Visions Of Johanna

Album: Blonde On Blonde (1966)


  • Running 7:31, "Visions Of Johanna" is one of more mysterious Bob Dylan songs. So what are the "visions of Johanna that conquer my mind," and who is "Louise?" We'll never know for sure, and it seems Dylan intended it that way. He did offer this guidance when addressing the song in Rolling Stone magazine: "It's easier to be disconnected than connected. I've got a huge hallelujah for all the people who're connected, that's great, but I can't do that."
  • According to Dylan scholar Clinton Heylin, Dylan was living with his future wife Sara in the Chelsea Hotel when he wrote "Visions Of Johanna." Greil Marcus, another esteemed Dylan scholar, narrowed it down to an even more specific timeframe. He claims the song was written during the East Coast blackout that hit New York and seven other states on November 9, 1965. If true, that could explain the lyric, "These heat pipes just cough." The Chelsea Hotel has long been a New York City landmark, but even back then it was kind of dumpy. The part about the pipes was most likely about the literal heating pipes of the Chelsea.
  • Al Kooper, who was a prolific session musician, played the Hammond B3 organ on this track. Kooper went on to become a successful producer and worked on some of Lynyrd Skynyrd's most famous tracks. He also played the iconic organ on "Like a Rolling Stone."
  • The song was first recorded on November 30, 1965, in Columbia's Studio A. It went through many takes as Dylan tried to narrow down his vision. He didn't finalize it until February 14, 1966. By then, recording had moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

    Dylan flew in and got to work right away. He sat at a piano in the recording studio and wrote for hours. Without ever getting up or taking a break, he finished the work, called the other musicians in, and they laid down the final take right there.

    On January 6, 1966, in between the initial recording session and the final take, Dylan's first son Jesse was born. Jesse and mom Sara flew into Nashville with Dylan on the day the song was finalized.
  • In her 1975 song "Winds Of The Old Days," Joan Baez seems to be making the case that she is Johanna. Sample lyrics: "A decade flew past her and there on the page, she read that the prince had returned to the stage," "Most of the sour grapes are gone from the bough, ghosts of Johanna will visit you there." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Lulu - London, TX
  • Some lyric analysis:

    But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
    You can tell by the way she smiles

    The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous artworks in the world. Leonardo da Vinci painted it in the early 1500s. It's a portrait of a woman sitting placidly with a subtle, mysterious grin on her face.

    And Madonna, she still has not showed

    In Catholicism, a "Madonna" is a work of art featuring Mary, mother of Jesus. Sometimes the piece also features Jesus and sometimes not. This is interesting considering both the spiritual undertones of the song and the frequent references to museums and works of art. There's another possibility, though, given what we know about Dylan's life at the time.

    Madonna was a nickname for folk musician Joan Baez. Baez already fits into this song in the sense that Dylan had been in a serious relationship with her not too long before writing it. Baez was as instrumental to launching Dylan's career as any other person in Dylan's life. In 1963, she brought Dylan onstage to perform with her at the Newport Folk Festival when she was a bigger star than he was, a move that seriously elevated Dylan's status.

    Baez earned the Madonna nickname after her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. After that show, a writer referred to as the "barefoot Madonna," and the name stuck. Her persona was always as an earthy, spiritual voice of the people.

    In this room the heat pipes just cough

    It was wintertime when Dylan was living in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City when he wrote this song. So, while much of the song is symbolic or surreal, the coughing heat pipes might have been literal.
  • The first time Dylan played the song live was February 5, 1966, at Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York. This was nine days before recording the final, definitive version recorded in Nashville.
  • The song's working title was "Freeze Out." This adds credibility to the claim that Dylan wrote it during the New York City blackout.
  • In their June 1997 issue, Mojo magazine named this one of their 100 Greatest Psychedelic Classics. Jon Savage wrote of the song: "As early as 1963's 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune,' Dylan was exploring the egoless surrender to the universe that would characterise the first, benign phase of psychedelia. From 1965 on, his gnomic, gnostic utterances laid down the parameters for what would follow, as The Beatles, The Byrds and The Rolling Stones fell under his spell. Dylan issued disclaimers - "I never have and never will write a drug song... It's just vulgar," he exclaimed on the last night of his 1966 world tour - but this 'Visions Of Johanna,' taken from the night before, has the infinitesimal focus of acid-time compression."
  • Psychedelic Furs lead singer Richard Butler cites this as the song that had the most influence on him. "I think the words are great and the imagery in the verses is fantastic," he told Songfacts. "His voice is fantastic on it and the whole song is so beautiful - kind of mournful, but beautiful. The whole mood of it is fantastic."

Comments: 52

  • Louise Johanna from UkSo glad to find this post. As this song is my given names. I could never really understand the song . Except my father was a huge Bob Dylan fan. Will enjoy reading through !
  • Riccardo Grillo, Ba Hons, Ea Literature from ItalyWilliam H from NY claims, 'The meaning of this song is really not up for speculation'.

    That really is not how modern literary criticism works. Bob himself could stand up in public to give his meaning of the song, but if you or I can come up with a reasonably convincing reading that differs from Bob Dylan's, it is equally valid.

    Since Roland Barthes published his influential 'Death of the Author', it has been generally accepted that once a poem or novel (and, by extension, a song) is available to the public, that public is able to interpret that piece of literature however they think fit. Obviously this does not mean that the author intended them to interpret the work in that way, but the idea that the author's own interpretation is somehow more valid than any other reader or listener's simply because the work issues from that person is now generally not accepted.

    Obviously William H is free to interpret 'Visions of Johanna' however he wishes to do so, but this does not prevent others from having their own interpretation, unless, naturally, William H's interpretation is so overwhelmingly convincing that everyone else finds themselves in agreement.
  • John Fellows from AustraliaThe “ drug rap” lines from the last RAH show were “it’s just vulgar to think so”
  • Daniel from OregonpuI think this song is about Bob on acid with his lover while thinking about another woman. Every verse has lines in it that could be interpreted as an LSD reference:
    "Sit here stranded though we're all doing our best to deny it." "..blind man's bluff with the keychain" and "nightwatchman click his flashlight ask himself if it's him or them that's insane." and "ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face." "Little boy lost takes himself so seriously" "Inside the museum infinity goes up on trail... salvation must be like after a while." "Mona lisa.. smile" "Geez I can't find my knees." -- you get the idea
    If you've ever done LSD you know how it can bring the truth out so I figure he was tripping with Joan(who was kind of square like Louise) and thinking about Sara, who he eventually left her for. It's confusing because Joan sounds like Johanna so maybe it was the other way around and it was a brief relapse into being in love with Joan while with Sara, or maybe he just switched the names around to confuse people, especially Joan.
    Also the line "everything's been returned which was owed" seems to be an obvious reference to the guilt which Bob had for Joan helping him get discovered and then he not reciprocating by putting her on stage with him. The album "Blonde on Blonde" is FULL of allusions to this guilt he had.
    And eventually he says that the visions of Johanna are all that remain. Also he sings about "empty cage now corrode" which to me means he was trapped in a relationship, i.e. folk darlings with Joan and Bob eventually breaking that cage. "Her cape of the stage once that flowed" -- must be Joan's cape (being a performer).
    So eventually everything was returned which was owed, meaning he was absolving himself of guilt for taking Joans gifts. I'm not quite sure why it's written on a fish truck though, lol.
    It's a great conversation to have but so many people are way out there with their interpretation.
  • Lou from UsaJust going by the feeling I get listening to the song, I have the following interpretation: Johanna is the woman he lost, Louise is the woman he has, Little Boy Lost was some hanger-on of Johanna who never really had a chance with her.
  • The Viscount from UkThis is a bit off the wall, but could Johanna be John Lennon? Apart from being a slightly non-standard spelling of a girl’s name, there is no indication of Johanna’s gender in the lyrics. So, Dylan wants to focus his attention on Louise (most likely Sarah - Louise/Lownds/Lowlands) but is obsessively distracted by Lennon’s recent creativity (Rubber Soul) and concerns that Lennon was to some extent adopting Dylan’s style, as Dylan reputedly warns him not to in 4th Time Around. The verse beginning ‘Little boy lost....’ could well be Dylan referring rather spitefully to Lennon (‘Brags of his misery’ could be a reference to Help), and ‘being so uselss and all.....’ very spiteful indeed. I realise that leaves a whole lot of the lyric unexplained, but it is a possible way in to the meaning of this most beautiful and enigmatic of Dylan’s lyrics.
  • Louis from Drexel Hill, PaI saw this performed at the Academy of Music February 24, 1966, a few months before it was released. The Academy was sold out. It still is a vivid memory. The first set was acoustic, and at the recognition of each song the audience reacted. When Dylan began "Visions of Johanna" there was no audience recognition, which created a heightened focus, a special attention. When he finished playing that song, you could feel the 'Wow'.
    But that wasn't the only dramatic moment. I was in high school at the time, and two couple older than me were seated to my right. There was a short intermission, and when the second set began, there was Al Kooper and the band, and Dylan had his electric guitar. The fact that Dylan, a folk music god, would go electric blew the minds of the traditional folkies then.
    The two couples beside me, along with about 25% of the audience, left grumbling when they saw the electric guitar. They missed a great set.
  • Martha from NyIt's a guilt song, and a song about embarking on a new commitment. It's a sneaky song. It's an ode to Joan Baez. He contrasts her with Sarah Lowndes (Louisa). He talks about superseding her in his work, in his popularity. He feels guilt. He switches pronouns. He's entered a new commitment, and the future seems dark to him. marriage=infinity. And he's trying to take on the role of husband for the first time in his life. I think more deeply, he worries what married life will do to his itinerant, minstrel lifestyle. He wrote the song right at the point at which he married a pregnant Sarah Lowndes.
  • Chris from Cream Ridge, NjI believe that the surreal atmosphere of this song may have been inspired by the widespread electrical black-out which plunged a large part of the U.S. northeast into darkness on November 9, 1965. Most parts of New York City were without power from around 5:30pm until 7:00am the next morning. Temperatures in NYC that day averaged 35-45 degrees F. An early working title for this song was "Freeze Out." Dylan was known to be living in the city in the autumn of 1965. It's possible to imagine the feeling of riding out the night of the blackout in a cold apartment building surrounded by the eeriness of the dark, power-deprived city. All of this would provide a fertile environment for a songwriter. Some of the imagery provided by the lyrics may be seen to support such a situation - "Lights flicker from the opposite loft" (candles burning through the windows of an adjacent apartment?) "In this room the heat pipes just cough" (noisily struggling, but providing little heat?) The ghost of 'lectricity (the absence of electricity/electrical light?) "We sit here stranded" (the various inhabitants of the building/companions of the narrator temporarily confined together by circumstance?) "The country music station plays soft but there's nothing really nothing to turn off" (by accounts, most of the metro area TV stations and half of the FM radio stations went dead - so was the country music station one of the only available choices on the battery-powered transistor radio?) Again, I only submit these interpretations as a suggestion that this significant event may have provided the inspiration for the surreal essence of the lyrics of "Visions of Johanna." Regarding the interpretation of the overall meaning of the song, I have enjoyed reading everyone else's submissions here and considering their various points of view. Dylan detested having his songs "dissected like rabbits" but the curious can't help it sometimes to want a glimpse of the workings of the artist's mind.
  • P.barnes from Dublin, Irelandi read somewhere that he is refeering to john lennon as :little boy blue ; he takes his self so seriosley
  • William H. from New York, NyThis Song--Visions of Johanna--is about Joan Baez primarily and the thoughts he has, the visions he has which revolve around her and their musical and intimate relationship. The previous "meaning" which previously appeared here is TOTAL NONSENSE meant to deliberately mislead the reader. The last verse makes it very very clear that the song is about the relationship he had with Joan Baez, who he left when he moved on musically and felt that he did not need her there. But he still missed their intimacy, the intimacy you have with someone on many levels when that person is a fellow creative artist with whom you are in love. But he chose to give up their relationship and be on his own obviously: "The fiddler, he now steps to the road, he writes everything's been returned which was owed... The meaning of this song is really not up for speculation as falsely proposed by the multiple obscurantists who have been assigned the task of trying to keep people confused regarding virtually everything in all that Dylan has written.
  • Tom from Adelaide, AustraliaI think Dylan is singing about an 'ideal self'. The 'ideal self' is a concept put forward by Carl Rogers (an American Psychologist) and it represents the person that one wants to be but isnt. Often people might find there is a gap between the actual self (who one is), and the ideal self (who one wants to be).

    Johanna is Bob Dylan's (the narator or 'little boy lost' in the song) ideal self. Louise is a real person who the narator desires but he is restricted by his actual self.

    Most of the song (first three minutes or so) is sung in the voice of the narator but there are some parts where he sings in the voice of johanna and louise.

    it is also in line with the idea that 'visions of cody' was written... Ideal self vs actual self. very existential and deep.

    just my thoughts.
  • Mac from Evanston, IlSimply the most haunting and evocative song of the '60s. The identities of Johanna, Louise, and Little Boy Lost have been debated for decades. It obviously has something to do with Dylan feeling stuck between situations, or "stranded," and perhaps stuck between lovers/relationships. His drug experiences around the mid-'60s, especially with psychedelics, obviously are an influence on the overall atmosphere of the song as well. My guess is that Little Boy Lost, like "Mr. Jones" in "Ballad of a Thin Man," is some overbearing "hipster" on the mid-'60s New York scene who is a male drama queen, discussing his profound LSD trips and other heavy experiences ad infinitum until everyone around LBL is totally bored, annoyed, and fed up with his self-absorption, his "brag[ging] of his misery" and his fondness for "liv[ing]" dangerously. Believe me, I've been around a lot of self-important/self-absorbed annoying bores in my life, but there were few I found harder to take than LSD bores. A few psychedelic experiences and they think they've seen it all, know all the secrets of the universe, and are going to let you know, at length. Dylan, not unfamiliar with acid himself during this time, probably had seen a lot of these desperate-to-be-cool-and-bohemian types during this period.
  • Erin from New York, Nyim wrong. Johanna is joanne, sara is louise. and he is getting hit on by louise, and falling for louise, and feeling guilty about cheating johanna. and he is being hard on himself.
  • Erin from New York, NyMartin Scorsese chose a great version of this song for his documentary, No direction home. I've lived in New York City for the past 15 years and no song comes close to it's melancholy spirit as this one. My theory is that it is about his affair with sara and joanne, but he reverses the two Louise is joanne and sara is Johanna. I also used to think that there were two couples or three people in the scene, bob, louise and others maybe a boyfriend of louise, but now in my own personal assessment i think there's only two: Zimmerman and Louise, and he is realizing that he doesn't love louise anymore, and is haunted by his profound love for johanna. He is there in the room and he is not in the room. He is every where else he could be, yet still stranded in the room. New york becomes a reflection and in turn reflects the scene. This is what new york represents and always will: the heart breaking power that dreams play on reality. It's really funny too. In this context when dylan is commenting on himself he rips himself to shreds. And he is only a little kinder to louise. The whole thing is a trick.
  • Lynn from Manchester, United KingdomI have looked at all the comments, I agree with bits out of each of them. I think the song should not be taken out of context and broken down. It should be experienced as a whole. Its a beautifull song, I named one of my daughters Johanna in appreciation of this song. Many years later I had the privilage to see dylan sing this song at Manchesters arena.
  • Mike from Jacksonville, Flthe best version of this song is on the grateful dead's ''fallout from the philzone'' live album. it is perhaps garcia's most emotional performane both vocally and musically. stunning and errily haunting
  • Mike from Jacksonville, Fljerry garcia, god bless, loved this song. it was played once in 1986, several months prior to jer's diabetic coma. then the song was revived 9 years later and performed maybe 3 times in 95, a few months prior to jer's untimely death. very erie, yet uplifting song.
  • Chad from Nashville, TnI know exactly what this song is about. First of all, you cannot connect some of the seperate phrasings. The jelly faced women, and the night watchman etc. are not CONNECTED. Dylan sporadically entered and exited characters through out his writings often at a whim. It is about a young man from the midwest who suddenly finds himself in the big city. This young hipster lives communally with other hipsters, as they did in those days. The man is deeply deeply in love with Johanna, he misses her and pines for her so greatly........Louise and her lover remind him constantly of his love. Louise literally makes it all too concise and too clear that Johannas not here. At first he misses her, and thoughts of her conquer his mind.......thoughts of her keep him up all night (past the dawn).....he goes out, sees the hookers (blind mans bluff with a keychain).....sees the all night girls....these are characters in the streets........the peddlar is just that, a salesman, talking to a rich woman, trying to sell her something, she pretends to be interested (pretending to care for him) you can just walk down a busy street in new york and see all these characters. He goes to a museum.....infinity going up on trial refers to the beatniks who discuss art and interpret what it is to them.....what seperates the greats from the rest.....the mona lisa is his example of infinte art, so famous, and will be forever. who is mona lisa? it is often debated or put "on trial" the end of the story the thoughts and visions of johanna are so intense that they literally take his place.......he dissolves completely away to her and his love for her.
  • Mark from Washington, D.c., DcI always liked Bob Dylan's content more than his process. Many of his lyrics shine. But I didn't understand the foundation of his legend. I just didn't get the hype. Then, one night while clicking through the channels, I came across a documentary about Mr. Bob. The song playing was "Johanna" and they cut in and out to shots of Dylan on stage at Royal Albert Hall as he sang the song. His eyes were kind of rolled up and his head was slowly moving around on his neck in that trademark Dylan fashion. That's when it hit me. That's when I saw it. Saw him. The power of Dylan, power from Dylan, shot me like a diamond in my head. I was mesmerized. I knew I was watching something rare, precious, beautiful and yes, even holy. When the song was over the audience seemed stunned as well and then they shook the hall with thunderous applause. I'm not a Dylan worshiper but I offer with complete conviction that he really was a musical shaman of his fleeting time. The documentary was from PBS and I reccomend it to anyone who has an interest in a man who's time came, and went.
  • Phrenic from Riverview, FlI don't know the context or the subject matter well enough to say which one, but this really strikes me as observations in an art museum at night. The night watchman, the different scenes all looking at each other. There's an extra verse (per the always 100% reliable wikipedia) that talks about someone being asked about Australia, which seemed like the other paintings or exhibits were asking her (Amelia) what it was like being on display there.

    I could be 100% wrong, but - that's what it seems like. I don't know if Louise is a real person who was deeply moved by a painting? Some of it doesn't fit. Oh well.

    Um - still love the song though.
  • Kiki from Chanhassen, GaThis sond is about being out of control and questioning everything that you have known. Louise is what he knows but Johanna is something more real. The Night watchmen is asking himself if hes really insane and the others are really the sane ones. Dylans asking himself if Johanna is really the sane one and lousie what he knows is insane. I think he settling out his fellings for joan (johanna) baez and accepting that she really is more sane too sane for him and that louise (sara) is insane and thats what he needs insanity.
  • Billy from Wimberley, TxCall me crazy, but I think Johanna represents "God"
    Dylan is surrounded by his life and his people and his images of NYC pop in and out of the lyrics - I see him as questioning the existance of God while looking around at all the false prophets around him (perhaps himself included) - the prophets on the streets, in the hall, in the art scene, in the museums, on the "D" train - is it sex, art, music, love, religion? what does all this mean in the grand scheme of things and are my visions (thoughts,images) really of someone or are they not REAL at all
  • Jonathan from Armorel, Ar"Johanna" is indeed an unusual's quite similar to "hannah", the Hebrew word for grace--though that may mean nothing in itself but some woman who prides herself on her erudition giving her daughter an unusual name. I once wrote a story about a hero who refuses to help a girl in trouble. At the end he goes to a grave...a onetime lover, now dead two years. He recalls the fight they had the night before, a bitter breakup, her violent death, words unspoken, regret unvoiced...he couldn't help the other girl because her plight reminds him too much of the first time his failure cost him someone dear. Her name: Johanna. He even says "every night these visions of you are taking over my mind". He wads the newspaper article reporting her death,which he has kept all this time, over her grave, and says "It is finished. Let past be past." Many of my stories have Dylan references--some open, some oblique. The song pounds into the mind and takes refuge, pounding, reverberating, like the cymbals that underscore the refrain, with a tinny, primal one-two beat....
  • Alan from Hyannis, MaI've been trying for the last few days to learn the words to this song, so I have been trying to figure out what the meaning behind it. What I seemed to think was going on was that he was stuck in this hole in the wall apartment with Loise and her lover in the city, getting stoned. There's a bunch of noise outside, and he's too agitated to sleep. He misses Johanna, and having to listen to Louise and her lover, who is also little boy lost and the peddler, is causing him a deal of emotional anguish. He rather despises Loise's lover, and is reminded of how much he misses Johanna. He's sort of wanting Loise a little himself, but is heartbroken over his loss of Johanna. Which loverboy is kind of rubbing in his face and pissing him off. I haven't figured out why he was talking about art, I thought he may have been talking about Salvador Dali, the mustache, and not feeling your knees, sort of rubbery like. Maybe the surrealistic images are what he sees in his stoned state of mind. Or maybe that is what Louise, the lover, and Dylan are small talking about, maybe it's sort of an indication he's dealing with arty bohemian types prattling on about reality and other heady topics.
  • Jimmy from Rome, GaI agree with Linus in Istanbul. There is a connection with Kerouac's Visions of Cody not only because of title similarities but also because one of the characters in the book is named Johanna and she is as ephemeral as Dylan's Johanna. The Kerouac-Dylan coonection is profound!!
  • Lisa from Denison, TxThe thing about Dylan is that everyone has different ideas about what the songs mean. And Dylan almost never clarifies, instead changing his story in every interview and with every question. I think that's what makes words so powerful tho - they live and change - I bet you Dylan himself can read these lyrics now and get a different meaning or feeling from them then from when he wrote them...

    To me, it's about losing your grip (and specifically, about love making you lose your grip) and insanity, temporary or otherwise. It strikes the same chord as Lisa Bright And Dark (Jim Neufield), Girl Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen), The Yellow Wallpaper(Charlotte Perkins Gilman).

    To me:
    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

    Louise and the people around him seem fake - veneer, mirror - shiny, glossed over, but not real and not warm. Ghost of electricity - not actual electricity, no real warmth, no real personality.

    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

    Little boy lost to me could be Dylan himself - talking to himself, muttering to himself, angry with him self. He feels lost and hurt and useless and helpless to control it.

    Infinity is on trial - this will never end.

    While my conscience explodes
    The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
    And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

    His mind is coming undone and nothing is left but her...

    I doubt anyone wants to hear me ramble, but to meet it all seems so random and almost drug addled, the way you feel confused and lost and somewhat insane when you love the wrong person...

    But then again, words mean different things to each person, and Dylan doesn't like to elaborate.

  • Mark from Marion, InWasn't Johanna one of the women who found Christs tomb empty? Dylan speaks of " little boy lost who takes himself so seriously" and "He speaks of a farewell kiss to me" HE? Is Dylan Judas? "muttering small talk at the wall..."..."Infinity goes up on trial/salvation must be like after a while" I would love to know what Dylan had in mind when he wrote it. Great song.
  • Peter from Motherwell, ScotlandI guess only one person knows the meaning tro this song the great Bob Dylan
  • Peter from Motherwell, ScotlandI've always thought it was a play on Joan of Arc's Visions, The Visions of Johanna and I do think he is thinking about Joan Baez and how he has to tell her he is in love with Sara thus Visions of Johanna (Joan Baez) were all he could see I dunno thats my take on it.
  • Bryan from Syracuse, NyLive 1966, Amazing version. The Best.
    Bryan- Syracuse, NY
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhApparently it's not all- Johanna couldn't mean Joan in Spanish because the language never uses two consecutive n's...
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhReed, I kind of know what you mean...with me, it's just that artists who have an excellent mastery of wordplay yet can still make it relate, it actually feels like its a celebration of the human spirit. Like, Highway 61 Revisited feels revolutionary to the point of stirring one's soul...
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhLinus from Istanbul, you probably provided the most sensible and informative addition to the discussion...that's interesting and makes perfect sense.
  • Jimmy from Glasgow, ScotlandI doubt very much if its about Baez,in fact I doubt very much if its about anyone specifically. I do think it is,in a sense, an invite into Dyland mind circa '65......this song is like looking at light falshing on a diamond.........the different fractured facets flash...Dylan is circling in his mind, he is recieving impressions of life and we are privileged to watch as it happens. 'Electricity in the Bones is a genius image as is the skeleton keys in the can SEE the blackened 'teeth' of the harp.....The Mule and Mona Lisa allude to Dali as well as alluding to the trap of Tradition and standing still. NO ONE will ever lay down the final analysis of what this song means...because it doesn't MEAN MEANS everything.and through those flashing images we are invited in and we make our own movie with The Director giving us the angles and scenarios. Maybe Dylans greatest song.
  • Dave from Hawkinsville, GaI dont think its about Joan Baez at all. Johanna is Hebrew for the underworld, more specifically, hell. The lyrics are far more haunting than to suggest another Dylan love song....sorry Joan. Sure its a little cloudy, but most of Dylan's allusions are.
  • Linus from Istanbul, TurkeyThe title most likely refers to Jack Kerouac and his way of naming his work ("Visions of Cody", "Visions of Gerard"). He listed Kerouac amongst his major influences.
  • Chad from Reading, PaInteresting read, but the song was actually written in 1965, it was originally called Freeze Out. His state of mind was probably very similar in the fall of '65 as it was in early '66
  • Alex from New York City, NySorry about the question marks in that last post. I copied it from Word i guess this cite doesn't like that format. When will we ever create a uniform system?
  • Alex from New York City, NyThis is a project on the song I did in High School

    First Verse
    The first verse conveys Dylan's boredom with his current surroundings. I'm sure he wrote this song in 1966, fed up with his life in New York City and the people in it. The first line ' 'Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet '' is one of my favorite Dylan lines from any song. Although it has a specific meaning to this particular piece of work, if taking generally, everyone can relate to these words. You know the feeling when it is late at night, and you're trying to go to sleep, or you're trying to hide from the cops, or you trying to do anything that involves being quiet, and the silence just seems to get louder and louder' You can hear the floors creak and doors squeak and everything going on outside.
    In this verse, Dylan is sitting around stoned with a bunch of his friends, probably in his apartment in Greenwich Village. You can tell that they are probably high after Louise 'holds a hand full of rain, tempting you to defy it.' The heat pipes coughing just reinforces how the night is so noisy, and the people 'sitting there stranded, though doing their best deny it,' characterize the sort that Dylan hangs out with, and that he is fed up with. And the part about 'country music playing soft, although there is really nothing to turn off,' is basically ripping on that genre of music, saying that country music is no better than background music. If somebody were to turn it off, no one would no the difference. And in this New York City environment with all of these fake New York City people, much like the lost 1920s generation portrayed in The Great Gatsby, all that keeps coming to Dylan's mind are these visions of Johanna, Joan Baez. Someone that, according to him, is not like the rest of the people he is hanging around.

    Second Verse
    The second verse explains the scene outside of Dylan's apartment window. I have no idea about the 'blind man's bluff with the key chain' line, so if anybody does have on I would be glad to hear it. I assume it is just some people living in New York outside of Dylan's window. The other line however, with the 'all night girls', is much easier to understand. It portrays the lives of a few hookers, laughing about times on the 'd-train' and a night watchman who has never been a part of those lives, and is wondering 'if it is him or them that's insane'. This is also another brilliant line, portraying the gaps between the generations. And then there is Louise, no doubt among the frauds in Dylan's living room, and probably hitting on him too. He characterizes her as 'just near', maybe implying that she is almost above all of this, but not quite yet, for she 'makes it all to clear that Johanna is not here.'

    Third Verse
    This is probably the most controversial Dylan verse among fans that are really into this song. The way I see it, the 'little boy lost' can be one of three people. You all can decide which persona best fits with your interpretations of the song.

    As Johanna's (Joan Baez's) current or last boyfriend ' this would explain a lot of the jealousy, or hatred, in this verse. I mean these lines are pretty brutal on this guy, whoever it is, so it would be fair to assume that he is Baez's current lover, for that status would merit a lot of bad feelings on Dylan's part. 'He's sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all' is a pretty tough roast. This would also imply that Dylan is leaving the confines of his apartment, and moving on toward other people around the world like Johanna and her boyfriend, following the increasingly general themes of the next few verses.

    As Louise's boyfriend ' this would make a little more sense in context of the first two verses, for one can almost picture a guy sitting on Louise's left as she is hitting on Dylan, bragging that he has been everywhere and seen everything, all the while being just as transparent as his girlfriend. Dylan certainly doesn't think much of the people he is with at this point of his life, and it would make sense for him to show the kind of feelings he shows in this verse to any person of that caliber.

    As Dylan himself ' this is the most intriguing possibility, although it may be completely off. Up until this point in the song, and even afterward, Dylan's images and words are very complex. His actual syntax conveys a lost feeing. It is like what we are always learning in English: form follows function. I mean, he actually says in this verse, 'How can I explain'' He may be sitting at his desk while writing this, wondering how to convey his own weaknesses. And in saying 'he speaks of a farewell kiss to me', Dylan could be reminiscing about his break-up with Baez. He could be, in this verse, commenting that he is just as lost of the rest of these people, and that all that separates him from them are 'these visions of Johanna.' Of course, he does say 'farewell kiss to ME', so either he is portraying himself as two different people and that is how confused he is or he is this possibility is ludicrous unless Dylan were schizophrenic.

    Fourth Verse
    The fourth verse is a critique on society, although it has much to do with Dylan's own life. Inside museums, people try to preserve pieces of history, and infinity is on trial. Is it really possible for these artworks to be immortal' Dylan doesn't think so. But everyone staring at the Mona Lisa looks at it on display like an example of salvation, whereas Dylan sees it as the opposite, like the art is trapped, and thus so is the artist who created it. That may be connection between this verse and the other three: at this point in his life Dylan feels like he is in a museum. He makes fun of the people who try to explain what all his music is about in simply asserting that Mona Lisa has the 'highway blues.' And that fat lady with the mustache whom he completely rips on, she is the type of person who characterizes Dylan's through his shift from folk to rock. (This may be an important time to state that in my analysis of the song, I am no different than the fat lady. Although in truth Dylan is being a little selfish here; when one creates as fine a work as he does, one cannot expect others to simply pass it be without trying to preserve it or pry into what it is about. That is human nature. However, I am simply analyzing Dylan's life based on this song, and if I analyze them to be selfish, then so be it, for that shows what he was like at the time. Christ, the guy was barely older then twenty-five; I think we can expect him to be a little selfish).

    Fifth Verse
    The fifth verse always reminds me that Dylan's work is not poetry, but music. For example, when he is building up with the lines '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 everything's been returned which was owed/On the back of the fish truck that loads/While my conscience explodes' we can actually here the drums speed up and the music get more intense. By itself, Dylan's lyrics may be considered poetry, but not until you listen to the song as a whole do you get the full effect.
    Back to the verse, many people believe that Dylan is not the little boy lost that is illustrated in the third stanza, but either the peddler or the fiddler. If he were the peddler, then the countess could be an allusion to Joan, and her 'pretending to care for him.' But I think he knew that she actually did care for him, so I don't think this is valid. The peddler just portrays all of the low-down people getting exploited by society's upper-tier. His line, 'name me someone who is not a parasite/and I'll go out and say a prayer for him', is pretty damning. The peddler believes that everybody mooches of somebody else; it is the only way to get by. Does this mean Dylan mooched of Joan, that he knows he used her, along with many others, and he is justifying it' Probably.
    I cannot conclude much about the Louise's line 'Ya can't look at much can ya man'', about whom she is preparing for, or about the religious reference to 'Madonna', but when fiddler's 'conscience explodes', Dylan's feelings of toward Joan are at their peak. As I mentioned, the music reinforces this climax as it builds up. Dylan is spent, and these 'Visions of Johanna' are now all that remain.

    *"To put a face on the little boy lost, some experts believe that this is Dylan's reference to Bob Neuwirth -- a go-between with Dylan and Baez on the famous tour where Dylan did not reciprocate to Joan by inviting her onstage. Neuwirth's "tag' along" status may have earned him the phrase "being so useless and all.' The "farewell kiss to me" may be Joan left hurt and degraded and Neuwirth trying to smooth things over."
    -paraphrased from a past post,your a smart women Sue, great research. :)

    And keep in mind, like Reed said, the importance of Dylan, and any art for that matter, is what the individual can take out of it, although it is alwasy intriguing to try and solve a puzzle.
  • Joanie from Bowling Green, KyThe ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face - wow what a beautiful way to saying the light was shinning on her face!
  • Halle from Memphis, TnThis is obviously about being with a new lover (Louise) while pining for an old one.(Johanna)
  • Sue from Chicago, IlThis song is so obviously dedicated to Joan Baez. They had a love affair in his early days, with Joan bringing him along on a tour, taking him under her wing. The symbolic phrases ressonate her presence - Here are a few bullet points that support my theory:

    -- I think Louisa represents Joan's sister Mimi - they were all very close for a time, in fact Dylan really would have pursued Mimi but Joan had more stage clout.
    --The references to New York (the girls on the D train, the night watchman) represent the transitional period in Dylan's life from local noterity to fame due to Joan -- huge visuals with imaging of the seedy hotels etc., that they stayed in while promoting his art.
    -- I believe "littl' boy lost" is Dylan's referral to Bob Neuwirth -- he (Neurwith) was the go-between with Dylan and Baez on the famous tour where Dylan did not reciprecate to Joan by inviting her onstage. Neuwith's "tag'along" status earned him the phrase "being so useless and all, muttering small talk at the wall" while speaking of her "farewell kiss to me" -- Joan left in a huff-- hurt and degraded and Neuwith tried to intercede and smooth things over.
    -- the museum represent the essence of the folk community -- traditional music being shaken up by the "electic" dylan.
    -- mona lisa is joan baez, she is often referred to, even by herself as the madonna, the girl on the half shell.
    -- "she (baez)had the highway blues" obviously and left the tour abruptly after being slighted by dylan. Baez represented everything archaic to dylan, the folk community, (jewels and binoculars, jelly faced women - trendy but old school.
    -- the "peddler"and "fiddler" is obviously dylan striking out on his own, away fron the folk community
    -- the "countess and madonna" is obviously baez, her cape of the stage had once flowed -- while dylans conscience exploded. .
    HUGE guilt from dylan in this song, doing joan wrong, he can't shake it - she gave him so much, his start, this is his guilty tribute to that time and the woman that paved the way for him.
    Forgive the typos and ramblings - 2 glasses of burgendy later--
  • Marko from Clarence, NyI don't think it's about Joan Baez. I own No
    Direction Home and in it he insinuates and talks about how little Baez meant to hi so he just kind of ditched her. He made her seem like an unimportant aspect of his life, but who knows?
  • Mac from Evanston, IlThis is my favorite Dylan song and one of my favorites of all time. Simply haunting: "the ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face" and "the harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain." about loss and loneliness. I heard Johanna referred to Joan Baez, but who can be sure? About the first verse: the way I heard it, this refers to sitting in a cramped lower Manhattan apartment, where aging "heat pipes" (radiators) really do "cough" (make loud knocking sounds) when poorly maintained by landlords and building supers, and one can see "lights flicker[ing] from the opposite loft (apartment across the courtyard)" out one's window...
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI read somewhere that this song was inspired by Nico. Has anyone else read the same thing? After all Bob Dylan did meet her, and she sang one of his songs "I'll Keep It With Mine" on her album Chelsea Girls.
  • Marko from Clarence, Ny"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." I dont understand what that means. ??
  • Reed from The Ville, KyI'm surprised there aren't more comments on this song. I can't tell you that I really understand anything that he is trying to say, but it's one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. Maybe he isn't trying to say anything. I don't really care. There's something about Bob Dylan, even when I don't comprehend, I associate with him on some level. I don't really know what I am associating with other than stuff that is in myself. I create it all. I feel like i get glimpses of him through the songs, but you know, it's all assumption; it's all interpretation and that's way off sometimes. There is something special about this song. I listen to it and I'm comforted. I can hear it and not find any order to its chaos, and still all I can think is "yes". Never am I perplexed.
  • Marie Rogers from Staffordshire, EnglandJohanna means Joan in Spanish. Is the title dedicated to Joan Baez?
  • Tyler from Cincinnati, Oh"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." That's the truth.
  • Jim from Kansas City, MoThe live version of this on Biograph is a good way to refute anyone who thinks Dylan can't play the harmonica. I think it's the best he's ever played it, aside from maybe "Percy's Song" (also on Biograph). You get the feeling that the voice, the guitar, and the harmonica are just one organism.
  • Patrick from Pittsburgh, PaThis is a very basic song, like many dylan tunes, but it is one of my favorites. This shows Dylan's vocals at its best
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