maandag 23 februari 2015

Bob Dylan loves cycling in Holland

Bob Dylan trad twintig jaar geleden, maart 1995, op in De Oosterpoort in Groningen. Er is een verhaal rond dat optreden dat hier al eens gestaan heeft, maar dat ik bij wijze van viering van die gedenkwaardige dag nog eens publiceer. In het Engels, voor de verandering.

Bob Dylan had a show in the City of Groningen, march 1995. There is a rumour around this concert; that His Royal Bobness went biking in the area what we call High Land. I wrote a short story, based on that rumour. Twenty years later, as a celebration, I publish it again.
Note: The text is mine, translation and editing by Herman Grimme


When I first heard the story I thought: yeah, sure, and Aretha Franklin loves herring. But I knew that the man who told me Bob Dylan loves cycling in Holland, especially in the northern regions, was a down-to-earth character. Not a man to tell tall tales. Apart from being a well-respected figure in the local literary scene, he was the hard-working manager of the largest bookshop in town, and I knew that it had to be more than a rumour, a wanderanekdote.

What he told me was that Bob Dylan, thé Bob Dylan, one of the key figures in the world of pop music, tended to take a short break whenever he was touring Europe. He would rent a bicycle and take off for a day in the area around Noordpolderzijl, a small town, widely known for having the northernmost locks in the country.

Dylan supposedly loved the view. The landscape of what we call the ‘High Land’ is said to remind him of the area around his hometown, Duluth, Minnesota. I had no reason to question the allegations of my contact. Yet, they sounded a little too good to be true. That was: until three weeks later, when I had lunch with a friend, a die-hard Dylan fan. I told him the story.

‘Hm’, was all he said.

't Zielhoes

Then he told me what he heard: Henk Scholte, established storyteller and folksinger, once visited the only café in Noordpolderzijl, ‘t Zielhoes. (The name doesn’t mean ‘The Soul House’, but ‘The Lock House’.) He greeted the owner, the late Siert van Warners and asked him how things where going.

“It’s a quiet day”, Van Warners said, “right now my only customer is a funny American, drinking coffee there at the bar.”

Scholte looked in the direction Van Warners pointed to and almost had a heart attack.

Bob Dylan.

“That’s not ‘a funny American’!”, he yelled at the owner, “Thát is Bob Dylan.”

Van Warner wasn’t impressed: “I don’t care who he is, as long as he pays for his coffee.”

I am a journalist. One of the basic rules of journalism is that it’s only safe to publish after the facts have been confirmed by three independent sources. I thought: two might be enough and I wrote an article about it. Within a week Scholte was inundated with phone calls from people who wanted to know all about his encounter with Dylan. Somebody called national public radio en the story was adopted by several web sites.

It also kept wandering through my own mind and I thought: why not ask Bob himself? After all, he has an official web site, and therefore an e-mail address (foggy@bobdylan.com) and who dares wins.

It took a while, but to my surprise I received a reply:

Dear, Mr. Herman Sandman,

The story is correct, though it happened quite some time ago, somewhere during the early nineties. We were scheduled to play a show in the city of Groningen. Apparently, someone knew I liked cycling and also knew that the area you call highland is not unlike the landscape around my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.

I remember riding past places with names like Usquert, Stitswerd en Zandeweer. We had coffee in a café with a strange owner. He just sat there. But you know, I still liked it there, because it was the first place where people didn’t gaze at me. As I was paying for the coffee I sensed that he didn’t trust me at all, not knowing who I was. And yes, you are right: next, a white bearded man came in. A fifty- year old Jesus lookalike with a hangover.’A druid’, I guessed.

An even stranger thing happened the next day, when we were in a town called Beecham (is that correct?). We went to a bar and there I met David Crosby…

Very weird.

Regards, Bob.

I replied:

Dear Mr. Dylan,

That white-bearded man was Henk Scholte. He is a famous storyteller and folk singer in a band called Törf. The town you mention is not called Beecham, but Veendam, and it’s renowned for its Jugendstil mansions.

The bar you went to is called ‘t Aaierdoppie. Sadly, it doesn’t exist anymore. The bartender, who looks like David Crosby’s twin brother, is called Bé Wever. Thank you for your getting back to me and I wish you lots of success in your further career.

Herman

 

Meryl Streep

A few weeks later, one of Scholtes band members told me that the man kept telling the story over and over, but, he grinned: “It seems that Dylan is not the only celebrity who drops by now and then. Did you know Meryl Streep is a regular visitor of Groningen?”

I didn’t.

Apparently, the actrice visited the Groninger Museum, a wildly coloured modernist building, designed by Alessandro Mendini. Bono called it ‘spooky’.

I assumed Streep had travelled anonymously or I would surely have heard about it through the grapevine. The museum director, an über-extroverted man who lives and breathes publicity, would immediately have climbed the Martini Tower and rung the bell with a visitor that famous. The most intriguing part of the story came much later, in little chunks. First, I heard that Meryl knew someone at the museum, and later I heard about a local painter acting as her tour guide. The more I asked about it, the better I could piece the story together.

While on holiday in Thailand, the painter from Groningen and his wife happened to encounter Meryl Streep. Her husband got ill and the artist offered his support. The couples stayed in touch and became friends, and friends, as we know, visit each other from time to time. So, one sunny day, Meryl Streep set foot in our lovely city, the jewel in the bright and shining crown that is the Groningen countryside.

I couldn’t retrieve any details about what she did when she was here, but I assume she went for the usual highlights: the Great Market Square, the statue of Uncle Loeks’ Horse, The Jewish Quarter, The Martini Tower and of course The Groninger Museum. And she bought herself a pair of jeans in the Herestraat, Groningen’s main shopping street.

This time, my source was even more trustworthy than the bookshop manager, so I figured that one source ought to be enough in this case, honouring the journalistic wisdom that too much fact-checking can kill a good story. This was a good story. I wrote another piece for my paper.

Bean soup

Not long after, I had lunch again with the die-hard Dylan-fan, who works at the library. While enjoying my bean soup, a local speciality, he smiled at the prospect of my sons going to the local library in Slochteren, the village where we live. That’s because the library is for some reason under the same roof as the local bank and an art-gallery. I sighed. My wife and I had just survived a pancake-eating ordeal with two little children in The Pancake Ship, which is what its name suggests: a floating restaurant. It’s very popular among families with children, because it’s unsinkable.

He prodded his finger at my chest and looked threatening: “You know who loves pancakes, especially the ones from The Pancake Ship?”

Not the slightest idea.

“Walter Trout.”

“Walter Trout? The Walter Trout? The famous American guitar player?”

“Yep.”

“No!”

“If you don’t believe me, ask Peter.”

Peter is the promotor of the biggest music venue in town. He is the one who told the story to the Dylan-fan. Walter Trout appears to love pancakes so much, that, even if he has a gig in Hamburg, about 200 kilometers from Groningen, he will demand a car with a driver to take him to The Pancake Ship. Considering his sturdy figure, Trout could well be a lover of pancakes, but there is a limit to how far you can stretch a great story. After what I wrote about Dylan and Streep no one would believe this episode. I hardly believed it myself.

But when I checked it, Peter confirmed the story.

Wrong highlights

So,  what can we learn from our visiting American celebrities? Well, there’s no doubt that the Groningen Tourist Board have been promoting the wrong highlights: it’s not the spooky Groninger Museum, The Martini Tower, The Jewish Quarter or The Great Market Square that are the real favourites, but the little lock café in the Highlands, the boutiques and clothes shops in the Herestraat and The Pancake Ship.

The fact that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson actually played the Martini Tower carillon during their visit in 2008 didn’t surprise me at all.

Anderson was one of the three composers contributing to the ‘Americans’ Festival of the N.N.O., the Orchestra of the North of the Netherlands. She was our guest for several days and what everybody hoped and also happened was that her husband would come along. He even took to the stage during the concert en sang a couple of his own songs. Although it was special to see Mister Reed performing in our lovely city, the performance wasn’t particularly good. He didn’t seem very comfortable on stage. It was odd to see a man of his age dressed like a would-be hip-hopper who had been dragged along by a train for a while.

His clothes didn’t match his age and his physique demonstrated the theory that a life-long habit of mind-altering candy has its downside. One day you’ll have to settle the bill.

Homeland

More intriguingly, Reed arrived on a Tuesday, while the concert, of the Dutch première of Anderson’s composition Homeland, was on the Saturday. He even arrived before Anderson, who got here on the Wednesday. I wondered: what has he been up to in those five days?

‘A little bit of sight-seeing’, the director of the Orchestra of the North of the Netherlands told me.

Where, I wanted to ask, but the concert was about to start.

So what did he do? There must have been witnesses. No celebrity can wander around for five days without being noticed. Did he get an espresso at Talamini, the Italian ice-cream parlour? Did he sample the herring-and-onions at the stall of famous herring seller Snip? A visit to the famous Groninger Museum? A guy has to eat and drink and nobody stays in his hotel room for five days. And no traveller in the world has dinner in his hotel five days in a row. Lou must have seen Groningen and Groningen must have seen Lou.

But where?

That was the question. Nobody knew. But maybe people failed to make the connection, unprepared as they were for spotting Lou Reed wander around their home town. Sometimes you simply can’t believe what you see.

‘Lou Reed? Get out of here! Why would he be here?’

Where?

Playing music with Laurie up in the MartiniTower, that’s what I read in the local paper. They had been invited by two avid fans who had arranged a guided tour of the Martini church for the famous couple.

But that won’t take five days.

So where?

Of course I knew the answer all along. It was quite simple, really. He went cycling in the Noordpolderzijl area, across our lovely Highlands.

A tip from Bob.

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