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.