All That Remain

‘Visions of Johanna’ is a Bob Dylan song from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde.  Several critics have acclaimed ‘Visions of Johanna’ as one of Dylan’s highest achievements in writing, praising the allusiveness and subtlety of the language.  Rolling Stone included ‘Visions of Johanna’ on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and Mojo magazine named this song as one of their 100 Greatest Psychedelic Classics.  Dylan is difficult to understand and with a lot of his songs, and many times it seems like he is just writing obscure words down to fill up a page, but the art that he created will spark thoughts and inspire people for generations.  We can’t all listen to Dylan’s music and be able to take away some deep, profound, interpretive meaning from it, but for those people who keep their eyes wide open, they may discover a worthwhile purpose in what he was saying, or maybe it is all nonsense just for fun, but it is sheer poetry.  When listening to Dylan, it is best if you don’t think twice, it’s alright.  You don’t need to try and interpret the meaning of this song to understand and appreciate the dreamlike mood, and the beauty of his rhyming lines.

Dylan went to Nashville for this recording while he was touring with the Hawks who had their old backup drummer, Sandy Konikoff with them, as he was taking over for Levon Helm.  Dylan had Al Kooper (known for organizing Blood, Sweat & Tears) playing a Hammond organ and Joe South (the guy who sang ‘Games People Play’) on bass.  Robbie Robertson played lead electric guitar, while the Nashville drummer Kenny Buttrey mixed in a steady snare drum with tolling cymbal taps that fit in nicely with Dylan’s harmonica.

Dylan wrote this song while he was dating folk singer Joan Baez, so could Joan Baez be the Johanna in this song?  Dylan sings this song as if he in a fever dream, exploring his surrender to a mystical netherworld.  The emotions he conjures up and sustains during this song are nothing short of stunning.  Rolling Stone magazine said, “An extended, impressionistic account of a woozy New York City night, rich in pictorial detail and erotic longing, the five long verses zigzag between Dylan’s acute dissection of one woman, the tangible and available Louise, and his longing for an absent ideal.  Johanna may not even be real.  But she is an addiction.”  Dylan loses his grip on reality near the end of this song, and as his world slowly disintegrates, his “visions of Johanna are all that remain.”

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” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s 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?
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, “Jeez, 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 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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