Sunday Scribblings – the Johanna vignettes


This piece is Sunday Scribbling (prompt #116) done with a McSweeney twist (prompt #10)



dylan-and-suze.jpg picture by pemerytx 

Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo in NYC



A Play on Dylan

By Miss A



VIGNETTE ONE – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan


(Bob Dylan sits pensively smoking a cigarette with girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, at a small kitchen table in a NYC apartment. He’s got his chair tilted back and his feet up on the old-style cast iron radiator.)




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




Yeah, who pushed fast forward?  Yesterday “Bob Dylan” sells 5000 copies and today you’re freewheelin’ with Miss Fame all over your ass with her critics and her record companies and her producers and all.




And with America goin’ through some serious growing pains, from civil rights movements to men on the moon, and JFK on the brink of doom, it just don’t seem right.








And now America, she’s sittin’ here stranded in a sea of Soviet missiles but most of her people just whistle or bury their heads back in the sand.




Exactly why you keep trying to wake people up!  Now you’re just dealing with a bigger platform…which is really ideal for the level of awareness that’s required here.




(Suddenly in one sweep, Dylan swings his feet down from the radiator and under the table.  He puts his cigarette out and leans into the table toward Suze in mock excitement.)


So meanwhile the lights are flickering at Carnegie hall and I’m singin’ ‘bout the consequences that’ll befall us all, I’m singin’ ‘bout a hard-falling rain!  (Laughs.)


(Dylan leans back, dejected, disgusted.  Coughs.)


But the music’s been written for America and me, and more of the same’s comin’ down the pike.  The country crooning keeps spillin’ out the radio, and there’s no turnin’ it off, ‘cause America and me, we’re both singin’ it on a roll to our destiny.  


(The heat pipes cough.  Dylan lights another cigarette and swings his feet back up on top of them.)


Fact is, Suze, I’m in bed with Miss Fame…  Hey, let’s give ‘er a name…  Johanna, yeah.  And Johanna Fame just wants the bucks and it’s the poor that end up fucked.  And it’s partly on account of her conquering minds like mine.






VIGNETTE TWO – The times they are a-changin’


(Dylan leaves a NYC recording studio with his manager, Albert Grossman.  It’s very late in the evening.  The two talk for a moment in the parking lot.)




(Lights a cigarette, squints up at the street light.)


Who’d’ve thought, standin’ in an empty lot, I’d be watchin’ the critics’ playing blindman’s bluff—Silber sayin’ I’ve lost touch with people and Ginsberg sayin’ my “Chimes…” is chains of flashing images?  And you, Grossman…



(Finishes for Dylan) 


…I’m a leech.  (Laughs)  Yeah, but I love you man.




You and all the girls and women and Columbia and Macmillan…  All of ya’ll wantin’ to hop on the Dylan train…  (Mock laughs)


Night watchman


(Comes from around the corner of the studio and flashes his light on them.)


Oh!  Sorry Mr. Dylan, Mr. Grossman!  I thought you’da been long gone, sirs.




(Nods at the watchman)


Don’t worry about it.  Glad you’re on the ball.


Night watchman


(Grateful no one is insulted, he continues on his way.)


Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.




And that’s just it, Grossman…  Under the light I dunno who’s insane, them or me.


(Grossman pats Dylan’s shoulder.)


I tell ya, man, I’m wearing down, I’m gettin’ thin.  This Folk I’m doin’ is alright, it’s near to the innards of people, it reflects ‘em back to themselves but it’s not gettin’ it done… This is Johanna Fame, not me…


(Dylan throws his cigarette to the ground hard and twists it out with his foot.)


Been listenin’ to The Beatles.  Outrageous chords and harmonies that make ‘em work.  That’s where music is going.  That’s where I’m going.






VIGNETTE THREE – Another side of Bob Dylan


(Dylan is debuting his new electric blues with a full rock band at the Newport Folk Festival.  The diehard Folk purists are booing and after just three songs, Dylan has had it.)




(To the band)


Let’s go, man.  That’s all.


(Dylan and the band walk off, backstage.  The crowd is now doubly pissed, goes ballistic.)


Peter Yarrow


(Steps up to the microphone)


Hey hey!  (crowd quiets some) 

Your attention!  (crowd quiets more)

Attention please!  (crowd quiets enough to talk above them) 

I assure you, Dylan just went backstage to get his axe!


(Peter goes backstage and finds Dylan extremely distressed.  The band has taken off.)


C’mon man.  Come on back out solo, man.


Joan Baez


(Rushes in from the side.  She touches Dylan’s arm.)


Bob, fuck them!  Don’t let ‘em get to you.  Just finish for you, for the ones who understand.


(Both Yarrow and Baez continue coaxing Dylan.)




Fuck it.


(He goes back out on stage flustered.  Realizes he doesn’t have the right harmonica and snaps angrily at Yarrow.)


What are you doing to me?




(Looks down, sheepish.  He realizes he wasn’t thinking of Dylan, just of appeasing the crowd, keeping peace.)


I’m so sorry, man.




Fuck it.


(Dylan steps to the front of the stage his voice shaking a bit with nervousness and distress.)


Anyone got an E harmonica?


(A bunch of harmonicas fly through the air and hit the stage.  Dylan snatches one up and begins an impromptu acoustic set. Sings…)


Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously

He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously

And when Johanna’s name comes up

He sees he’s left himself completely

He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all

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 Miss Fame, she wears me out at night and shoots me down at dawn


(Music fades to blackout)




VIGNETTE FOUR – Bob Dylan World Tour


(Dylan is in Paris nearing the end of his world tour.  Last stop is London.  Portions of audiences are still refusing to accept his plugged-in material.  He’s taking a break in the Louvre with Grossman.  Dylan is silent, observes paintings, gets more and more agitated.)




I know it’s hard, Bob, the audiences jeering, slow handclapping…  Your last few press conferences have been surreal…  The journalists are just doing their job and yet you torture them with your bizarre answers and rude behavior.  What purpose is that serving?




(Acts as if he didn’t hear a thing Grossman has said.  Keeps walking and finally stops in front of the Mona Lisa.)


This is infinity, Grossman, all along this wall.  This is what salvation must be like after awhile.  But Mona Lisa here, she musta had the highway blues, she’s seen so much.  She and I have seen the exploitation, the selling out.  Look at Van Gogh:  painted all his life for the love of it, goes insane, kills himself.  Johanna Van Gogh facilitates his fame, too late.  Johanna Fame has me live by the balls.  Which is worse?




(Clears his throat.)






(Interrupts him.)


Look at all these jelly-faced, bejeweled old crones ‘round here.  Most of these cows are so fattened by the success of their men that they can’t see their knees, but they can see that this is the place to be seen.  That is why this primitive wallflower here is smirking.








(Dylan’s controversial World Tour crescendoed to a nasty confrontation between Dylan and the audience at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in England.  Dylan is back in NY pissed, pushed, and under more pressure than ever before.  He and his wife, Sara Lownds, are in the kitchen.)




(He’s leaned back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other.  Mumbles…)


The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him.








(Makes no effort to be clearer.  Mumbles.)


Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.




Bob, for Christ’s sake…




(Snaps back to the moment.)


The tour was screwed yet I’ve got ABC wantin’ a show, Macmillan demanding a final manuscript for “Tarantuala”, Grossman’s already scheduled an absurdly long summer and fall tour…




Honey, you will never not have appeal.  You will never not write shows, books, music, go on tour…




(Mock laughs)  Ain’t it just a gas, how I down others who can’t see past their own puny joy and pain and jump on top of Johanna again and again, and here I am getting’ ready to do the same…again?!


(Sits forward, lights a cigarette, takes a drag.)


It’s depressing, don’t ya think?




Not if that’s what you’re cut out to do.  You haven’t yet settled into yourself have you? 


(Gets no answer)


Well, I guess that dissatisfaction’s what keeps you moving forward.  Look where you’ve been, all you’ve done!  Where you could go!




(Elbows on table, head between hands.)


Shit, man.  I need an out.


(Sits up, leans back in the chair, takes a drag off his cigarette, stares straight ahead at nothing in particular, glassy-eyed.  Blows smoke out slowly, steadily.)


This thing’s on a roll I can’t stop.  I need a savior and I ain’t even seen the Madonna yet.




Well, Baby, you do what you gotta do…




(Still staring, glassy-eyed.)


We see this 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

On the back of the fish truck that loads

While my conscience explodes

The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain








Narrator (V.O.)


Turns out these last few words, they were a prophecy.  A few days later, Dylan had a motorcycle accident that didn’t hurt him badly, and gave him just the right out.  The stage was devoid of Dylan for twenty months.  His debts of obligation were zeroed out with understanding.  He took a break to heal and reentered the scene casually on his own terms, not Johanna’s.







Lyrics from


Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.


In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’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
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
The ghost of ‘lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place


Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
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 the dawn


Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel


The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
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 this 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
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain


Copyright © 1966; renewed 1994 Dwarf Music




Studio version:



Dylan04.jpg picture by pemerytx






Dylan and Suze snagged from


Dylan / electric from


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Click here for more on prompt “#116 – Happy Ending” from other Sunday Scribblings participants.


7 responses to “Sunday Scribblings – the Johanna vignettes

  1. whew!!! — what a post!!! – don’t know where to start – want to remark on how you used the lyrics to provide some dialogue throughout the vignettes – INGENIUS! – have to mention dylan’s genius, natch!!! – always loved his mournful wail – BRILLIANT AND DYNAMIC PORTRAYAL OF AN INCREASINGLY JADED DESCENT OF AN IDEALIST!!! — this guy could be a full time credit course all his own to try and know the real shit behind all his lyrics – really getting cerebral spasms trying to figure out who louise is!!! — you just blow me away everytime with your posts, this is sure no exception!!!

  2. I don’t know what to say!!!
    You are so imaginative, it’s uncanny.
    You are seemingly ‘missing’ for a while and then you come back from the dark with this!!!! And what are we supposed to do but pick our jaws from the floor??

  3. Ooh la, I see we’re back in the land of the muse. Keep this up and your day job may be in jeopardy. You read Tarantula too, did you? I read it much too early in life, back when my brain was not quite right-hemisphered enuff.

    Blood on the Tracks was, eventually, happy ending enough for all of us. Not to mention “Not Dark Yet.” Peace, Ms A.

  4. danni: well I love your reviews and this is no exception! You are so right about the Dylan course! Really, one would probably have to study him at least as long as it took to get a bachelor’s degree! His lyrics are cryptic code as a rule, for sure. I looked over a lot of stuff regarding “Visions of Johanna” and there are so many opinions as to the meaning. The two versions I liked best are that he’s honoring Johanna Gezina van Gogh (Vincent’s sister in law) and Lukethedrifter’s version that it has to do with war times , but I went with my own hunch that Dylan is Louise and maybe the peddler and the fiddler, etc. too…basically, each verse seemed to me to represent a year in his life, starting with 1962. I’m really glad you enjoyed it and stopped by with your thoughts on it!

    Devil Mood: better late than never, I say, to thank you for the support! I’ve been showing up after the SS parties are over lately so I really appreciate you showing up regardless :-)

    Paschal: muse schmuse. I’m still flying solo here! Regardless, I hope you’re right about the day job! And ooh, yeah, “Not Dark Yet” is one good tune, hooky, with lyrics I can identify with on a war-torn day.

  5. Very cool. Nice job.

    Now — what do you think “the harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain” means? I’m working on a dramatic rendition, and I’m trying to get a reading on that line. Do you think it’s just three unrelated conditions — the harmonicas play; the skeleton key; and the rain — or is there some unifying concept? Thanks.

    Again – very cool.

  6. Man, Stu, if I’d known you were coming I’d have put out the fine china and all and been here to welcome you. Now you’re gone and I see you’ve left me a really fun note. If lyrics are a fascination in general, then Dylan’s poetry is the ultimate enticement.

    I got the impression throughout the formerly titled “Freeze Out” (of significance as well, I think) that Dylan was using the word rain to represent the consequences of callous, or self-serving, or simply ignorant actions of the human race. His poetry, his music, conveys his plight amidst the human plight, the here’s how it is amidst the mundane to profound brokenness of humanity, the here’s how it is in words that point inside and outside to everyone, everywhere, words that provoke thought, change views, lives. So I think “The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain” is a coherent phrase that reiterates his role, and perhaps the role of any musician with something significant to say, as relater and harbinger. And my thoughts about that verse remain the same whether or not I stay true to the theme of the vignettes above. Whether or not Dylan would’ve been forced to leave the stage as the Judas of Folk, or whether Johanna was the illusive ideal chick or Van Gogh’s sister in law, or whether we’re just talking Dylan in general, it doesn’t matter. His poetry, his music will blow through the reeds of the harmonica bearing both the master keys to life (the realities and truths his poetry points to) and the rain (the consequences of unenlightened actions).

    I’d love to hear what you tend toward regarding that verse. And you have to know I’m all kinds of curious about the dramatic rendition you’re working on, so I hope you’ll let me know when you’ve finished stuffing your heart and soul into it and it’s ready to serve!

  7. I wonder how I missed this one, guess I’ve been in hiding for too long. This was brilliant. It was like rediscovering the Bob Dylan we knew all over again. I don’t like poetry in general, but when it comes to Dylan, its simply a different story. The way you wrote that, I dont think even Dylan would have ever imagined it :) To be very honest I never heard that song, but I will now, for sure… And it’ll be one song that I will know what to make of. Always.

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