We are ugly
…but we have the music
just by random coincidence i took notice of a conference named “We are ugly but we have the music” – Jüdische Identität und Subkultur at Halle University (on jewish identity, subculture, punk and its iconography and related topics). It appeared to be influenced by the book ‘Heebie Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk’ (by Steven Lee Beeber), that was written in 2006 and was published in 2008 in a german translation (Ventil-Verlag).
But when i heard, that a definite hero of my youth would be there (Klaus Walter, who did the only radio show on punk in my region when i was young in the 80s, der ball ist rund on hr3, broadcast in frankfurt, hessen) and other authors of books i really like (als die welt noch unterging – frank apunkt schneider / spannung, leistung, widerstand – alexander pehlemann)….. i shoved my dog upon the next train and off i went towards halle an der saale. halle is only 30 minutes by train from leipzig, where i live, so it is a bit sad, that i didnt hear of that conference before, but perhaps i am not reading the appropriate newsletters or newspapers…
the first lecture i could take part in (was a bit late as usual) was on friday, a former singer of an israelian anarcho-punk band (noon mem, existing 1988-1991) explained in a quite personal manner, how israelian society was composed in the late 80s and beginning 90s and what difficulties defined the situation of a punk band in israel at that time. Most impressing for me how he explained his thoughts when he heard that there was this threat of chemical warfare and attacks with scud missiles against israel, that saddam hussein had undertaken in 1991, he said punk had prepared him quite well for such incidences, all that weird warnings on the radio seemed all of a sudden familiar to him…
This is how Noon Mem sounded like:
Nowadays the singer of Noon Mem, Avi Pitchon. lives in London and is part of a perhaps equally interesting project, named Siegelhead and occupied with digital hardcore deconstructing hits written by germans top Schlager criminals Ralph Siegel and Frank Farian, now when will he cover A + P (legendary munich punk band produced by the same Ralph Siegel)?
On Thursday there were already lectures by the aforementioned Klaus Walter and others, which are reviewed in an interview on local radio corax:
Then was lunch break and i saw that they even had organised beer in tin cans for supply of the participants of the lectures, but i still prefered coffee… Sadly there seemed to be not so much audience in the lectures that happened during the day, it would have deserved more.
After discussing some confusing questions in the lunch break with my friends (what means punk for you? what did they say in that lecture?) I went back, but had to drink more coffee, what was not that easy, as my dog sometimes does some unforeseen movements and i didnt want to smash the cup. After the break Frank Apunkt Schneider (author of Als die Welt noch unterging) examined the use of nazi language and iconography in german punk of the late 70s and 80s. This means almost entirely: Use of fascist phrases and symbols (swastikas for example) in an artistical context, not by real nazi bands (mostly), but by bands who used them for an artistic self-staging that switched in between a devaluation or subversion of the pop star image (that for example is expressed in ideas like the Residents “The Third Reich ‘n Roll“), role model enters a stage and manipulates the audience, to provoke reactions, to provoke attacks of the godlike role to be on a stage… but also in quite many cases it was an anticipation of political incorrectness, to provoke the hippies or perhaps to discover being part of a post-fascist society, that would hide their nazi heritage so damn well, but underneath the surface….
He cited some passages from the fanzine Ostrich (the first german punk fanzine, from the Mittagspause/Düsseldorf scene) that were quite shocking for part of the audience. But I think these texts cant be really taken so serious, as it as a matter of fact were no nazis who wrote them and they had even some disclaimers below, that marked them as some sort of fake. I guess they have the simple meaning to disvalue the role of the author as someone who wants to manipulate, but also have their source in a very very rude understanding of humour… Schneider also showed the german press coverage, that the first London punks, which showed themselves with swastika armbands got.
From a historic point of view it must be said that most of these examples were remaining quite obscure. The more successful bands like Male, Hans-A-Plast or Slime had very clear anti-fascist view and aesthetics. Certainly there were lyrics by german punk bands, which stepped over any boundaries of anything like good taste, but then that was what punk was about for most of the very young punks.
Then there was a number of bands that chose band names somewhat referring to nazi phrases like OHL (Oberste Heeresleitung), as well as the phenomenom of the (major) record label that tried to convince the band big balls to change their name into stalingrad and only perform in nazi uniforms…
Also considerable amount of german punk lyrics were busy with harsh metaphors in a sense of general armageddon and decay, like Middle Class Fantasies (who otherwise were on tour with Slime) in ‘Party in der Gaskammer’.
Next was another examination of german punk, that introduced the method of ‘Bricolage‘ in youth culture to us and explained its meaning for german punk. Why the israelian society didn’t experience a student movement similar to that in the usa and several countries around 1968 was not just topic of one of the next lectures, but also stood in the weekly newspaper, that i carried around with me all the time (current issue of ‘Jungle World‘).
Last came a comprehensive dissemination of animal metaphors in the comic ‘Maus‘, (by art spiegelman) biographical and intertextual influences (Kafka), also lots of interesting stuff about earlier versions and its origin…
Then was another break until in the evening in the former cinema la bim, which is (shame on the ordungsamt) now closed most of the time. All participants were invited for cold buffet, which was very very delicious, russian specialities including some beverages, which i soon was very occupied with.
Now was a special lecture with short glimpses of film and real records being played on the topic of punk behind the iron curtain by Alexander Pehlemann from the fanzine ‘Zonic’. This lecture now was really comprehensive, starting with the first punk recording in an eastern european country (Pankrti from Ljlubljana, with ‘Lublana je bulana’ (1978, SKUC), he covered most of the important bands of the eastern countries, with a bit of a focus on the role, that many punk bands played as intentional or non-intentional avantgarde of national awakening in phases of their career (e.g. croatian nationalism and Prljavo kazalište, orthodox iconography on Idoli records, Laibach etc). It covered formerly Yugoslavia, Poland (e.g. Brygada Krysisand its link to ex-yu punk), Hungary (e.g. Vágtázó Halottkémek), Czechoslovakia, Estland, the German Democratic Republic, all together with unbelievable knowledge and as a proof illustrated with original recordings.
Now came bit of embarrassing part in my memory of that evening, due to the sheer length of that lecture and also the steady availability of very good wodka and the fascination with the music and the lecture i more and more lost consciousness until I was convinced by the bar keeper, that he could offer me a decent bedroom somewhere behind the bar. I fell asleep very soon and was left alone without the slightest memory, as to where i was or how i came there. All I know is, that this room had really good heating, classical tiled stoves with electric heating hidden inside, almost like the ones i saw in Belgrade last winter. When I awoke, it took me some time to remember, in which town or who I was…
The next morning I only could attend one lecture on the cinema of Mel Brooks and its very special sort of humour. I didn’t know any of his films before but was convinced afterwards that I should try to see all of them. The other interesting lectures, on John Zorn, Holocaust and Vietnam I missed, because I had to leave for Leipzig again.
I suppose, it is not of absolute importance to resolve the question, whether punk was jewish in its origin, but still it allows a different and interesting view on punk. For me Punk was meant to be far more universal, it neglected identity in itself, or rather certain collective identities and ideologies. As such I can understand quite well the reaction of Richard Hell when he was asked to be interviewed for Heebie-Geebies at the CBGBs, he refused to be reduced to being jewish, as he felt to be more influenced by atheism and communism. Beeber responded: “That’s a definition of a Jew.” It is personalities like Richard Hell, who remain interesting for me, how he is questioning male/female identity in his novel ‘Go now’ . More important could be, to develop a common perspective for the ‘marginal men’, the outsiders, as the social researcher and literary critic Hans Mayer (who had teached in Leipzig for long time) had expressed in his most important work ‘Aussenseiter’. But I will never regret to have attended this conference, as it has struck some of my favourite obsessions, though I dont really know how it all fits together, my love for some songs of Richard Hell (Time!), Germany as Peter Hein looks at it in zweiundvierzig (Family Five) or in Mittagspause lyrics, how Jonathan Richman describes the girl in the hospital and all those beautiful obscurities… The pictures I used down below are from a long decline single i like very much. It was a project including Mark Perry (Alternative TV, on drums) and Vic Godard, released mid90s, i bought it during a squatters festival in London in 1997, where they played, the lyrics were written by their singer Kenny Wisdom…