An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
Take a look at WWW.NINAHAGEN.COM and tell me what you see. Is it a tribute to one of the most innovative and eclectic artists ever to expand the musical palette of rock and roll? No, it's another fucking porn site! (Technically, I guess all porn sites are "fucking porn sites" but you get my drift.) Disgusting! I can't believe that the queen of Germanic New Wave would have her legacy tainted by some filthy pornographer's attempts to soil her good name. Well, we shouldn't spend another minute on this slime-ridden page. Let's remove ourselves from this decadence and return to the safe, family friendly atmosphere of Interesting Motherfuckers.
Uhhh... say, there are just a couple things I need to check out on that Nina Hagen site. You can just hang in here for five minutes or so, right? I'll be right back.
(Ten minutes pass)
Yeah, okay, thanks for hanging in there. I just needed to verify that the site was as perverted and degenerate as I initially observed.* Anyway, so where we're we? Ahh yes, you were asking me about the German speaking, UFO worshipping, Islam quoting, punk priestess Nina Hagen, correct? (Just nod your head and nobody gets hurt.) Well, by coming to the Interesting Motherfuckers feature on Nina Hagen, you've arrived at the right place. With our motto of "Just the facts, ma'am," you can be sure the meandering prose and playful loyalty to the truth you find in the writings of other pop critics will be pushed aside for the reasoned analysis and unique insight that has garnered this site the respect of America's finest journalists and come a ferret's nose away from receiving a Pulitzer. God damn John Dower and the clear and concise description he provided of the Japanese surrender in WWII in "Embracing Defeat"!
have at least a passing familiarity with Nina Hagen (By "people" I mean
"persons over the age of 21" but I think than can safely be said to be
a given. Christ, I dunno how I ended being so ageist at the ripe age of
30!) Perhaps you remember seeing one of her shrill, electro-punk musical
performances on NBC's groundbreaking "Friday Night Videos" show. You may
have thrilled to her critically acclaimed early albums such as "Unbehagen"
(1979) or "NunSexMonkRock" (1982) which, I think it can safely be said,
laid the groundwork for the many German language, pseudo-operatic, heavy
punk albums that were to come. (I, myself, was first introduced to Nina
via her 1983 album, "Angstlos," which I found at a used record store for
a dollar. It immediately cemented Nina in my list of all time favorite
artists, next to Chic, AC/DC and Devo.) Hell, you might even be a fan
of Nina's current work, being that she is still releasing albums more
than 20 years after she hit the music scene.
I will concede that there are some of you out there so completely oblivious
that you've never even heard a Nina Hagen album, thus I will take a paragraph
or two to try and mend your heathen ways. (For you Nina fans out there
- just bare with me. We've got to bring the gospel of Hagen to these savages
them same way the Quakers proselytized the American Indian to the ways
of Christ and oatmeal.) If I know you like I think I know you, you're
probably asking, "What does a Nina Hagen album sound like?" Let me answer
this way - Have you ever had a dinner of fettuccini alfredo with Quail
eggs and salmon salad, washed down with some French cabernet and chocolate
fudge for dessert? Well, imagine that in musical form. Still not with
me? Geeze. okay, I'll try and be a little more concrete here. For one
thing, the bulk of Nina's material is performed in her native language:
German. Now we all know German to be a beautiful and fluid language with
an overabundance of sensual trills and delightful "ra" sounds. Hah! Maybe
compared to the language of ants! But to regular humans, German is probably
the most horrific language on earth, combining blocky vowel formations
that require the speaker to irrigate the flem in their throat with a steam
shovel, and shrill screeches that can sterilize rabbits. But nowhere does
this hideous, pain inducing language sound more beautiful than coming
out of the mouth of Nina Hagen (It still sounds pretty crappy, but Nina
does the best she can.) On top the fact that she's singing in one of the
more obtuse languages on the planet, Nina further characterizes her songs
with a decided slant towards operatic singing, banshee like octave leaps,
and spoken word rants that might be best described as German rap. Imagine
Rob Halford and Lil' Kim having a daughter and you'll get the idea.
That gives you a feel for Nina's vocal stylings, but it doesn't provide much information about her music. Hagen's songs have always drawn from a pretty diverse spectrum. Heavy Metal, punk rock, New Wave, Indian Pop, Krishna chants, Funk, German Classical music, Kraftwerk style Synth Pop, and Rockabilly have all found their way into her music. Indeed, Nina Hagen music is just as convention-trouncing as her vocals and always requires the creme de le creme of German musicianhood. She had an official back up group for her early albums, which she then disbanded in 1979 and pursued a solo career using Kraut session players. She's collaborated with a lot of big name German musicians whose names are meaningless to decent Americans like you or I, but astute readers may be familiar with shock diva, Lene Lovich, with whom Nina collaborated on the Animal Liberation tune, "Don't Kill the Animals!" (Don't have to search hard for the meaning in those lyrics.) For a good taste of what I consider the "classic" Hagen sound, I recommend "NunSexMonkRock" (1982) or "Angstlos" (1983). The critical fave "Unbehagen" (1978) can, in my opinion, be ignored, as it was too dependent of the "softer" sounds of Reggae and Synth Pop.
But an understanding of Nina's vocal eccentricities and musical dexterity doth not a Nina Hagen expert make. A key part of the whole Nina Hagen appeal is her crazy, cosmic philosophy as evidenced in her lyrics, performances and photo ops. What is this philosophy? Beats the fuck out of me. It seems to have something to do with Indian culture, UFOs, Islamic tradition, Christianity, The Rapture, and the innate goodness of all humanity. (So you know it's probably crap.) Over the course of twenty odd years, Nina has managed to represent this belief system in both her appearance and lyrics. On stage and on album covers Nina has appeared as a Mata Hari style siren, a baby toting Madonna (the mother of God, not the singer), a mohawked punk goddess, and a new wave fashion plate. Her lyrics have made reference to Shiva, Aliens, the Gods of Aquarius, and a state of oneness with the universe she calls "the Ekstacy." If you can make any sense of it let me know.
Over the years, I've searched for a deeper subtext that could be used to tie the splintered shards of Nina's genre defying appearance and music together. I'll say this much - at the heart of Nina's shtick is the concept of Rebellion Against Authority. You may say, "Gee, Wil, 'Rebellion Against Authority' is such a vague, ethereal concept you could apply it to pretty much anyone in the rock and roll biz. It sounds like you're just saying that as a quick way to finish up this article so you head downtown to meet that call girl you've got an appointment with." But I reply, "Hold on there, grasshopper." Maybe you could apply it to anyone, but I firmly believe this concept holds special credence in Nina's life. You ever heard the theory that the harder you hold someone down the more they'll fight back? Well, consider this: Nina was born into state mandated conformity when she was birthed in East Berlin in 1955. (On top of that, her grandparents fell victim to one of the worst forms of oppression in history, dying in the concentration camps of World War II.) She grew up bouncing around in various state sponsored death cam., uhh, educational facilities, including the catchy sounding "Central Bureau of Entertainment Music." As such, it's no surprise that she's spent her artistic career revolting against conformity in the outrageous ways that she has. Unlike a lot of American artists who were big on rebellion but really didn't have much to rebel against, Nina had lived under one of the more oppressive regimes of the 20th century and as a result had plenty to rise up against. No rebel without a cause here.
So that's pretty much Nina Hagen in a nutshell. Closing in on 50, she's a crazy old bat, but undeniably a bat who's made her own path in life and art. While the other bats were flying left, she was flying right. While the other bats were hanging upside down she was standing tall like John-fucking-Wayne. While the other bats were watching the hit Saturday morning TNBC show, City Guys, she was checking out Tony Brown's Journal on PBS.
Remind me never to use bat analogies.
* Well, fuck, there's one thing wrong with this whole opening paragraph. As was recently pointed out to me, the porn site is no longer there! Goddammit! Porn is like cops - never around when you need it. It's not too much if I ask you to imagine a porn site at ninahagen.com, is it? Full bosomed mature blondes and Asian schools girls in bondage all residing at the web address of our favorite shrieking, German new waver? You can do that for your old chum, Wil, right? Cuz we're pals, right? You and me - a couple of swells.
What do you think America? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!
(In addition to our guestbook, this piece created a bit on conversation on Nina Hagen's Guestbook, including Nina herself chiming in. Click here to view it and even add your two cents.)
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at email@example.com
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!
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