Archive for November, 2008

more new york then hollywood, but definitly berlin: die knef

November 19, 2008

i don’t know if hildegard knef could be considered a good citizen – i guess she couldn’t care. but she certainly had a wide experience in the field – growing up in germany in the 1930s and 1940s, having no citizenship in a berlin after ww II, being american, then british – and i have to admit i did not research if she became later again german.

so like many german artist of the 20th century she wasn’t german. which is one of many links she has with marlene dietrich. and they were actually close friends: there is a telling scene, recorded on film, when dietrich is getting out of the airplane first time she arrives in berlin after the war: first to greet her are the mother – and hildegard knef. yes, the friendship of these two women is very fascinating – so alike and so different…

but we get into the biography of ms knef at a later stage. yes, be warned – there will be quite some knef coming up. yeah, i always had a thing for her – even way back as a kid. a lot to do with that voice.

for this post i would like to point out especially one record of hers – and it is funny since R just pointed it out – roughly a year ago i did post something about that great record of cole porter covers. and now it is time again to put up another great record of cole porter songs. yes, hildegard knef worked with cole porter – by his request. and she sung many of his songs – in english. but even better: also in german. even better because the lyrics have been translated congenially by mischa mleinek, an author so far unknown to me. but his translations are fantastic. and in one case even better then the original. yes, there was a hint here about that song. in the original it is called laziest gal in town – but in german it is so much better. and then ms knef is also the perfect interpreter for cole porter songs – well, i could now write a lot about why and all that, but then i suppose it is much better you listen for yourself. so get her record träume heissen du, lovingly ripped from vinyl, here.and should you still be in doubt: this is a great record. yes.

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and well, this recording has been reissued on cd – including also a lot of versions sung in english. as a little teaser here the english version of fever:

yes, i did already mention that i am quite an admirer of her work – therefore you’ll get some more. because it really swings, and because it shows that ms knef was a very good writer of lyrics herself – i have to admit on this record i especially like the rather sad songs. little vignetten, which bring it in the short span of a song perfectly to the point: high class pop music. and it points into the direction of more words (and yes, also more music) by her… get ich seh die welt durch deine augen here.

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and now i wonder how long it takes for irmgard to leave a comment…

citizen

November 18, 2008

CITIZEN

Citizen is a brand. A brand for a watch. And maybe this is the only way „citizen“ should be used.
The expression and going with it the concept of citizen is around for quite some time. So it might be better to talk of concepts in the plural. Concepts formulate in different ways the social role, its rights and duties of the individual. As ideas of society changed, so did change the concept of the citizen. Ideas of society and its structure, the nature of the human being, and his role in society, being a citizen, are depending on each other, are inextricably linked. The ideas of how society should be, of how the ideal society should be, depend on the formulation of the ideal way of participation, of being a citizen – an ideal society consists of ideal citizens, and ideal citizens need an ideal society. The argument is circular, one of mutual dependency. The one is not possible without the other.

But these days, observing the political talk, the arts, science, the publication of numerous surveys taken, the thought could occur that we do not imagine an ideal society anymore. That we do not dream of utopia anymore. Looking back in history and the dystopian experiences that have been made this might be not a bad thing, especially since these old dreams were always ideal in the sense of perfect. And perfect might be not human, after all.
So the dream is over. We seem to accept the imperfect society – some maybe even supposing that the imperfect is the perfect in disguise. But if we postulate this society, what sense lies in talking of members of this society as citizens, as ideal, as perfect members of this society?  It makes sense if one is still dreaming. But it does not make sense out of the mouths of too many politicians. We are treated by our governments and bureaucracies in the best case as consumers, in the worst as a nuisance. And regardless of the political structure of a given state, politicians seem to adopt a patronizing attitude – be it by not even allowing votes, be it by forging votes, be it by expecting a vote to be voted „the right way“. If this does not happen, then the voters have not been able to understand, the matter at hand has been too complex. And they should be citizens? Ideal members of society?
So the use of the word citizen in this context is an accusation: you are citizens, you should vote this way. And if you would be citizens, knowing what is good for you, then we would have a better society – maybe even an ideal society. The connection between society and citizen described at the beginning of this text looses its circularity: the citizen is suddenly a prerequisite for a better, the ideal society. But since no thought is wasted on formulating a better, or even an ideal society, why waste a thought on the citizen? The talk of citizen has of course always followed a political agenda – but the only political agenda these days in the use of the word citizen seems one of disciplining. Of telling us that we never will reach that ideal, and that therefore we should obey. But then one should not talk of citizens, but of children, lost in the dark. Additionally the use of citizen as described above also insinuates that there is only the government and us, the citizens. It is a simple tool not to have to talk about other actors on the political and social stage that influences the government, society, our daily lives.
So the talk of the citizen turned from a thinking about possibilities how to structure our society, our living together, our daily lives, of where to go as a society and as individuals, of an ideal to strive for, to an accusation, to a shortcoming on our part, to an ideal that basically only implies its unattainability. We citizens that are not living up to being good citizens, not taking up our responsibilities and that therefore have to be lead, have to be taken by our hands, all while being the only ones responsible for the current state of affairs.

If we are not able and willing to say and think about in what kind of society we live and in what kind of society we would like to live, what our roles might be, who we are and who we would like to be, what our rights are, where our responsibilities lie, and to admit also our imperfections, then i can not be and don’t want to be called a citizen.

This is why the word citizen maybe should only be used as a brand name for a watch.

text by dkb. thanks to charlie and rayelle

whistling the dark away

November 17, 2008

not that anybody really remembers her these days. her career took a serious blow when, well, the nazis lost. after all she was quite a star during the nazi regime, hosting radio shows, entertaining the troops – basically a good citizen, right? supporting the democratic elected governement of the time – or is a good citizen the one who critizes the governement when she / he sees something goes wrong? well, tucholsky has been accused time and time again for being a nestbeschmutzer doing exactly that.

but then ilse werner was seemingly politically naïve. yes, that argument sounds familiar. it might have been true. i just realize that this argument basically shows up either with young men (the image of the enthusiastic young men – like a puppy) and with women… hm, that might be something to think about, too.

but what hit me listening to her songs was that happiness, that good humour, this pure upbeat mood that clashes with all these images i have in my mind, having seen lately again a lot of documentaries, starting with ww one up to afghanistan. and yes, the question is if it is allright to make such happy music in such dark times. and if it is allright to listen to such happy music in such dark times. well, it is not really the question – for me it does not make sense to demand that everything be gloom when times are bad. actually i was especially in need of certain music in personally dark times. music that did let me escape. for me it is rather about the difference between a happiness that does not care (or might even acknowledge that there isn’t only happiness) and a happiness that outright denies that one could not be happy. oppresive happiness, maybe? but then this also seems based on a personal sensibility: on ilse werner’s record is a song called sing’ ein lied, wenn du mal traurig bist, which reminds me by its lyrics a lot of don’t worry be happy (of bobby mcferrin)-as ong i really dislike (soory, bob). but i knew someone that loved and needed the later song, especially when he was down, broke, withouth job, and all that… but then my friend seemed to take that song in a “i don’t care” way – which would fall in line again with the line i’ve drawn above. and then i have to admit that i am anyway a grumpy person that does not like to be told when to be happy (or sad, of course).

so yes, it might be appropriate to feel a little bit of happiness in not happy times – how much the music of ilse werner crosses that line (if it does) i leave up to you. but then there is another reason to post this record. ilse werner has not only been an actress (yes, she can be seen for example in the movie bel ami by willi forst), and a singer, but also a: whistler. a very good one, indeed. so if you are into that kind of thing i highly recommend her record. and – this is a detail which titillates my sense of humour withouth end – she whistles on the intro of wind of change by the scorpions. ah, history can be so ironic.

so – have a listen to yourself and get the recordings of ilse werner singing and whistling here. well, and be happy…

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dreaming of a better past: willi forst

November 4, 2008

slowly we get back to the topic… of looking at things past and interrogating them. for what purpose i am not really sure – learning, maybe. getting a feeling for things that surpass our own experience, maybe. or just plain discovering that there is more nice music out there? well, this time i would like to present something of a guilty pleasure of mine – and an interesting case of using the past. and of course it is past that never happened. yes, the simulacrum existed of course long before jameson. and with the work of willi forst we have a nice example of how a past gets created and even pitched against a present.

willi forst rose to fame as the perfect actor for a special genre in film history: the viennese film. light entertainment, taking a lot of influences from the operette (the european equivalent to musical, more or less) these films play in an k.u.k austrian empire full of pretty girls and smart young men in pretty uniforms. and willi forst was perfect by being a smart, handsome man with a golden voice. einfach galant…

as an interesting detail it is to note that his first lead (in cafe elektric) was opposite a women (also having her first lead, i believe) by the name of marlene dietrich. just to give you the link back to before winter-time…

but willi forst had a very different career. he started directing and enjoyed international recognition for his movies. and yes, then came the rise of the nazis, the “homecoming” of austria into the reich. willi forst stayed – and became one of the most influental persons in the german / austrian film industry. so he was just another opportunist? well, having a closer look starts giving a slightly different picture. to a degree he kept a low profile – releasing only a few films during these period. films he himself claimed as his most austrian. his line of argument was basically that he pitched the fantasy of a royal austria against the political ideas of national-socialism. this first sounds silly – on the other hand it certainly hasn’t been the easiest way to go. additionally he seemingly used his influence to protect fellow artists that were less of value to the nazis. yes, it is again a different answer to the question of how close one dances with the devil – if one wants to dance at all. and willi forst certainly realized that the devil smelled bad…

after the war he tried to build up again the austrian film industry, even calling for migrants to come back in an open letter, published in the monthly film – a magazine he actually founded. a short version (unfortunately not the full text) of this call to come home you can find here. it is an appellation to rebuild vienna, to rebuild austria – and in a way it is rather strange and rather sad – it still seems rooted in an austrian nationalism that might had been necessary as a weapon against other political ideologies and was now used as a source of strength to rebuild. but then i imagine that especially for the many migrants nationalism was rather unappealing.

so it very much looks like that except him hardly anybody cared for the rebuilding of an austrian filmindustry. not unlike the case of the non-rebuilding of the german industry – which of course was also in the interest of the occupying forces. for more background on that you might have a read here.

so the great career of willi forst did somehow not survive the second world war – although he did make a handful of important films after the war: one especially, somehow his take on neo-realismo, caused a huge scandal in germany: die sünderin (the sinner). bringing up in a non-judgemental fashion the topics of prostitution, suicide, and assisted suicide in a movie (and thrown in a little nude scene) proved to be too much for quite some people in post-war germany – interesting to note how vehemently religious organisations fought against the showing of that movie – a vehemence sadly missing just a couple of years ago when death was real. the movie was extremly successfull and made one woman famous – or infamous. more on her in the following post – much more, actually…

but then there is another aspect which fascinates me with the person of willi forst: he pitched something else against the nazis – how consciously i do not know. but seeing him and hearing his voice there is an apparent ambiguity – he was not the blond arian man. he was the type of the charming, cheeky man, winning the women not with his muscles and his hardness, but with his attention, his wit, and his elegance. and not only winning the women. where i also managed to link back to this blog and its lurking subtext of sexual difference.

and now that i came to such a nice round ending there are just two things left:

for a more detailed account of the life of willi forst i highly recommend this article – way better informed then me.

and of course you get some music. music from his movies. music that is very nostalgic – first because of its acoustic patina, and second because they were always meant to be nostalgic. it fascinates me that already at the time when they came out they attempted to trigger nostalgia – and they keep on doing this to this day. and i do find it nice (although i just can’t cope with k.u.k nostalgia, usually – that’s why its a guilty pleasure, sort of). these days and with some more history between the recordings and us today it might be a different nostalgia – one that acknowledges that nostalgia is dreaming of a better past…

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winter-time 4

November 3, 2008

italian war memorial / mediterranean coast, egypt

images by r at the mc in e

winter-time 3

November 3, 2008

image by dkb

winter-time 2: frostchutz

November 2, 2008

good choice indeed. fullfilling a request coming all the way from india, fitting to this little detour with a winter theme. after all the first snow is always a cherished moment… old romantic i am.

so – frostschutz. a swiss band from the eighties. did one record. and what a good one. a record that shows that the funky-ness of ska, of the early talking heads, of italo disco beats, and of the polka are not excluding each other but can be fused – all neatly laid out on a pop matrix. sounds like too many influences for one record? might sounds like it when you read it, but not when you hear it. and then there are the lyrics. each song like a postcard, splitting off in many little movies in my head, managing sometimes with one word (schilehrerdisco) to evoke certain experiences that suddenly seem quite universal – well, at least swiss german. and well, you have to understand swiss german to understand most of the lyrics – there are some other languages thrown in, and well, some is not made to understand. but these lyrics are actually – poetic. and although it has been a band everybody thought of as being rather ironic i suspect they were a lot less ironic then supposed: the record is playful – in an earnest way.

this record does something many pop-lovers hope to hear more often: taking pop not as a goal, but as a starting point. showing that you can do much more – and that music across many genres has more in common, is more inclusive then we might have been led to believe. well, they call it risiko-pop.

call it? not called it? yes, call it. because they’re kind of back: there has been a reissue of their record with some bonus tracks and some remixes and there have been a couple of live shows… and a new single – i suggest you check out their homepage for more music, pictures, and text.

for everybody outside switzerland – and especially for everybody in india (frostschutz in india is truly an interesting idea) you can get here a vinyl rip of their original record. another great record with another great cover.

and as a little p.s.: i have to admit i would have been even more impressed if the request would have been for that record by the next band project (with basically the same people). but then i am already planning to post that one…

winter-time 1

November 2, 2008

image by dkb