Travel in music: Chapter 7 - 1990-95, Belgium (part IV)

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!


1990-1995 - Chapter 7 | I am at the height of adolescence when we move back to Belgium from Washington. I only have the last year of high school to complete. We left the US too soon, too unexpectedly. I am back in my hometown but I feel like a total stranger, suspended in mid-air. Academically too, everything is different. From classrooms where no one shares the same nationality and most kids have mixed parents, I fall into strictly regimented boarding school where the uniform is as uniform as the pupils are. From having teachers who encouraged us to express ourselves, valued our opinions and fostered debate in the classroom, I am suddenly fighting with professors over what color pen I must use to underline titles and what shoes I must wear at breakfast. Worse still, they deem my questions impertinent.


Though I have very solid friends, who make the transition a lot easier, I struggle to relate to them too. They have grown up together and share a nucleus of references and experiences in which I can only hope to be, at best, an orbiting electron. I can revolve around it, but never close the chasm of empty space within. I find myself biting my tongue to avoid starting sentences with “when I was in the US”. I have seen how alien it makes me look in their eyes. I have perceived how easily they mistake for pretentiousness any feeble attempt to tell my indelibly foreign story. I cannot even blame them for it.


During this rudderless time, since I do not find coherence in the outside world, I look within. I bury myself under headphones and spend countless hours renting CDs and making mixed tapes. I approach music hungrily, like an archaeologist: fascinated with every layer I peel off but immediately wanting to go deeper to uncover the next layer. If I like something, I have to find out whose shoulders those artists stood on. Why did they want to say this particular thing at this particular time? Why did they choose to express it in this manner? I find soul searching works best with a soundtrack, particularly an eclectic one.


At the end of this chapter, I will move away from Belgium for good. It will feel more natural to be a stranger in strange surroundings but I do not know this yet. For now, the best solace I find for being a stranger my own country is to surround myself with foreigners. I enroll in an English-speaking liberal arts college in the heart of Brussels and finally feel at home. The student body, from freshman to senior year, across all disciplines, does not exceed 400 but there are more than 70 nationalities represented. In history class, sharing perceptions of WWII with a Finn, a Spaniard, a Swazi, a Brazilian, a German, a Belgian, a Turk and more, under the watchful eye of an American professor, really feels like learning.


Grunge rock is the music of those years. Youngsters fill their ears with it at filthy, delightfully loud festivals while, in a parallel universe, others pop pills at electronic raves. True to form, I never “belonged” to either of those crowds, even if I would immerse myself in them periodically. It is a fertile moment for Belgian rock bands too. They sing in English, to reach wider audiences and carry the flag of our tiny rock scene high. dEUS is one such band. Its singer, Tom Barman, recorded a single live album with Guy van Nueten that remains a particular favorite. The song that seems most appropriate to represent my last, tumultuous years in Belgium is from that album.

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