Exhuming Bob XXIX:  Dylan And His Blonde Problems

by

R.E. Prindle

An Examination Of Temporary Like Achilles

Searching For Inspiration

Temporary Like Achilles is another ’64-’66 piece.  It has the feel of being improvisational, out of focus.  I believe it is a companion piece to Visions Of Johanna while it might be connected to Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.

Dylan always said that he had no physical relations with the song’s subject Edie Sedgwick.  I’m certainly in no position to say but if this song is accurate then Edie for some reason played the virgin for him.  Either that or because she represented his mother to him it would have been an incestuous situation.  Edie did say she was pregnant by Dylan but then she says that she was in the psycho ward and that the doctor’s held her down and aborted the baby.  Of course she must have been delusional at that time having over dosed on amphetamines.  God, how she punished her mind.  I’m of the opinion that she probably was not pregnant by Dylan although there may be hospital records.

If one takes the last verse first:

Achilles is in your alleyway

He don’t want me here, he does brag

He’s pointing to the sky

And he’s hungry, like a man in drag.

How come you get someone like him to be your guard

You know I want your lovin’

Honey why are you so hard.

Warhol, the man in drag is obviously Achilles, perhaps meant humorously.  Achilles of course lived a short but glorious life.  Warhol is temporary because Dylan is moving in on Edie.

In answer to the refrain ‘you know I want your lovin, honey why are you so hard’, it is probably that Edie wanted to marry Dylan but in the way of women wanted to pose as a virgin so as to come to him pure.

When she was at Harvard in Boston she was known as a premier fag hag.  The men she knew were all gay so one presumes her chastity was safe there.  Of course, Andy Warhol, known here as Achilles here was gay.  Insofar as she associated with Andy, and he apparently really was smitten by her, as close to being in love as he could get with anyone, as he put it, her chastity was safe with him too.  Perhaps that is why Dylan has Achilles in Edie’s allegory, near but not close sexually.

As there was rivalry between Dylan and Warhol for Edie it follows that ‘he don’t want me here he does brag.’  The line

Her fogs, her amphetamines and her pearls.

would point to the situation as it stood in August or September of ’65.  He’s hungry like a man in drag may refer to his homosexuality which prevents him from satisfying his lust  I don’t know why he’s pointing at the sky but Dylan says disgustedly ‘how come you get someone (a fag) like him to be your guard.  Dylan was known to be macho at the time.

The first verse points to a period perhaps November-December of ’65.  Dylan, of course, married Sara in November of ’65 so that at this point Dylan would be playing with Edie as perhaps he thought she was playing with him before.

Hence:

Standing on your window, honey

Yes. I’ve been here before

Feeling so harmless

I’m looking at your second door

How come you don’t send me no regards?

You know I want you lovin’

Honey why are you so hard?

Here is a reference to Dylan and Edie’s first meeting in December of ’64.  And then in March Chuck Wein introduced Edie to the Factory although she had met Warhol a couple weeks after Dylan in January of ’65.   Dylan may have been too busy at the beginning of ’65 to actively pursue Edie, he also did have to pay attention to Sara who he was courting at the same time, plus engagements and whatever.

Andy

At any rate Edie teamed up with Warhol from March to about December of ’65.  At that point Dylan who was wooing Edie and Grossman his manager were promising to make Edie a star at something.  If as a star, she couldn’t sing, but then that didn’t stop Dylan from having a career.

Now, Andy had been trying to make Edie his movie star.  According to Ronnie Tavel who scripted many of Andy’s movies Andy saw Edie as his ticket to breaking into Hollywood.  That was one of Andy’s chief ambitions that was never realized.  Tavel says that he and Andy used to coach Edie in her lines.  When time to film came she always dosed herself with amphetamines before hand and, of course, uncoached herself.  Thus in Andy’s account of his appearance at the psychiatrists’ banquet in January of ’66 he remarks that it was futile for Dylan and Grossman to work with her because she was unable to concentrate long to get anything done.  Edie wouldn’t work hence no career.   Andy might have been able to get her something if she had.  He sounds rueful and hurt.

So in late ’65 this was Dylan’s second attempt to connect with Edie.

The second verse:

Kneeling ‘neith your ceiling

Yes, I guess I’ll be here for a while

I’m trying to read your portrait, but

I’m helpless, like a rich man’s child.

How come you send someone out to have me barred:

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, why are you so hard?

Kneeling ‘neath your ceiling fits in with standing in your window and looking at your second door.  Kneeling ‘neath your ceiling is probably somewhat like Paul Simon’s ‘One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor or Tony Orlando’s Stomp three time on the floor.  In other words Dylan is in the room beneath Edie unable to get to her unless she calls him.

Thus the addendum to verse two:

Like a poor fool in his prime

Yes’ I know you can hear me walk

But is our heart made out of stone, or is it lime

Or is it just solid rock?

In other words Edie knows he’s down there pacing anxiously back and forth but a hard hearted woman she refuses to call him to her, stomping three times on the floor.

The fourth verse:

Well, I rush into your hallway

Lean against your velvet door

I watch upon your scorpion

Who crawls across your circus floor

Just what do you think you have to guard?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey why are you so hard?

The ardent and frustrated would be lover can’t breach Edie’s window, door. ceiling, hallway, velvet door.  The scorpion/circus reference escapes me except that Edie may have appeared to be leading some circus life as does Ophelia in Desolation Row.

Apparently this was a throw away song for Dylan as other than recording it he has never played it in concert.  It was one of my favorites on the album however.  Perhaps after Dylan’s motorcycle accident the song became irrelevant to him.  Too topical, not universal enough as was its counterpart Visions of Johanna.

As far as Blonde On Blonde goes I’m tentatively of the opinion that Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 refers to Edie and his mother.  The only reference to Sara in the album would be Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.

Your secrets are safe with me, Bob, of course you don’t have anything to hide.

Exhuming Bob XXVIII

Visions of Johanna Decoded

by

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.