Today, I’ll tell you about the close relationship of the really popular „Schlager“ genre and, well, critical anti-establishment voices. But first, I need to take a slight detour. With cat content.
Well, cat-and-mouse content.
Regardless if you’re a german or US-american reader of this blog, you probably know Tom&Jerry. And the americans among you probably know this intro from your childhood:
If you’re a german reader, you will probably say: Hey, waitaminute… where’s the cake? The flowers? The catchy voice of Udo Jürgens?
Fear not, here it is:
See, dear american readers, german public tv thought that the original intro sequence was a little bland, lacking a proper introduction of what we should expect from the show. So they cut a little sequence together and added the refrain from one of the songs of the (actually austrian) national treasure Udo Jürgens: „Vielen Dank, für die Blumen“ (Thank you for the flowers)
Now, the refrain is basically a flowery reaction of someone who’s just been handed a shit sandwich. Or generally is coping with bad news the best way one can. In the end, it’s a really catchy tune that everyone of my generation associates with wacky cat-and-mouse animations. And the musical style of is very much a prime example of what a bourgeoisie-supporting Schlager should be. It’s comforting, it talks about inconsequential worries, lost love..
and, of course, Heimat:
(Nitpickers will tell me that Heino should be labelled Volksmusic, but frankly, he’s Volksmusik-dressed Schlager)
What we were missing from the Tom&Jerry intro were the whole lyrics of the same song. Because the individual verses tell the story of how & why said shit sandwich was being delivered in the first place: Trying to seduce the boss’s secretary — get fired! Trying to pick up the loveliest girl in the bar — who turns out to have a deep bass voice and is named „Dieter“. (sadly, casual trans- and homophobia was still a thing in the 70ies) Here’s the full thing, complete with musical cartoon sound effects:
Which brings us finally back to the topic of today: Subversiveness. Good art nearly always has a good heap of that in it, and Schlager is no exception to that, even though a lot of people miss this.
Here’s another song by Udo:
Even without speaking german, you’ll pick up bits & pieces like „New York“, „Hawaii“, „Jeans“ and so on. This song is about a father who walks out after dinner to pick a cigarettes, only to realize that… life is boring, and he never did something extraordinary. Why not just leave the wife and kids, see the world, never come back?
In the end, he just buys those cigarettes from a vending machine around the corner and gets back inside, through the staircase full of stuffiness and the smell of floor polish, to watch Dalli Dalli with the family.
Or that song called Greek Wine, which is chock full of sirtaki and happy-but-just-so-slightly melancholic:
If you’re at a party in germany, with people older than 40, this will be played. And everyone will love it and be happy about it.
Except it’s about the dilemma of foreign guest workers. Germany invited those into germany after WWII, because gee, somehow a large portion of the german men were either dead, prisoners of war or too shellshocked to be of any practical use. Those workers were at once both welcomed but also resented and had a very hard time to integrate into german society, constantly longing for their home, but also knowing that they are kinda stuck in Germany. It’s a song that addressed a very real problem that is still being felt right now, several decades later.
And even though very few of those happy drunken people at that party next to you, shouting „Griechischer Weeeeeiiin!“ at the top of their lungs think about that sad fact, it still gets through to them, at least sometimes.
If that isn’t subversive, I don’t know what is.
As another example, but in a different genre, take Rio Reiser, one of the great intellectuals of german music:
This is a song about all the silly things he’d do if he were King of Germany. There’s the champagne for breakfast, having a birthday party every day, putting his favourite show on TV 24⁄7. But there’s also biting Ronny (Reagan) into the leg, abolishing the military, heartfelt critique of some parts of german public tv, and so on.
When he performed with his band Ton Steine Scherben, things got a bit more on the nose: No Power for No One!
Facts you should know about this song and this band:
- current vice president of the german parliament Claudia Roth was their manager
- „Keine Macht für Niemand“ is a recurring headline to be used whenever there’s a row between politicans
- You remember that axe-on-table thing from the installment about Shows? That was Nikel Pallat, one of the bands singers..
Still, König von Deutschland is another one of those songs drunken germans will scream at you during parties. So be prepared.
Oh, and before you leave: Heino is still around, although he adjusted his style just a tiny bit…
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