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Boomer Love Songs: Visions of Johanna

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Once upon a time in a universe far far away I lived in a loft far down on Duane Street; the loft was so far down in those days it was a five buck cab ride up to the closest laundromat in the East Village.

My Duane Street Loft. Same now as then but with a 3,000% rent increase.

Fourth floor of an abandoned cigar factory. You ring the buzzer. I lean out the window and toss a set of keys in a sock with a streamer on it.

In a storm, the loose metal panels of all the lofts around us would clang in the swirling winds like Hell’s Bells Symphnonette. When the power was lost our loft and the opposite lofts would put flickering candles in their windows.

When you threatened him enough the landlord would turn up the heat and the pipes would cough.

I lived there with my first wife long before the year in which it all went smash. Now, if I become still enough, I can remember the electricity in the bones of her face and that’s when I know that, at last, almost ev’rything’s been returned which was owed. Almost.

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

As released on Blonde on Blonde in

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  • Hard Hobbit To Break April 14, 2020, 11:20 AM

    Describing “Visions of Johanna” as “Dylan’s most haunting and complex love song and his finest poem”, Robert Shelton suggests that Dylan “constantly seeks to transcend the physical world, to reach the ideal where the visions of Johanna become real”.

  • Clayton in Mississippi April 14, 2020, 11:38 AM

    I tried to enjoy the Dylan video but after a couple of minutes of frustrated listening I could only wonder if perhaps there is a version with English subtitles

  • Vanderleun April 14, 2020, 1:32 PM

    That’s why I have two (2!) videos of the song and all the lyrics printed out between them. Check it out again.

  • Greg Wrwick April 14, 2020, 5:37 PM

    That looks suspiciously like a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother to me!

  • James ONeil April 15, 2020, 12:24 PM

    Way way back in the day when I was a card carrying latter day beatnik living on the lower east side reading my deathless free verse in various coffee houses to finger clicks of applause I’m pretty sure I remember hitting a party or two or three where Dylan was also there.

    Problem is I don’t remember if it was that Dylan or the other Dylan. OK the other Dylan was over 7 years dead, but I’m still not sure…

  • olds mo william April 15, 2020, 6:44 PM

    You either get Bobby Z or you don’t. There’s no in between. Buy for those that do, it’s pretty cool.