Odds and end
We’re at the end of our guided tour, unfortunately. You might have, up until now, always thought that Belgium might be one of the most insignificant countries in the world. But since you’ve now read about the glorious history of Belgian Rock-n-Roll (and what Bob Dylan exactly had to do with that) it is perhaps time to adjust your mindset.
The people in Belgium really dig Bob Dylan. That’s a well established fact. Dylan is deeply rooted in the country’s culture. If there’s still some doubt... let’s look at some interesting things:
- Each year, on the 24th of May, the country's national mascotte; , is dressed-up in a Bob Dylan T-shirt. It's a tradition that started in 1967 and has been, since then, copied for lesser gods.
- Belgium is world famous for its delicious chocolate. Chocolate is the number 3 export product (after beer and French fries). And this special is maybe the best you can get. Delicious! I feel it is a respectful way to pay respect to its name giver (also available in the US!).
- The people of Belgium would love to have Dylan stay with them all of the time. They accept this is impossible. So they started a quest to find a stand-in.
- Unlike in the US the steel industry in Belgium is booming. This company started of with one goal: becoming the biggest in the world. The name of the company is a wink to Hibbing MN ( ). Subtle but obvious.
- Another important export product of Belgium are the comics. You all know TinTin, of course. You all think that Hergé is the greatest of these artists. Hmmm... you are so wrong! It’s Marc Sleen with the “Nero” series. He is the real hero of Flanders. The attentive reader will find many clues and hints about Bob Dylan in the Nero albums. We will give you just one that fits the purpose of this website: .
- Belgian artists not only expressed their admiration of Bob Dylan by covering his songs. Some of them came out even more boldly, with love songs and hymns. I will give you an example... there should be many more.
The welcome at Zaventem
In the song “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, which was written directly after the well known events in Newport in 1965, Dylan wanted to tell us something very important. It is, until today, a pity that not too many of you got the real message. So, let me put it all into context and shine a light on what Dylan really says to us and what he exactly wants us to understand.
Halfway trough the song he takes a deep breath and tells us about an emotional period in his life:
I left Rome and landed in Brussels.
If you listen carefully, Dylan explains here that he had bitterly and disappointedly left the old establishment (Rome) behind and moved on to a much more exciting new place, something much better(!): Brussels! At that time - 1965 - Brussels was destined to be the new capital of Europe. Brussels had grandeur and was bursting at the seams with culture. Brussels had "buzz".
As Jacques Brel put it:
C'était au temps où Bruxelles rêvait
C'était au temps du cinéma muet
C'était au temps où Bruxelles chantait
C'était au temps où Bruxelles bruxellait
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin’ muscles
These two lines are clearly a metaphor for the tough choice Dylan had to make: He was fed up with his role being "the spokesperson for this generation" and pissed off with the reception of his new work. On the other hand he felt it was difficult for him to leave his old world (Rome) behind and explore the new. Dylan's management and the staff at his office (clergymen) who meanwhile relied financially on his success as a folk singer. They had families. There were mouths to be fed. And Dylan felt responsible for their well-being, of course - who wouldn’t? These people, together with his fanbase (young girls) tried desperately to prevent him to explore the new world. They held him back (pulling muscles).
Between the lines you can also feel that he refers to Luke 5:9, in the Bible: "If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” The deep significance of this will become more obvious in the following context.
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside
This doesn’t needs much explanation, does it? When Dylan explained to the people in Bruxelles what the true reason of his visit was, they totally understood. They would love to give him a new home. To make him feel appreciated again.
The song goes further:
Newspapermen eating candy,
had to be held down by big police
Again a hint to where he stood both physically and emotionally: in Brussels. And also a hint to us about the press. With his unexpected career move these reporters had lots of new things to write about now. They were eating the candy (Dylan’s words) from his mouth.
Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece.
This is the most intriguing line of this song. It would be very easy to assume that Dylan was referring to a new (the “mother of all songs”) song that he planned to write somewhere in the future, but he is not. He is talking about his plans to quit being a "song-and-dance-man" and become a world famous painter. I will explain this for once and for all, so pay attention:
Take a copy of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits and take a close look at the cover. The photo is taken by Jerry Schatzberg in 1965 and is one from a series called "Flemish Bob"(!). On the record sleeve the photo is printed in reverse to fit in with the ideas of the grahic designer. Take a look at . Now look at the sad expression on Dylan’s face on both photo's. It’s obvious - again - he is contemplating about his future as a musician. He is at a fork in the road. His days as a folk- and protest singer are over. He knows he's a hasbeen. The book he’s holding lovingly illustrates his real passion: painting. The piano stool he sits on illustrates the old music the people want him to play. And he is fed up with it. This stool holds him down(!). See the sad expression on his face, his struggle. It is a tough nut to crack.
Some ten years later Dylan tells a little more about the book that had to change his life, but didn't.
In Tangled Up In Blue he says:
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
Many have speculated which book this would be. Well, like in many of Dylan's songs, again he is giving us only clues; poems should be read as paintings, poet as painters etc. It is
Joan Baez said it so well: "You who are so good with words and in keeping things vague".
Now you know that Dylan came to Belgium to study The adoration of the Magi, Pieter Paul Rubens' masterpiece. Meanwhile he considered a major career change. He went to other museums to look at more works of Rubens (and saw with his own eyes that one didn’t need to be a rock star to get close to voluptous women who were willing to take their clothes off).
So, back in Woodstock Dylan took art lessons and faked a motorcycle accident to be able to be a fulltime painter and get Albert Grossman off his back at the same time.
But did we understand?
Hell, no. We did not want a new painter, we wanted the old Dylan. And we were not alone. Also Sara had problems with Dylan's new "hobby" (as she would put it). She thought it was just a lame excuse for him to be with naked women.
Dylan would later admit in an interview that the art lessons caused problems in his marriage: "I went home after that first day and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That's when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn't possibly explain it."
In 1970 he again tried to tell us about his struggle when he used one of his paintings, a self portrait(!), as an album cover. Now, you all think that the songs were a message to the fans, don't you? To make clear to them that he just wanted to perform te sort of music that HE liked - instead of what WE liked. No, no, no... of course not! The album COVER was the message! Dylan wanted to be a painter instead. He didn't want to be what we expected him to be. He wanted to be himself!
I have always wondered why none of you understood this simple message.
Think, for Bobsake, think!