"Visions of Johanna", the Manchester 66 version. I bought the boot "2 Guitars Kissing/The Contemporary Fix" when it came out and I've STILL never listened to the electric disc because anytime I notice it I pull it down and play this. Not sure what it is about it... he sort of sounds stoned, but he also remembers the lyrics flawlessly. I'm also struck by the memory of having been alive when it was brand new and hearing it when it was brand new and recognizing it as something brand new and getting swamped by the feeling that WE were doing this. the whole "M..M..My Generation" phenomenon.
There's always another generation that follows the last one, sure, that's a given. But what gets lost is that it is not very often that a generation has an actual sense of itself AS a "generation." This is not anything we get any credit for, it's not because we were smarter or anything like that. It was a lucky historical moment; a collection of various factors that caused it.
(1) The simple numbers of the so-called "baby boom" generation. Post WWII people got busy! A population explosion meant that there were unprecedented numbers of people hitting adolescence at the same time.
(2) The economic prosperity of the times. This was the period in which the modern America emerged as the leader of the free world; the center of business for the world; a center for manufacturing. This was when the infrastructure of the country was built - highways, bridges, airports, power, gas, water... etc. Right now the highest tax rate in the US is 38%, what do you think it was when Eisenhower was President (1953-1961)? G'wan... take a guess. [For the answer, see here
That meant that a whole generation had parents who were making good livings and showering their kids with all the stuff that they didn't have because they grew up in the Great Depression. And a generation of 15 year olds with disposable income is a..... MARKET! Record companies and movie studios began to make stuff for US like never before. Add to that....
(3) The GRAVITAS provided by the Civil Rights movement and, a bit later, the anti-war movement, and you get a generation aware of itself AS a generation.
But I digress....
The Live 66 version of that never ceases to astonish me. Those people were hearing it for the first time - there's absolutely no little burst of recognition applause at the start. What could they have thought as that song washed over them? And how can he remember all those words and be THAT high at the same time?
The pleasure in the song for me is in the tension created in each verse as you wait to find out if he can keep up the rhymes. And he's so loose within a pretty tight structure, stretching and bending lines, playing with syllable count but always keeping that 3-4-2 structure: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.
"Quiet" "deny it" "defy it" followed by "loft" "cough" "soft" "off" followed by "entwined" and "my mind." Three, four and two.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
And so on. Even if you're not consciously counting, the rhythm sinks in and you expect it. When he drags out a line, suggesting he's going to abandon the structure, it's downright riveting