Saturday, July 6, 2013

Transfoming in the 70's

In which I span a whole decade filled with hope, disappointment, renewed uprising and end up in a live concert of Patti Smith in Hamburg last night.
This is dedicated to all my companions of that time, too numerous to name and  especially the many who have moved on too early.
       In early January 1970 I was drafted into the German military for my 18 month duty. In January 1971 my mother died suddenly and unexpected of a heart failure while I was on weekend leave. Then by early 72 we had started a commune with some of my friends. A period of intense community living, political activism, self-exploration, and study began. I worked in a bookstore collective, we participated in anti Vietnam war demonstrations, against the US backed coup in Chile, the hikes of public transport fees and became involved in the squatting scene. One of these activities became the Independent Youth Center Korn Strasse in Hannover’s Nordstadt. 

In the bookstore ca 72/73
UJZ Kornstrasse in a recent pic (Independent youth center).

    We moved our bookstore into the center, started a children’s group, a music initiative, a pup and many other projects. In the 80's the center became notorious as the headquarters of the infamous Chaos Days. It still exists today, has expanded and is still politically independent. After a stint in a ‘landkommune’ I got involved in the Gruppe Neue Kultur. We lived in several communes, traveled, made movies, started a food coop and generally tried to create a new culture of living together. This was also the beginning of environmental awareness and many of the ideas and concepts explored then are still valid today. By the mid 70’s it became clear that the old structures were not going to fade away as many members of the younger generation had hoped. In fact the ancient regime fought back hard. The movement itself had split up into, K- groups, landkommunen (communal country living), Sponties (Spontaneous activists), militants, and people trying to change the established structures from withing (teachers, social workers, etc). The fight against the ‘Terrorist’ groups allowed the governments to install restrictive laws not unlike those put into effect in the US after 911. Many of us studied to become teachers but were faced with ‘Berufsverbote’, basically anyone engaged in leftist activities was not allowed to work for the government by law. It was a grey time in Germany quite depressing and without perspective for many. Gerhard Richter would work out the so called Deutsche Herbst ( German Fall, Fall as season) in a big black and white painting series. in 1988. Lots of us turned inward and engaged in issues of gender and identity, or alcohol and worse.

Gerhard Richter, Zelle, oil on canvas 1988.

       The Music changed too. This poster of the 1973 rockfestival in Scheessel shows some of the popular bands of the time. Notice Lou Reed who didn’t quite fit into the lineup. 

Scheessel Poster 1973. The festival still runs today.

 Rock'n Roll Animal, one of the greatest live albums.

        Our group’s task at the festival was to protest the burgeoning commercialism with a massive gatecrashing operation that allowed hundreds of people to attend the festival for free. The German soundtrack for the squatting scene was the Berlin Band Ton, Steine, Scherben. They were like a Berlin MC5 singing in their mother tongue and producing/distributing their albums completely outside the established industry, anticipating what was to come a few years down the road. Their leadsinger Rio Reiser became a big star later and ended tragically early. My friend Hollow wrote a biography of him. Here is an excellent video of their most famous song Macht kaput was euch kaput macht from 1970.We had lots of jams in our communes, most everybody played different drums, flutes, etc. Eventually I picked up the guitar more often and learned how to play. New music moved away from blues based hard rock, with homegrown bands like Kraftwerk, Neu, Can, Tangerine Dream and others. Another new trend supporting the journey of self discovery came from Roxy Music, David Bowie, T-Rex, Lou Reed, and others. And of course we still listened to the forerunners Velvet Underground, MC5, Iggy and The Stooges and the New York Dolls.

Glamming it up

the 70's with David Bowie,

Roxy Music and Lou Reed.
        All this pointed in the direction of the explosion to come after 1975, ignited first in New York City.  My own playing already had become electric and when a friend brought this album back from a US trip in the summer of 1976 I was ready to be hurled into a new orbit. Here are a few books to help explore this transformation: Clinton Heylin, From the Velvets to the Voidoids, Michael Bracewell, Re-Model, Becoming Roxy Music, and Patti's own Just Kids and for the greater historical context Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces. There are great clips of early Roxy(1972) on the tube and the Stockholm (1976) Patti Smith clips present the energy of that time.

Patti Smith Horses cover.

        Epilogue: 7.6.2013 8:00 AM I get a call on skype from my friends Mattus, Annette, Jenny and Hollow directly from the Patti Smith show in Hamburg’s Stadtpark (open air), where it is Saturday night. Mattus, Hollow, me and a few others traveled  together to Patti's shows in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg in the spring of 78. This included Mattus fainting in the heat of the crowd  in Munich and me making it on stage in Berlin. Today my friends let me witness the Patti Smith Group's encore over skype, which was People have the Power. "The people have the power to wrestle the world from fools", which Patti finishes with the words: "and don't forget it." She follows this with a song from her Easter LP, Rock'n Roll Nigger. This is one of the most amazing and daring display of rock'n roll and poetry. Here is a great video. This song would have some influence on the name of a band that I should join a few weeks after I got to New York, but that is another story, to be told here soon.
A big Mahalo!!!!!!!!!

Patti Smith doing People have the Power in Hamburg 7.6.2013

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