Bob Dylan´s fascination for Rome started early, and it´s fifty-five years since he in January 1963 first came to the holy city, searching for Suze Rotolo, the girl from “Freewheelin´”, his girlfriend at the time. Bob even played some songs at the club Folkstudio, for a few people, a lot fewer than they who later claim to have seen him there. Suze was of italian-american descent, and of great importance to Bob those first years of his time in New York, the first years of his career. Two of the nights songs are strongly connected to Suze, both “Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right” (1963), which Dylan wrote when Suze left him to study in Italy, and “Simple Twist of Fate” (1975), an early written version named “4th Street Affair”, inspired by the early days with Suze in Greenwich Village. Another heartbreakingly beautiful version of the song this night.
Back in the US after the trip to Europe, he played the sketch to a new song, “Going Back To Rome”, laughing as he sings it:
“Well you know I´m lying
But don´t look at me with scorn
I´m going back to Rome
That´s where I was born”
And, in the third stanza, he sings to his audience that they can keep Madison Square Garden, if he can get Coliseum. “That´s where I was born” – what could he possibly mean by that? We can only speculate, but his fascination for a land, a culture and ancient footsteps that originates back thousands of years, seems to be a natural explanation. His ancestors were from the old world, and the USA was and is still a young nation in comparison. He was and is feeling home and related to the old history and to the old poets. Later we learnt how he was inspired by Ovid while making “Modern Times” (2006). In one of tonight´s highlights, the rocking “Thunder On The Mountain”, he mentions one of Ovid´s books: “I’ve been sitting down studying The Art of Love/I think it will fit me like a glove.”
In another of tonight´s songs, in “Tangled Up In Blue”, he tells us about another Italian poet: “Then she opened up a book of poems/And handed it to me/Written by an Italian poet/From the thirteenth century. And every one of them words rang true/And glowed like burnin’ coal/Pourin’ off of every page/Like it was written in my soul/from me to you/Tangled up in blue.” Who was the poet? There has been several suggestions, as Dante, but most believe it was Petrarch and his poems to Laura. Petrarch was of many also considered the founder of humanism. Not bad. And Dylan is very well read, that´s well known.
The connection to Rome in “Early Roman Kings” are obvious, even if the relation to Muddy Waters´and “Hoochie Coochie Man” are the strongest. In “Pay In Blood” Dylan quotes the roman politician and general Marc Antony´s words about Caesar: “I came to bury, not to praise.”
In 1984 he returned to Rome for three shows, where several of tonights songs were played, both Highway 61 Revisited, Blowing In The Wind, Tangled Up In Blue, and the last night, a beautiful version of “Desolation Row”, then a very seldom played song. This time he played wonderful versions all three nights. Since then there been many visits and shows in Rome and Italy. In 2001 he also held his press conference about “Love And Theft” in Rome, raving about the beauty and the uniqueness of Rome: “When you walk around in a town like this, you know that people were here before you, and they were probably on a much higher grander level than any of us are.” Why shouldn´t he feel home in Rome, with all the ancient footprints wherever you go?
He plays the “Sinatra” songs also tonight, another italian-american connection – tonight he includes a fine version of “Full Moon And Empty Arms”, instead of Tony Bennett´s, also an italian-american, “Once Upon A Time”.
The last show in Rome was a very nice conclusion to the three shows, this show as great as the second night, both slightly better than the first. Bob came to stage in a black Nudie-like jacket with white embroideries, his singing was great throughout the show and he really worked the piano in mysterious ways all night. The audience received him with all their warmth, both the young children screaming, the young nieces and nephews of Boticelli, the middle-aged and the old ones. Many of them maybe would think: Will he ever come back to Rome? Nobody knows, of course. Personally I´ve already for many years thought it might be the last time I saw him, but he always proved me wrong. I hope he still do.
But – what we know and what we understand is that this particular city is a part of what Bob Dylan calls his home on earth, part of his roots and his lexicon, although he might feel even more home in the land of Coca Cola. And maybe, just maybe, someday, everything is gonna be different – the day he paints his masterpiece.
When I Paint My Masterpiece.
Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece
Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory
When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece
Sailin’ round the world in a dirty gondola
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!
I left Rome and landed in Brussels
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin’ muscles
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside
Newspapermen eating candy
Had to be held down by big police
Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece