Archive for the ‘agnes bernelle’ Category

a dead father and an army in the closet

October 13, 2008

weimarer republik, the times between the two wars, the golden youth celebrating life, the seedy nightclubs with coked up hustlers in berlin – or in paris, for that matter. as an afterthought to my last post, and especially for my straight readership i have to recommend as further reading of course also pitigrilli‘s cocaine. yeah, love is the drug… yes, the exciting 1920s.

time for something made in the … 1980s. a record which corrects especially one aspect of the 1920s, the cabaret. it wasn’t all liza (with z), you know… the cabarets were certainly a place for entertainment, but also a place for the search of different expressions, ranging from the radically senseless of the dadaist (cabaret voltaire) to the journalistic work of kurt tucholsky. the cabaret is for me not only interesting in its inclusion of political, artistic, sexual minorities, but also in its more artistic form in its attempt to combine art with the social. and it might be not so much a coincidence that the following record came out in the 80s, where there were also different artists working on the combination of the artistic (in this case: musical) and the social by trying to be popular – not necessarly in the sense of selling as many units as possible, but in the sense of transporting content in popular forms. also out of the sense of an urgency to try and influence the social, the political, the necessity to take a position also as artists. for me such different artist as the specials (and the specials a.k.a., and the fun boy three ,and colourfield), early ub40, the style council, the the /matt johnson, billy bragg, tom robinson, fad gadget / frank tovey … and elvis costello.

and on the label co-owned by elvis costello also appeared in the eighties a record that tried to set the record straight on cabaret. and who would have been better to do that then agnes bernelle? born 1923, daughter of theatrical entrepreneur rudolph bernauer, she was obviously already as a child exposed to the cultural diversity of berlin of these times. her family fled berlin in 1936 to london. then the fascinating career of miss bernelle brought her from exile-cabarets to radio host to singer to actress. not necessarly in that order, and sometimes overlapping. father’s lying dead on the ironing board is agnes bernelle’s second record – her first one, apparantly with songs from weill / brecht, a selection with which she started her singing career – or, as described in the liner notes, her one woman show, was published in 1977. father’s lying on the ironing board has a different selection: it is based on lyrics, poems by ringelnatz, klabund, wedekind to music composed by michael dress, since there were no musical scores to these texts, be it because some of them were not songs before, be it because they have not been written down at the time. there is one interesting exception, a nod that cabaret was not only german, but actually at least as much french: there is one song with lyrics by jaques prevert – who has been a great source of inspiration also for many chanson singers…

the record also provides a lot of information through using the inner sleeve, besides a detailed biography of agnes bernelle one also finds biographies of the writers and musicians and a very interesting introduction to the cabaret. just click on the thumbnail on the right hand side… be warned: it’s a big file…

three years later she released mother the wardrobe is full of infantry men with songs that were written between 1900 and 1988 – the better known composer of the newer songs are certainly tom waits and marc almond. and yes, marc almond is credited making this record possible. but then we knew all along that marc almond understands everything about cabaret in its different forms and its different offsprings.

both records are a lot of fun, certainly because of the lyrics, the selection of songs, and of course agnes bernelle’s unique style to present them. but it is strange – both records also leave me wanting… in a way both records are not really records, but rather collections of songs. it is for me just so obvious that she loves telling these different stories, ranging from the touching to the absurd, from the frivolous to the earnest, and i think this is why i miss that the records in itself do not really tell a story. i am just still surprised that there is no live recording of her. and i also think that it might would have been interesting to involve marc almond and billy mcgee (who wrote one song especially for her) would have influenced the making of this record even more in the direction of giving it a more, hm, rounder appearance… but enough critizising – how about you just enjoy these songs and its stories? huh?

and then it is also a good starting point to htink about the cabaret away from its representation in that movie / musical and its traces that lead to the present day. and some of these traces will show up on this blog in the not too distant future.

and as a little taste of how miss bernelle performed, and also to show why i would just love to listen one day to a live recording (or even better: see a live performance) of hers, here a clip of her, singing that duet marc almond wrote for her (showing also their closeness – there must have been: you can only write lines like “not so oblivious this bitch is” for someone you love, right?):