In June 1966, Bob Dylan launched Blonde on Blonde. The album is extensively deemed one of many cherished songwriter’s biggest; it confirmed Dylan on the prime of his recreation each lyrically and musically. Whereas the sound of Dylan’s voice and his musical preparations are sometimes a supply of intrigue and pleasure, it’s his distinctive knack for wordsmithery that reaps essentially the most reward.
Of all the songs on the 1966 double album, the lyrics in ‘Visions of Johanna’ have all the time drawn me in most. The translucent imagery and opaque narrative convey a lot to be contemplated. Who’s Johanna? Who’s Louise? The place is Dylan? His voice is mournful, however why? Let’s have a more in-depth look.
Whereas writing the lyrics for ‘Visions of Johanna’, Dylan was residing along with his future spouse Sara on the well-known Chelsea Resort in New York. Some accounts go so far as to say the tune was written in the course of the East Coast blackout that hit New York and 7 neighbouring states on November ninth, 1965.
The lyrics “On this room the warmth pipes simply cough” appear to align with this setting. In November, the heating on the previous Chelsea Resort would most definitely be wanted, and the quaint pipes would have been topic to a good quantity of creaking and groaning.
When Dylan initially wrote the tune, it was laid out below a working title of ‘Freeze Out’, which appears to bolster claims that it was written throughout or near the East Coast blackout.
Within the fourth verse, Dylan mentions the Mona Lisa: “However Mona Lisa musta had the freeway blues / You possibly can inform by the way in which she smiles.” This line references Leonardo da Vinci’s well-known early 1500s paintings, which exhibits a mysterious lady sitting in entrance of a rural panorama. The paintings is among the many most well-known of all time, not simply due to the celebrity of its creator, however due to its charisma. No person is aware of who Mona Lisa is, and no person can perceive the rationale for her delicate grin. The thriller surrounding the Mona Lisa is similar to the thriller surrounding ‘Visions of Johanna’.
The primary topic of the tune, Johanna, has been debated through the years following its launch, with Dylan by no means absolutely clarifying whether or not the fictional character was based mostly on any specific real-world particular person. It’s typically urged that Johanna was based mostly on fellow singer-songwriter Joan Baez, with whom Dylan had been in a relationship a yr or so earlier. Baez was a key collaborator throughout Dylan’s early rise to fame. She famously introduced Dylan on stage along with her in 1963 on the Newport People Competition. Right now, Baez was a better-known star than Dylan was and so this pivotal present helped to raise Dylan’s standing.
In Baez’s 1975 tune, ‘Winds Of The Previous Days’, she appeared to have laid declare to being ‘Johanna’. The lyrics learn, “A decade flew previous her and there on the web page, she learn that the prince had returned to the stage / A lot of the bitter grapes are gone from the bough, ghosts of Johanna will go to you there.” Earlier within the tune, the repeated line had learn, “ghosts of my historical past will comply with me there.”
Additional proof for the hyperlink to Baez might be heard within the last verse with the point out of Madonna. In fact, a ‘Madonna’ is the title given to paintings that includes the virgin Mary, the mom of Jesus in Catholicism. This doesn’t appear misplaced within the tune, given the opposite references to museums and artwork, however the “barefoot Madonna” had additionally been a nickname for Joan Baez. After a 1959 efficiency on the Newport People Competition, a author gave Baez the nickname on account of her on-stage presence, and the nickname caught by means of the Sixties.
As Dylan sings the ultimate few strains of the tune, he seems upset that Johanna has now left him: “And Madonna, she nonetheless has not confirmed / We see this empty cage now corrode / The place her cape of the stage as soon as had flowed / The fiddler, he now steps to the highway / He writes every thing’s been returned which was owed / On the again of the fish truck that masses.”
In these strains, Dylan explains that Madonna has gone and so now “the fiddler” takes “to the highway”. It could possibly be derived that Dylan is the fiddler and he explains that now his relationship with Baez is over, it’s time to maneuver on. ‘Visions of Johanna’ could possibly be a tune that Dylan used to come back to phrases along with his feelings. Clearly, he nonetheless has some remnant lamentation as his “conscience explodes,” and “these visions of Johanna are all that stay.”
Lastly, we have to work out who Louise is. This one is tougher; if the character does exist in Dylan’s actual world, Louise could possibly be Sara, or one in all his different shut pals on the time of writing, who comes throughout as a illustration of affection, understanding and heat – maybe a confidante for Dylan serving to him overcome his demons. If Louise isn’t reflecting an actual particular person in Dylan’s life, then maybe she is without doubt one of the blurred ‘Visions of Johanna’ or an embodiment of his conscience.
Nevertheless one would possibly interpret the lyrics in ‘Visions of Johanna’, it’s plain that the songwriting is an ideal instance of Dylan’s expertise. The imagery all through and the convoluted narrative leaves a lot to the creativeness, which is essential to sound artwork, simply because it was for the Mona Lisa. If Blonde on Blonde is the Louvre, ‘Visions of Johanna’ is the mysterious smiling woman sitting within the Salle des États.
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