Song Analysis “Visions of Johanna” Bob Dylan

Johanna Selhorst Maran

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?
we sit here, stranded, though we all do our best to deny it
and Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting 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

[Bob Dylan’s epic confessional depicts a love triangle – Bob, Louise, and Johanna. The weird thing about Johanna is that she might not even be real. Bob has visions of her but she may just be a photo in a magazine. She might be an ideal or a metaphor. It’s also strange how he refers to Louise and her lover. But from the rest of the song, it seems that he is her lover. It’s like he’s seeing himself in a dream.]

in the empty lot where the ladies play blind man’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 take his flahslight out,
and ask if its himself or them who should be insane
but Louise she’s all right, she‘s just near
she’s delicate, she 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

[Louise is beautiful. Louise is here. But she can’t compete with the ideal of Johanna. Notice how he doesn’t actually point out what’s wrong with Louise. Indeed, there may be nothing wrong with Louise. Still Bob is obsessed with the girl in his mind. ]

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 her farewell kiss to me
he’s sure got a lot of 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’s going up on trial
voices echo “this is what salvation must be like after awhile”
but Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles
see the primitive wallflower freeze
and the jellyfaced women all sneeze
hear the one with the moustache say, “jeez,
I can’t find my knees!”
jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
but these visions of Johanna they make it all seem so cruel

[Even Mona Lisa is just a sad face next to Johanna. This obsession is tearing him apart.]

the peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
saying “name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.”
but like Louise always says, ”You can’t look at much can you man,”

as she herself she prepares for him
and Madonna she still has not showed
you 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 “everything’s been returned which was owed”
on the back of a fish truck that loads
while my conscience explodes
the harmonicas play the skeleton keys in the rain
and these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.
[Note the pun in the second-to-last line – the harmonicas play “skeleton keys.” A harmonica can play musical keys, but a skeleton key is the other kind of key. There is a psychedelic quality to these lines, reflecting the madness of his desire. It seems he has lost Louise, but even this loss cannot awaken him from his dreams of Johanna.]

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