When I Paint My Masterpiece (1971)

Though the title of this song points towards the future, everything else in it is about the here and now, with a singer busy hurrying, dating, dodging and wasting time, and that’s just in the first ten lines.  The action is on display with the words that rhyme with “masterpiece,” those being “niece” (Levon sings”pretty little girl from Greece,” not “Botticelli’s niece” as the bobdylan.com lyrics state), “geese,” and “police.”  The content of the song hinges on the date with this girl, and being outdoors, running, sailing, flying with and through nature, and rebellion mixed with danger what with the need to dodge lions, cope with a frightening plane ride, and avoid police who hold down a newspaperman eating candy” (for eating candy?).

The song uses an alternate rhyming pattern with some delightful rhymes “Coliseum” with “see’em,” “memory” with”rhapsody,” and “gondola with “Coca-Cola.” However, there are exceptions to the pattern in the 5th and 7th lines of verses 1 and 3.  Also, the song consists of 4 verses of 8 lines each, with the third verse as the exception at only 2 lines containing the memorable “gondola”/Coca-Cola” rhyming couplet.

So it’s not a perfectly symmetrical rhyming or consistently structured  masterpiece. What of it?  This is a song about making claim to creating a future masterpiece, but for now there’s a whole lot of living to do, filled with some fears and memories, but mostly fun and anticipation, and little yearning: “Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola.”

Masterful, however, is how Levon sings it. The song seems made for him, and probably was.  Below is a live version with Dylan singing it, and the studio with Levon at the helm singing it in his own way of singing a rhapsody.


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