Exhuming Bob XXVIII: Visions Of Johanna Decoded

December 27, 2010

Exhuming Bob XXVIII

Visions of Johanna Decoded


R.E. Prindle

This is an attempt to place Visions Of Johanna in a context of Dylan, Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.  In this interpretation Louise is Edie, Johanna is Dylan’s mother, Louise’s lover is Andy Warhol and the narrator is Dylan,

Visions of Johanna

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?

We sit here stranded though we’re doing our best to deny it.

I.e. we’re alone in the night of the universe doing our best to pretend we aren’t.  A night without dawn and we find the situation intolerable.

And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it.

Rain is a symbol for the misery of life that one finds inescapable. ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head.’  etc.  Louise/Edie who is a bearer of pain mixed with love offers a handful of rain to Dylan  essentially saying take it or leave it.  If Bob takes it he has to find a way around the pain of loving Louise/Edie.

Lights flicker from the opposite loft

In this room the heat pipes just cough

The country station plays soft

But there’s nothing really, nothing to turn off.

It looks brighter in the opposite loft, greener grass on the other side of the fence, but it is freezing in Dylan’s room where no heat comes from the pipes that just cough.  ‘Seems like a freezeout.’  C&W is a lot of songs about love gone wrong so let it play softly in the background.

Just Louise and her lover so entwined

And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.

Dylan has a real problem with his mother who he says in his movie Masked and Anonymous rejected him because he upset her life by being born.  Thus his love for his mother was turned to dust and his life made miserable.  He has confused Edie with his mother who he thinks she resembles.  Edie after seeming to be found as a mother surrogate in the first quarter of 1965 then seemingly abandoned him for ‘her lover’ Warhol with whom she is ‘entwined.’  In his confusion and resentment of Edie he sees ‘these visions of Johanna that conquer his mind.’  He looks at Edie and sees his mother.  His resentment at his mother’s rejection then turns to hatred of Edie.  As a son he can’t revenge himself on his mother but he can on Edie who has become his mother surrogate.

After his father’s death in 1968 Dylan is able to step into his father’s shoes as his mother’s  support.  Pleading poverty, which was probably real, shortly after her husband’s death Dylan wrote her a five figure check to tide her over.  There’s more, but…I’ll save that for the review of Masked And Anonymous.


The Ghost Of Electricity

In the empty lot where the ladies play blind man’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

Verbiage setting up the next six lines that get to the heart of the matter:

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.

Here the physically delicate Edie is present but she seems like a reflection of Johanna/Dylan’s mother.  Dylan has so identified Edie/Louise with this mother/Johanna that Edie makes it ‘too concise and that too clear’ that Mother/Johanna is not here.

The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face (Edie’s)

Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.

Ghosts of electricity is ambiguous but may refer to the traces left by the electro-shock treatments which undoubtedly scarred Edie’s mind indelibly while Dylan has now completely blended Edie/Louise and Mother/Johanna into one.

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously

He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously,

This obviously refers to Warhol of whom it’s a pretty good description.  Living dangerously probably refers to the hoodlums hanging around the Factory.

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 dawn


Dapper Andy

Dylan mutters small talk at the wall where he is placed outside the relationship with Edie in the hall ‘while visions of Mother/Johanna trouble him into the small hours of the night.

Verses four and five seem to be verbiage that sounds meaningful and may be to Dylan but escape me.  The song is copyrighted 1966 which would be after Dylan had taken his vengeance on Edie so the lines of the last verse:

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 the 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.

Edie/Louise is preparing for ‘him’ who might be Warhol or Neuwirth but it isn’t made clear.

Dylan referred to Sara as a Madonna so she is probably the Madonna referred to.  ‘Empty cage’ is personal to Dylan, no idea, anyway he was already married to Sara.  So having crushed Edie as his mother had crushed him and passed her to Neuwirth he thinks he has settled his score with Mother/Johanna.  ‘Ev’rything’s been returned which was owed.’  Edie has repaid his mother’s debt  but he apparently feels some guilt ‘as his conscience explodes.’

After the ball was over, after the dance was through’ these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.’  So, if the song means anything, written in 1966 it must refer to Edie who Dylan has confused with his mother in his mind.  While songs like Like A Rolling Stone and She’s Your Lover Now read clearly once you have the Edie key, Johanna is a little more ambigious but while I con’t guarantee this reading as yet, I think it is on whole accurate.




12 Responses to “Exhuming Bob XXVIII: Visions Of Johanna Decoded”

  1. Scott Says:

    Total bullshit!!! Like everything else Prindle has written trying to decode/ interpret Dylan. Face it Prindle…you don’t get it!! Find something else to do! You’re making a fool out of yourself………..again!! This is not your area of expertise! Ay yi yi!

  2. reprindle Says:

    Damn you’re quick Scott. I hadn’t even put in the last period and your comment is there. As usual your opinion is appreciated but you’re the one who doesn’t get it. You have to do a little reading and then you will understand what expertise is.

  3. Scott Says:

    Well, I have to commend you on your good natured (though somewhat condescending)response to my criticisms. I wonder what Dylan would think of your theories ( I think I kmow). My experience with Dylan spans a period of over 45 years. Literal translations don’t hold up. What’s more important than the lyrics, the voice, the band, are the feelings behind it,coming from his amazing perspective, and his ability to make it resonate within another human being. He can still do it. It’s different for each person, depending on what they bring to it. That’s what makes it art. You’re entitled to shrink it down to your personal interpretation. But it’s simply that, your personal interpretation and not the ultimate meaning of his work. That’s why I protest the position you take,a self proclaimed authority on Bob Dylan and his work. But if someone is willing to pay for it, more power to you. I still believe that you are missing the point.

  4. reprindle Says:

    Scott: Dylan has always been good at projecting seeming content with an emotionally controlled delivery. What makes Blonde On Blonde such a great album is the feel of the band and the vocal sneering delivery that implies something is being said that you’re too goddamned stupid to understand.

    Dylan explained his elliptic style to the Beatles who bought it but couldn’t think it. In ellipsis one doesn’t say ‘your boyfriend on his motorcycle with his sidekick,’ one says ‘your diplomat on his chrome horse with his siamese cat.’ i.e. Gerard Malanga in this case. The ellipsis can be converted back into direct English however when you have the key. That’s essentially what I’m doing. From August ’65 to March ’66 Dylan is talking about Edie and Andy but uses ellipsis. Still, he isn’t saying anything profound but as Warhal understood, just personal protest.

    OK. The stuff sounds good, but that’s all.

    As to what Dylan thinks about my stuff, that’s the blurb on his shill Wilentz’s front cover. A year or so earlier Joni Mitchell called Dylan a fake and a plagiarist and that really hurt him so he set Wilentz to work. The matter of the book is the refutation of Mitchell in the last fifty pages or so.

    The blurb on the cover sneers at us ‘wannabes’ as opposed to clowns like Greil Marcus, I suppose.

    Interesting that you stuck with Dylan all the way. I loved the brilliance of Blonde On Blonde but anyone could have done what followed.

    • Scott Says:

      Really, anyone could have done what followed? Are you sure about that? I respond directly to your articles because they appear in my email. Would you mind removing me from the list?…………..Thanks.

  5. reprindle Says:

    Well, Scott, you aren’t on my list. I presume whatever is happening is because you chose it to happen. Remove yourself. And in answer to your other question I refer you to Diamond Joe. The songs in Masked and Anonymous are little more than third rate C&W. Lots better C&W has been and is being done. It’s not even a matter of taste.

  6. joe Says:

    Prindle, Scott is right. I think you’ve missed the mark on this one. This song is poetic genius and your analysis makes it seem like you weren’t really listening to the song. I’m sorry that you haven’t figured it out yet because this song reveals some of the deepest pieces of bob dylan’s soul, and it changed the way i look at the world. Also, why did you neglect to comment on the 4th stanza? I presume that it didn’t fit with your bullshit analysis so you decided to leave it out. This article is laughable, you should go back to the drawing board.

  7. reprindle Says:

    Welcome to the blog Joe. As to the fourth stanza I think I said I couldn’t figure it out. I know that weakens the analysis a bit. However while I respect your right to your sentiments, I explained to Scott, sentiments aren’t analysis.

    I’ve written two or three after this essay delving into the problem further while incorporating this song into the whole Blonde On Blonde problem. While this interpretation many need a little ;more work which I acknowlledge Dylan himself said it refers to his mother. How then does it refer to his mother?

    While I appreciate your taking the time to comment your sentiments don’t challenge any of my specific claims. So all I can say is if the song is one of your favorites I can appreciate the mood too, but that’s not meaning.

    I hope you’re not as sensitive as Scott. I like to have readers.

  8. joe Says:


    etymology of “Louise” and “Johanna”

    Louise = fame and wealth
    Johanna = God is gracious

    I hope this helps.

    P.S. – I’m not sensitive so worries, and please do not consider me a reader.

  9. reprindle Says:

    Joe: Significant but Louise in pop music at the time was described as a whore or slut. See Paul Seibel’s song Louise. ‘They took Louise home on a male train…’

    I don’t know how many people know the meaning of Louise or Johanna or if Dylan does. Perhaps so.

    However fame and wealth may have differnt meanings as you divine it.

    Edie certainly had fame while in Like A Rolling Stone Dylan describes her as a rich girl. So the meaning of Louise could easily be applied to Edie.

    As for Johanna, one’s mother might be thought of in that light or the name could be used sarcasticlly (Dylan is a poet, you know) becasue she betrayed his trust and essentially blighted his life. (See my review of Masked And Anonymous Pt. III)

    I see no reason to change my opinion although your comment does enrich the argument. Thanks.

  10. joe Says:

    I think with my help you may have just decoded Dylan’s Mona Lisa. You are a true visionary, and it must tiresome to be so misunderstood. Don’t lose hope my friend.

  11. reprindle Says:

    I don’t know that I’m misunderstood, Joe, but I appreciated your comments. You just need better arguments, that’s all. After all, we’re all poets here.

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