Saturday, March 3, 2007

Schlager and Other Delights

When I was a child of twenty-five or so, I was mortified by the phrase "world music." I got the shivers whenever I encountered the songs, album covers or physical presence of a local Austin musician named Dan DelSanto, because he was a pudgy white guy who wore a pony-tail and a Dashiki and played lame Afro-beat. I still hate the phrase, because it means nothing and it's only used by Americans to talk about music made anywhere else on the planet.

But I'll go to the barricades for international schlock. Bollywood film music, Francoise Hardy and Russian dance pop songs with choruses that sound an awful lot like "Pussy, pussy, pussy!" This is my sort of thing. There's something irresistible about hearing hundreds (or thousands) of years of another culture stuffed into the straight-jacket of major chords, wah-wah guitar solos and/or syrupy R & B cliches. International schlock is always surprising. There's always that moment when you admit, 'Alright, I would NOT have thought of running Chicago's "Color My World" over a booty beat.'

Since moving to Austria, I have discovered another strain of international schlock: vintage German Schlager. This is surrealistically upbeat schmaltz, so-named because it's like Top 40 hits made out of whipped cream. Some troubled Americans, particularly old vinyl collectors, are already familiar with one classic Schlager star, the bizarrely blonde and vaguely terrifying Heino. But there's also Gunter Gabriel, who comes off like combination of Glen Campbell and Dr. Demento, and Howard Carpendale, who sang with great phonetic enthusiasm about um, Indianapolis.

Modern Schlager is like Hootie and the Blowfish wearing Leiderhosen. But I love the fifties and sixties stuff, although it drives my wife nuts when I start moonwalking around the apartment to something like "Kriminal Tango" by the Hazy Osterwald Sextett. (She had to grow up hearing this crap on the radio after all.)

But it's not just kitschy. Schlager took off after the Second World War, and it was really the chirpy, zany flipside of Kraut Rock, a much more critically beloved genre. But whereas the acid hippies of Kraut Rock tried to deal with the horror of the war by reinventing rock music, the Schlager stars sublimated unspeakable angst and guilt by crafting the most preternaturally sunny music they could imagine.

Maybe that's why some Schlager music hangs in the air like an artificial and very strange cloud.

I like that.

Next up: the zombie prog rok of Goblin

No comments: