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.)