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Boomer Ballads: Visions Of Johanna

Lingering, strange, allusive and evocative. Lilting, sibilant, elusive, and provocative. These visions always take me  Downtown, way downtown; take me back to the loft above the shuttered Duane Street cigar factory where I lived in New York in the 70s. That loft where the wind of winter blew cold and slammed the loosened steel shutter of the cigar rolling factory deep down below that we’d rise above in the freight elevator that had no door; the elevator that beheaded the dog as it rode up looking down. You’d come in out of the cold using the keys tossed down inside a rolled up sweat sock and take the broad stairs two at a time past the coughing heat pipes. Across the way, in the opposite loft, the painter with no money for lights painted all night with candles like some Soho Van Gogh out to daub the starry, starry New York night onto his canvas. My painter-lover was a Jewish American Princess fresh in from Beverly Hills where she’d lived in Gary Cooper’s old mansion with her mother and the mafia’s manager of a Las Vegas hotel. In the winterset or the summer swelter, we’d amble out to the around-the-corner after-hours artists’ bar in the years before it became fashionable to live in lofts; the years when a laundromat was a five buck cab ride away in the East Village. We’d eat cheap Chinese take-out, drink wine, roll joints and listen to the foghorn soft FM radio station rolling in the deep and falling asleep in tousled sheets at first light when the night watchmen would clock out and make their way to Spanish Harlem on the uptown train. Somewhere to the south of the loft they were finishing the World Trade Center and this song from Blonde on Blonde was on the cheap Sears stereo in heavy rotation. Other than that, “how can I explain? It’s so hard to get on, and these visions of Johanna kept me up past the dawn.” It was my favorite year and I still weep when I think of it.

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • KCK March 16, 2019, 3:59 PM

    Those were the days when you had to be there – had to be where “it” was happening. The art, the music, the era. Nowadays, that is out here in the ether.

    Analog romance.

    I saw Dylan three times in concert. Do people even go to concerts, anymore?


  • Tom Hyland March 16, 2019, 9:46 PM

    I rarely attend concerts anymore. That “Dead” thing that came to Albuquerque has cured me forever to mingle in a crowd of more than a thousand. Essentially, it was Bob Weir and five guys from China. I want my money back. I saw David Bromberg, David Hidalgo and Larry Campbell together in one of their only five stops…. back in January. They were billed as “The American Crossroads Trio.” It was acoustic splendor. Click the link.


  • Tom Hyland March 16, 2019, 9:56 PM

    I also want to say… to Gerard… your memories so eloquently delivered of magnificent times on the island I was conceived… are duly noted and appreciated. We remember quality and beauty, and still, and always, it will abound. Let’s remain steadfast and observant. HOW DO PEOPLE GET BORED? I’ve never figured that out.

  • MOTUS March 16, 2019, 10:11 PM

    Dylan, still transmogrifying us after all these years. Doubt there will ever be another.

  • ghostsniper March 17, 2019, 4:24 AM

    “Do people even go to concerts, anymore?”

    No. There are no more concerts and haven’t been for some time.
    We last went to what we thought was a concert about 10 years ago but when we got there we found out it was something else. Outwardly it resembled a concert, a large outdoor venue, a stellar though aging band we first saw in the 70’s, and lots of people. But when the music started the people turned into wild assed idiots, all of them. The curtain was drawn back and the view was ugly. Looked like what just about everything you see now a days. Humanity at it’s worst.

    The ticket cost was stratospherical, about 5 times what we paid for the last concert we had seem. And that entailed a 3 hours drive to get there and a 5 hour drive to get back. For an experience we will not soon forget, for all of the wrong reasons. Though I din’t know of Woodpile’s Remus at the time, I learned his future advice: “Avoid crowds”, and that right there was life changing for us. We don’t do well in crowds. The presence of an ocean of retards is more than we can bear. To pay $200 each for this experience was definitely a learning moment.

    Perhaps we’ll try a small venue concert at some point but since that hasn’t happened in the 10 years hence, probably not. We have an extensive library of music audio and video files so we will stay at home and enjoy our favorite music person’s as we deem appropriate. Society has turned to poison.

  • Nunnya Bidnez, jr March 17, 2019, 7:09 AM

    “Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
    She’s delicate and seems like the mirror”
    I’ve always heard it as “seems like veneer”

    I saw David Bromberg back in the seventies, in concert and in the recording studio,, smoked dope with him at his apartment on west 85th. He’s still around, huh!

  • Suzan March 17, 2019, 8:27 AM

    Artists bar? Would that be Magoo’s? Or maybe Nancy Whiskey Pub? Those were the days, my friend.

  • Dymphna March 17, 2019, 8:35 AM

    When ever I wonder how things got so bad in this country I read one of these maudlin Boomer ballads or one of the poem series. It’s so sad. People in their 70s recount the drugged out debauched takes of their youths and then don’t understand why the Gen Xers who were born and raised in the middle of the mess are either silent or hostile.

  • jwm March 17, 2019, 10:01 AM

    Oh for cryin’ out loud. Where have I heard this pathetic whine before? Yeah I know. The Boomers used up all the fun and didn’t leave any for you. I remember being a kid and thinking the world’s all fucked up because of my parents’ generation. We were gonna’ fix it all. We were wrong. So are you.


  • Daphne March 17, 2019, 11:38 AM

    Talking bout my generation, some of us were honestly pretty useless back in the day. It irritates me, too, Dymphna, though I am a Boomer myself, thinking the same as you and heretofore too cowardly to mention it, knowing myself fractionally guilty and shamed by it. Mea culpa, but you won’t get them to cop to it, in the parlance of that time. Confusing acceptance of the past with celebration of it, there seems to be an expectation that the reader should be impressed with their rather sordid shenanigans. That being said, try to have a firm grasp of the time line before going off on Boomers. Our youths may have been less than heroic or even wholesome, but the die of decline was already cast before our time. Be kind. It is old ones reminiscing upon the glory days of youth, as ever. Memory is slippery and does what it must. They had some great times! He’s an ooold hippie 🎵🎶….

  • captflee March 17, 2019, 12:05 PM

    Ghostsniper: Of the inflation in ticket prices there is apparently no end. Not to wax all boomer nostalgic, but my just be-licensed self was, in the dying days of summer 1970, able to squire my companion and myself to an indoor Allman Bros concert for the lordly sum of $4.00 each, or about $27.00 in today’s downsized currency. That $4.00 was two and a quarter hours ringing up and bagging groceries at the Winn-Dixie, so a fair price in my estimation. Difficult to say what a ticket for tABB would fetch today, what with their demise in ’14, but doubtless it would be multiple times that.
    As to crowds and their dysfunctional ways, you are preaching to the converted here.While a great admirer of Remus and his admonitions, I believe I grokked the “Avoid Crowds” message intuitively, back in the mist shrouded past when the crowds were way, way less diverse, and thus way, way less dangerous.

    Tom Hyland;
    Thanks for the link! Pity about Weir, et al. Lord knows, I seem to recall having some pretty good times the dozen or so occasions I saw the Dead in the quarter century prior to Jerry’s death, but saw none of the post-95 iterations.

    If you haven’t already seen it, here’s some interesting early stuff from Bobby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7-4XirBj9A

    Dymphna: If you are the proprietress of GoV, I suppose that you and the Baron bear some small piece of responsibility for my increasing disgust with our intellectual and moral “superiors”…whilst downloading the classified message traffic at my workplace one fine day in excess of a decade ago, I read of a specific threat to my particular unit, emanating from not so distant Charlotte County. Conversations with local NCIS folk left me less than satisfied with their grasp of the situation, so, to the Interweb! And there y’all were. If the Force Protection bureaucracy had much info on, or interest in, Islamic terrorism, they sure weren’t passing it along, but I was able to use your outstanding site to gain a sufficient amount of info to wheedle TPTB to make some improvement to our particular security situation. So, thanks for that! It takes no little moral courage these days to speak out for one’s countrymen and against the entrenched forces seeking the destruction of the West.

  • Kurt March 17, 2019, 9:34 PM

    Ah, brother. It was better when you were real, when you were true, when you said It was your favorite year and you still weep when you think of it. Life is full of sucking chest wounds that we can never leave behind, but still, we live, we love, we hope. That is the wonder, the mystery of it all…

  • DocSurg March 18, 2019, 8:34 AM

    Does anyone go to concerts any more? Try Red Rocks. I go to at least two shows a season. Cannot imagine that there is a better place to hear live music.

  • Tom Hyland March 18, 2019, 9:32 AM

    Red Rocks indeed! Joni Mitchell was set to perform there, backed by Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays and Jaco Pastorius summer of 1979. Joni was NEVER coming to Roswell. EVER. So I went to Red Rocks and the show was beyond description. There was a full moon rising in the east and Joni was wearing a shimmery silk dress and high heels. Stellar experience. A week later the Grateful Dead were going to play Red Rocks and I had never seen them before. So I hung out in Boulder for a week and that ended my hard time spent in Roswell. I went back there only to collect my personal items and I lived in Boulder the next couple of years. Red Rocks is magnificent.

  • Vanderleun March 18, 2019, 1:17 PM

    Kurt’s right and I’ve restored the essay to its original writing.

  • pbird March 25, 2019, 10:40 AM


    This is the right one. The one that sounds just right.
    I saw him three times too.