Saturday, November 15, 2008

... By Any Other Name

Throughout my life, I have been called by many nicknames. When I was a little girl people called me Johanna Banana or Jo Jo. As I got older, I was called Josie or Jo. Often people never got my name right, and they called me Joanne or Joanna. I had a grade nine teacher who used to call me Johann. I tried all year to explain to her that my name had an "a" at the end, but she could never get it right. She was a teacher, for goodness sake, what was so difficult about pronouncing my name correctly? Needless to say, she will not be remembered as one of my favorite teachers. A nurse where I work calls me Yohanna, but I like her too much to tell her that my name starts with a "J", not a "Y". But I must admit, I have never cared for nicknames, and I love it when I hear my name pronounced correctly.

My name is sort of unusual, so there aren’t many songs named after me. I like to think Bob Dylan was thinking of me when he wrote this song. Of course, the fact that we had never met would have nothing to do with it, ... well, except once when I saw him perform in person.

Could it be…?

Naw...

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




As with most Dylan songs, I have no idea what the song means, but I love to hear Bob Dylan say my name.

13 comments:

Leslie: said...

I've always loved Bob Dylan's sound but this song doesn't ring a bell. It's lovely, though.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I'm with Leslie.

I don't quie get the song eithr. Surreal, yes. And highly quotable.


At least three famous authors, usually in Rolling Stone or Playboy, have quoted it. Especially
Name me someone that's not a parasite and I'll go out and say a prayer for him. Hunter S. Thompson?

Same with A Horse with no name, by the group America. Wonderful surrealism, but what does it mean?

Ah well. Visions of Johanna.

...But I think you are scrutable. :)

Adventure girl wanna be said...

Great post. I like calling you Jo Jo. Is that ok? I love the pic of you as a little girl;)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Of course he was singing about you. Of course.

You were a lovely child and you haven't changed a bit. You are still a vision, like the man said.

I would have liked a more complicated, romantic and exotic name when I was a child, at least something with more letters, but apparently my parents couldn't spare more than five. And if Dylan ever had visions of Susan, he kept it to himself.

frizzy scissorhands said...

neat. people automatically associate my name with a song. "Roxanne ..."

enjoy your sunday.

KathyB. said...

You're right, I don't quite get the lyrics, that sound like a distorted dream.

My sister and my husbands' sister are both named JoAnn, often mispronounced. That surprises me because it seems like a very straight forward name. Your teacher mispronounced your name so badly she called you by a boy's name if I am not mistaken. It seems a very easy courtesy to learn to properly speak a name..doesn't it?

I have rarely been called by my real name, Kathryn. I would tell every teacher in the many, many schools I attended that my name was Kathryn. And every time it was immediately shortened to Kathy.I was too nice to correct them or just not answer to the nick name. So here I am, past the half century mark in age, blogging and signing my name myself as...KathyB

Russell said...

I think I have discovered a new song I really, really like... I can't image someone messing up the name Johanna. It rolls off your tongue and is like music!

The idea of someone mispronouncing your name is, well, incredible. But, well, there are fools everywhere I suppose...

Your name is special - just like you... and beautiful, too ... just like you...

xup said...

Nobody had ever called me by actual name, pronounced correctly in my life. Ever.

Firefly said...

My first name is Jonker which is an Afrikaans name. In actual fact its a surname. It was my mothers maiden name and she was an only child so it was decided to pass the surname on to me as a name. The J isn't pronounced as in Jo. Jo is pronounced Jgho and Jonker without the gh sound. When I used to be a tourist guide my guests always got it wrong pronounsing my name in all kinds of manners. I never minded. What I did say to them though was: "I don't mind what you call me, just don't call me late for dinner."
Oops, the wife is calling for dinner (I don't lie) so I have to be off. Later.

Jo said...

Leslie, I love Bob Dylan too. I enjoyed seeing him in person.

Ivan, *heh*. Yes, even reading the words, it makes no sense to me at all!

Adventuregirl, my brothers tell me when I was a little girl I was always laughing. Well, they were very funny!

Hearts, well, I always wanted a lovely, simply name like Susan or Diane. My middle name is Claire, and I would even have preferred that. *sigh* :-)

Frizzy, Roxanne is a lovely name! You're very lucky. :-)

Kathryn :-) that is one of my favorite names. I think it should never be shortened to Kathy, but always remain as Kathryn. Did you ever read "Wuthering Heights"? Kathryn!

Russell, awwww, you are so sweet! Thank you! Yes, I love it when I hear my name pronounced correctly.

Firefly, I loved when my grandmother used to say my name with a South African accent. Her name was Katherine Johanna, so I was named for her, and she said my name so beautifully! I think the South African accent is my favorite accent. :-)

willow said...

I've always liked this one from Sweeney Todd:

I'll steal you, Johanna,
I'll steal you.
Do they think that walls could hide you?
Even now, I'm at your window.
I am in the dark beside you,
Buried sweetly in your yellow hair!
I feel you, Johanna,
And one day I'll steal you!
Til I'm with you then,
I'm with you there,
Sweetly buried in your yellow hair!

Jo said...

Willow, yes! I have only heard that once, but I laughed when I heard it. Thanks!

susie said...

As someone who was in high school I had the songs "Tra La La Susie" and "Wake up Little Susie" to live with, so I am jealous of you!