Johanna drove slowly into the city
The Hudson River all filled with snow
She spied the ring on His Honor's finger
Oh-oh-oh

A thousand years in one piece of silver
She took it from his lily-white hand
Showed no fear--she'd seen the thing
In the young men's wing at Sloan-Kettering

Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"
Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"

'Ey, 'ey, 'ey, 'ey!
'Ey, 'ey, 'ey!

His Honor drove southward seeking exotica
Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico
Cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas
Oh-oh-oh

I saw Johanna down in the subway
She took an apartment in Washington Heights
Half of the ring lies here with me
But the other half's at the bottom of the sea

Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"
Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"
Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"
Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"

'Ey, 'ey, 'ey, 'ey!
'Ey, 'ey, 'ey, 'ey!


Lyrics submitted by tippy_typewriter

A-Punk song meanings
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111 Comments

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  • +11
    General CommentOk, how about this:

    Johanna comes to New York because one of her family members, most likely her younger brother, has just died from cancer. She has been to visit him previously in the cancer ward at Sloan-Kettering, as evidenced by the lyric "she'd seen the thing at the young man's wing in Sloan-Kettering"

    "His Honor" could be just that, a judge who has settled the family estate. She takes the ring from him. The line "a thousand years in one piece of silver" can refer to the ring having been in the family for generations. The "raincoats coming" are a symbol of her sadness. She watches them from her apartment or hotel window.

    I think that the lines about His Honor's trip to the southwest are showing that the whole experience was difficult for everyone. Even the estate executor had to take some time off (maybe permanently) to distance himself from the emotional turmoil of a young person dying of cancer.

    Johanna takes an apartment in the city to be close to the memory of her lost loved one. However, she has thrown the ring into the sea because of the painful association with the death.

    I think that the narrator of the song is the deceased relative. The line "half of the ring lies here with me, but the other half's at the bottom of the sea" means that the physical location of the ring is the ocean where it was thrown, but the "other half" is the memory associated with the ring, which lies with the dead person.

    Just my two pennies.
    icy40ozon February 16, 2008   Link
  • +7
    General CommentOH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SONG. i have no idea what it means but i love going EY EY EY EY
    peopledontdanceon February 06, 2008   Link
  • +7
    My InterpretationI had no idea what the song meant at first, so I had to rely heavily on others for this. Let's break it down:

    "Johanna drove slowly into the city
    The Hudson River all filled with snow
    She spied the ring on His Honor's finger
    Oh-oh-oh"

    The first couple lines are irrelevant except it means that she is visiting His Honor, so he must not be a husband. In the third line, it says she spies a ring. This could be a family heirloom or a symbol of her family. It could be a non-family member, but based on the fact that she gets the ring (more on that in a second) it's likely.

    "A thousand years in one piece of silver
    She took it from his lily-white hand
    Showed no fear--she'd seen the thing
    In the young men's wing at Sloan-Kettering"

    Here, the first line tells us that the ring is storied and old, which means it has been handed down generation to generation (or, less likely, sold). She then takes the ring and apparently inherits it, which is why His Honor is likely family. The second two lines refer not to the ring, but to death. She was unfazed because she'd seen a young man (perhaps a brother) die of cancer at Sloan-Kettering, a cancer centre. These lines don't refer to His Honor, however, because it says she'd, as in she had, so it must be before His Honor died.

    "His Honor drove southward seeking exotica
    Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico
    Cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas
    Oh-oh-oh "

    This part seems to be a sad flashback to His Honor seeking a last bit of fun before he died. You can tell it's from a disease because of "cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas", which is something nobody does unless they're frail and weak. The disease could well be cancer.

    "I saw Johanna down in the subway
    She took an apartment in Washington Heights
    Half of the ring lies here with me
    But the other half's at the bottom of the sea"

    The first two lines are inconsequential except for the fact that Columbia University, where Vampire Weekend formed, is in Washington Heights, so it's implying that she moved near the singer for comfort. The other two lines, however, are more important. She must have cut half of the ring off and thrown it out to sea out of anguish and grief. She wanted to forget, so she got rid of the memories. But, at the same time she couldn't abandon her family so she gave the other half to the narrator for safe keeping.

    "Look outside at the raincoats coming, say 'oh'"

    Perhaps the most depressing line of the song, this seemingly insane blurb is actually quite sad. The raincoats represent her gray, melancholy spirit as she grieves, depressed and endless.

    Just my take on the song. Hope this is useful and you understand it more now.
    dodgerblueon March 20, 2013   Link
  • +5
    General Comment[go to the very end if you wanna hear it in a nutshell]
    okay here's what i got from the song:

    "johanna drove slowly into the city the hudson river all filled with snow"
    ---johanna arives in new york during winter [because the hudson river is in new york]

    "a thousand years in one piece of silver"
    ---talking about the ring, this can mean that is has some meaning/value to her

    "she took it from his lily-white hand"
    ---could suggest that he is dead

    "showed no fear she'd seen the thing in the young men's wing at sloan kettering"
    ---sloan kettering is a cancer center
    so she could have been expecting him to die. and when he did she took the ring

    "look outside the raincoats coming say oh"
    ---i think this means that its raining. and rain can represent a number of things. it can mean sadness/washing something clean/starting over/renew/replenish..whatev..
    because the raincoats are coming this could mean that people are coming after her...or not..

    "his honor drove southward seeking exotica..turquoise harmonicas"
    ---now here's where the song gets tricky.
    this part doesnt allude to anything that i've heard of
    so i think this is just an experience that the writer of the song had.
    ---i interpreted this as telling us what happend to the boy johanna took the ring from. before he died. lol its hard to explain what i'm thinking

    "half of the ring lies here with me but the other halfs at the bottom of the sea"
    ---she gets rid of the half of the ring the represents his honor and gives the other half to her new love

    ----okay..in a nutshell.. so this guy is telling the story of his girl johanna. how she gets over [or gets even] with an old love by taking a ring that he has [i think the ring represents her love]. in the end she gives half to her new love and leave the other half behind.
    --i dont think the person who wrote this song wants us to know exactly what it means. its left open for interpretation. i think johanna is getting over an old love. thats why rain is mentioned, because it washes away her old mistakes..like a clean slate

    wow. that was long. please tell me what you think
    catxuhhxleexnuhon February 02, 2008   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationThis is about the evolution of music through the hidden, personal relationships of musicians. Specifically, this is about the end of Bob Dylan's relationship with Suze Rotolo largely due to an affair with Joan Baez as evidenced by Dylan's song "Visions of Johanna." The end of Dylan's relationship with Rotolo in 1964 ushered his introduction into an entirely new genre of music, Proto Punk which eventually influenced punk rock. Bob Dylan is, a punk.

    "Johanna drove slowly into the city
    The Hudson river all filled with snow"
    Joan Baez (subject of Dylan's Visions of Johanna) drove into the city. The snow reference could represent an uncertain time or could just simply, represent mid-winter.

    "a thousand years in one piece of silver she took it from his lily white hand"
    Symbolizes the death of the innocence in Rotolo and Dylan's relationship as Baez took the ring off of Dylan's lily white hand (lily white = pure).

    "Showed no fear--she'd seen the thing In the young men's wing at Sloan-Kettering"
    Joan Baez's first relationship with Michael New ended as a result of cheating as well as her rise to fame which inspired the song "Michael". This could explain the above mentioned reference: "Showed no fear-- she'd seen the thing".

    "Look outside at the raincoats coming"
    The end of Dylan's relationship with Suze Rotolo marked the beginning of the Proto Punk Period. It's also worth noting that one of Baez's songs "Famous Blue Raincoat" is likely about the end of Rotolo's relationship with Dylan.

    "His Honor drove southward seeking exotica
    Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico
    Cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas"

    His Honor, Dylan went to New Mexico (lived in gallup, new mexico growing up) and cut his teeth (cut your teeth = try something new) on turquoise harmonicas. Dylan was obviously known for his use of the harmonica.

    "I saw Johanna down in the subway
    She took an apartment in Washington Heights
    Half of the ring lies here with me
    But the other half's at the bottom of the sea"

    This transitions to Ezra's experience with Dylan, Baez and music as a whole. I saw Johanna down in the subway is likely another reference to "Visons of Johanna" as part of Dylan's work references the D train in the subway. In this instance, the ring is symbolic of the genre, where half of it is lost at the bottom of the sea and the other half is with Ezra trying to honor the music and it's hidden evolution through these inspiring relationships.
    ficticiousjoeon November 30, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis song, like all Vampire Weekend's music, is so cheerful. still, I have no idea what they're talking about, hahaha.
    shadybagladyon September 20, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSeems to me the title is a reference to the sub-genre commonly known as "Oi Punk," where bands sometimes chant "oi! oi! oi!" similar to the way that Koenig chants "'ey! 'ey! 'ey!" or "a! a! a!"
    seannyffon March 09, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentA lot of Vampire Weekends music has references to the Ivy League, Cape Cod, Boston, Martha's Vineyard, and New England in general, so I learned to look for references that might be obscure and the first time I heard this song I though they were saying, "look outside the redcoats coming." even though the real line is raincoats, could it be a masked reference alluding to the Paul Revere's historic ride through new england? I like to believe that is has a double meaning in a historical sense as well as meaning that the sadness Johanna feels is coming for her.
    weretheremorethan24on April 06, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe song's about a gold-digger: a girl who marries a much older man for his money and collects when he dies. The silver ring is a literal metaphor for his wealth (in that it tangibly exists but is more representative of something broader).
    The "cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas" is a really brilliant line. New Mexico is famous for these "pueblo huts" (although, technically, puebloan people have historically lived in larger structures as opposed to huts) but also turquoise, mostly with the Zuni tribe. Cutting his teeth on a turquoise harmonica, to me, is a bit of absurdity, and may be poking fun at the sort of ridiculous items that you can find in New Mexico tourist shops with the context that it's a "Native American craft." You see mostly older, white tourists from outside the Southwest buying this garbage. But the line, as a whole, refers to the old man's desire to visit a warmer clime, either to retire or just to travel to.
    Wonderful song. It's a new twist on the storytelling of music.
    bocmaximaon August 14, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the stanzas arn't in the order in which the events happened, opening with the pivital moment of the song.

    "Johanna drove slowly into the city
    The Hudson River all filled with snow
    She spied the ring on His Honor's finger
    Oh-oh-oh"

    - She drivers up to suprise her lover in New York but when she see's him she notices he has a wedding ring on. Honor used sarcastically, as he has lied to her.

    "A thousand years in one piece of silver
    She took it from his lily-white hand
    Showed no fear—she'd seen the thing
    In the young men's wing at Sloan-Kettering"

    - When she saw his wedding ring tie stood still as if it was a "thousand years" and she kills him in rage. Shes not upset as shes seen yonger men die. Hie honor could also suggest that, like a judge, he was responsible for his own fate by his actions.

    "Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh"
    Look outside at the raincoats coming, say "oh""

    - Sadness, funeral, esacpism ect :)

    'Ey, 'ey, 'ey, 'ey!
    'Ey, 'ey, 'ey!

    "His Honor drove southward seeking exotica
    Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico
    Cut his teeth on turquoise harmonicas
    Oh-oh-oh"

    - This is the first thing which happened. He went down to NM for a bit of 'fun'. Turquoise harmonicas are tacky gifts people buy when on the spur of the moment yet when they are back home they are not as valued - representing his feelings for this girl, it seemed like a good idea when he was down there but now hes back home he's not interested.

    "I saw Johanna down in the subway
    She took an apartment in Washington Heights
    Half of the ring lies here with me
    But the other half's at the bottom of the sea"

    - After shes murdered him, she threw the river but the other ring is still with his widow.
    TXBKon September 05, 2008   Link

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