Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Visions of Johanna

This week the Fitger's Brewhouse has brewed a special batch of beer for Duluth Dylan Fest called Blonde On Blonde, the name extracted from the title of what some critics say is Bob Dylan's greatest album. Now at Valentini's the other evening I was asked which one Dylan album was my favorite, a question that is impossible to answer. By what criteria?

Well, when it comes to favorites, whether books, films, music, restaurants, mountains or shorelines, you'd probably have to say your favorite is the one you return to most often. By that criteria I then made a list of my favorite Dylan songs from his catalog, and then a short list of albums, selecting one from each decade, still a daunting task.

Over the years I have listened to hours and hours of Desolation Row, Changing of the Guard and Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, three of the songs on that impossible list. As for albums, going backward from present to past, here's some of what I have most listened to... Together Through Life, Tell Tale Signs, Love and Theft, Oh Mercy, Shot of Love, Slow Train Coming, Street Legal, New Morning, Blood on the Tracks, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and The Times They Are A-Changin'.

I think one person at that table wanted me to give the nod to Blonde On Blonde (1966) as Dylan's greatest singular achievement, and there are critics who support that claim. Hard to say... though there was a lot of great material on that album which continued to cement Dylan's reputation as a major influence in the Sixties music scene.

Here are the lyrics to Visions of Johanna, the third cut on this album. Dylan has played this song 147 times in concert, most recently in 2010 at Mashantucket CT. The first time was in White Plains, NY, Feb 5, 1966.But it's not just the lyrics, it's the way Dylan recorded them that amplified their impact. Nevertheless, you can start here, then find a performance on YouTube.

Visions Of Johanna

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 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 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

Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music

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