on and come off great on the final two shows performed on Valentine’s Day - selections from those shows dominate the official live album. Frustratingly, the final show had the tour’s only performance of “Mr. Tambourine Man” which was dedicated to Sara (her favorite song) but it was not included on the official live album.

birdistheword, Thursday, 7 December 2023 17:51 (yesterday) link

“Professionally recorded” meaning multi-track recordings

birdistheword, Thursday, 7 December 2023 17:54 (yesterday) link

Thanks! I’ll check out Before the Flood and the opening show—I’ve heard enough Dead AUD tapes that maybe I won’t mind so much.

blatherskite, Thursday, 7 December 2023 19:00 (yesterday) link

i'm blanking on where I read this, but i want to say there are more multitracks of the 1974 shows in the dylan archives ... maybe i dreamt it. some of the soundboards are decent (oakland, NYC). will be interesting if they do anything to commemorate the 50th anniversary — with Robertson's recent passing, seems like a good time?

tylerw, Thursday, 7 December 2023 19:02 (yesterday) link

it's really too bad there isn't a concert doc of this tour, though — I feel like the energy would suit itself to that format ...

tylerw, Thursday, 7 December 2023 19:14 (yesterday) link

However Dylan’s singing wasn’t quite as mannered as it would be in the final two weeks when he was shouting more and more with less nuance in his phrasing.

yeah, as loved as Before the Flood is - I can't really stand Dylan in that mode, such a waste

even Levon gets a bit shouty on some of the Band things, but that said I've always loved Dixie here

corrs unplugged, Friday, 8 December 2023 08:14 (three hours ago) link

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