Visions Of Johanna by Bob Dylan

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Visions Of Johanna by Bob Dylan

YouTube clip sourced from The Boot And The Head. Festival Hall, Melbourne, 1966.

Vin Maskell
Swanston St, Melbourne, Midnight, November 29,  1982
Desk at home, December 2016

If I was thinking of Visions Of Johanna back in 1982 I was probably only thinking of the first line, Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks on you when you’re trying to be so quiet?

I doubt that I was thinking of how Louise holds a handful of rain or of the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain/And the all night girls they whisper of escapades on the ‘D’ train.

No, I was probably only thinking of that opening line, or part thereof, because that night on a piece of foolscap paper, at my desk in my single-bed bedroom or maybe at the small table in the little kitchen at the end of the long hallway, I wrote a little poem. Nothing special.

At the top of the page, in capital letters, I wrote MIDNIGHT , SWANSTON STREET. 29-11-82. Swanston Street is a main thoroughfare of Melbourne and at midnight I was probably waiting on my own for a tram to take me home to the share house in St Kilda. Where I’d been, who knows now? To see some bands? A movie? A meal? But that opening line from Visions Of Johanna must have been circling in my mind, because then I kept writing…

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks on you.
Ain’t it like the guideposts to look like hitch-hikers
And ain’t it like all the hitch-hikers to be home that night.
Ain’t it like the streetlights to bring down
patches of streetlife
and ain’t it hard to stay in those patches.
Ain’t it like all the words of all the books
to come back like epitaphs
and ain’t it like those books to be somewhere else,
in a hitch-hiker’s pack, maybe.
Ain’t it like all the songs you love
to spin through your head and you can’t get ‘em out
‘cos you’ve let ‘em in too often.
Ain’t it like your friends to have gone forever
but they’re just a room or a street away.
Ain’t it like them to have missed your calling,
to love you and leave you just for a night.
And ain’t it just like that night to play tricks on you.

A year or so later, 1984, the poem was published in a little journal called Big Bang. I, or the editor, had changed the title to JUST LIKE THE NIGHT.  I included an asterisk beside the opening line, to go with a footnote that said ‘This line is a steal from Dylan’s Visions Of Johanna, 1966.’

Reading the Dylan lyrics again, at my desk in December 2016, I make no claim to deciphering the song, except perhaps for  Now little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously/He brags of his misery

Ah, such bitter-sweet memories! (I was so much older then – I hope I’m younger than that now.)

From Writings & Drawings, Bob Dylan (Panther 1973)

 

 

Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.

By | 2017-03-05T10:02:45+00:00 January 22nd, 2017|Acoustic, Singer-songwriters|8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie January 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

    That, what I call Dylan’s middle period, ’65 – ’66, was the time of supreme and unsurpassed writing by him. Those surreal, magical lyrics just swirl around in one’s mind as you listen to the songs or even when thinking about the words as you were in Swanston St. on that night in the ’80’s. That’s one of the many things I love about Dylan, his ability to provide a scenario for you to paint your own pictures. Cheers Vin. Col.

  2. Rick Kane January 23, 2017 at 9:32 am

    That’s a terrific poem Vin and I think it goes more to the second line of Visions than the first. Your poem, as I read it, feels melancholic, as if the protaganist has recently lost or said goodbye to someone. They certainly are struggling to make sense of what they would understand to be part and parcel of life yet it still feels painfull and confusing. I really like how you have squared your reflection with night and city and waiting on public transport. Very ordinary detail wrapped around a very meaningful hurt. Cheers

    And as Colin says, Dylan does lend his ideas and images to our own reflections which is why we keep going back to his well.

    • Stereo Stories Admin January 23, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Perceptive as ever, Rick. I guess I was stranded, doing my best to deny it – first at the tramstop in Swanston St and then alone in the share house with just pen and paper to keep me company. All the best. (By the way, I came across the poem accidentally. I was re-using some very old manila folders to file away Stereo Stories material, opened one folder and there was the poem!)

  3. Bill Royaloak January 23, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    When I first heard “the ghosts of lectricty, howls through the bones in her face”, I looked around nervously as if I’d cracked a secret code…how did he or anyone know about this besides me?!

    That one line made me rethink music, poetry and life and recognize all of it. Like a cloud lifted and the fog left my brain.

    • Stereo Stories Admin January 25, 2017 at 7:19 am

      That’s the wonder of art, isn’t it, Bill? Thanks for reading my little story. Vin.

  4. Stan Denski January 24, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Always a favorite, I wrote a short blog piece about thsi back in 2007 I’d like to share here: http://thesethingstoo.blogspot.com/2007/03/pound-for-pound-visions-of-johanna.html

    • Stereo Stories Admin January 25, 2017 at 7:20 am

      I enjoyed reading your piece, Stan. For me, there’s always something to learn about Dylan’s songs.

  5. John Butler January 31, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    “The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face”

    Bill, you weren’t the only one.

    Loved this, Vin.

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