Saturday, June 22, 2013

Schlager schlager schlager

So a friend of mine acquired a flat in Berlin a few years ago, only to find out that the owner had died shortly afterwards. An old man who lived on his own in the then-unfashionable and low-rent Neukölln district (now rapidly gentrifying – but then, aren’t they all?), the man’s flat included a cellar in which all kinds of crazy ephemera was left behind: calendars from 1983 (the year that his wife died), barely functioning bikes, tons of cigarette packets, sepia-tainted…and boxes and boxes of Schlager music.

Schlager music never really took off in the U.K. Obviously there was the language barrier, but that didn’t stop other Germanic, Northern European countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden having their own adapted form of Schlager in their own language (not to mention, according to that Wiki page, Slavic countries and even Turkey having their own form of the genre elsewhere on the continent). You could, of course, argue that Chas ‘n’ Dave were essentially a British form of Schlager, and having seen the duo twice I can vouch that their oeuvre is somewhat similar in sound if not language. They also share some visual similarities, such as the insistence on wearing men’s suspenders and braces (in the photo above, check out the two guys called 'Original Naabtal Duo' and, two cassette tapes to the right, the barely visible guys in the 'Super Stimmungs-Festival' thing).
The photo above, in fact, should give you some idea of just how many schlager tapes the man had - but that's just a fraction.

This includes what seems to be an inroad into straight comedy, as evidenced by the number of tapes by Fips Asmussen, above (still alive today) - such as Schlag auf Schlag ("Hit After Hit") - whose terrifying-looking website includes the prospect of a "Joke of the Week".

There’s also outfits such as Truck Stop and Hallo Trucker! (both above), whose repertoire seems to be based around emulating fat American truck drivers with baseball caps and large beards, what with tracks such as 'Cowboy bei der Bahn' ('Cowboy By The Railway') and 'Old Texan Town, die Western Stadt', which doesn’t really need translating.
There’s also Freddy Quinn, a genuine ‘star’ on the schlager scene and nothing to do with Joaquin Phoenix's character in the recent Paul Thomas Anderson film about scientologists. His album Star Portrait includes such classics as the dodgy-sounding 'Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins' ('On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight'), and, even more peturbingly, something called 'Older Men Make Better Lovers'. There’s also 'So geht das jede Nacht' ('So it is every night'), in which his chick is caught shagging around, and the below medley in all its glory via the magic of YouTube.

Peter Alexander (below, on the right) also appears to have been another shlager superstar (he died two years ago, apparently), as well as accomplished actor.

 Best known for the ‘hit’ 'Und manchmal weinst du sicher ein paar Tranen' ('And Sometimes You Certainly Cry A Few Tears'), his self-titled album (well, I think it’s self-titled) got a spin by us. It includes such classics as ‘Ich Zähle Täglich Meine Sorgen’ (‘I Count My Daily Worries’), which sounds decidedly upbeat for such a depressingly existentialist song title:

So we decided to have a session while in the Neukölln flat where we would get wasted and listen to these tapes…hours and hours of them. By the end, I can certifiably say that it is the worst music I have ever heard in my entire life. I am still traumatized from listening to this soundtrack to insanity. But I think I’m OK now. Except when I watch all sixty-eight minutes and thirty-five seconds of the below, which I urge you to do, in order to understand the very definition of madness. Like living in Buddhist-inspired ascetic denial of all material gains up a mountain in Bhutan, you will feel cleansed and pure in mind by the end of it.

And then come to the night that we plan to hold in a Neukölln bar (a real German Kneipe, not one of those hipster joints that have spouted up in the area), where we will play the entire set of cassettes in tribute to the man’s life and death, all night. No songs by Can, Faust, or Neu! (or any other lauded Krautrock outfit from the mid-70s) will be permitted. Details of this forthcoming night will be posted right here on this blog - so watch this space!

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