Impossible automata for my street organ this holiday season. Featuring Georg Büchner, Ignaz Bruder, German Christmas pyramids, dancing Hasidim, Lieutenant Kijé as you’ve probably never seen it, Le Tigre, and a crustacean.
The other day someone sent me some of the excellent light verse produced at Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ photogenic waiting room for Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Doing a bit of backreading, I met up again with the barrel-organ metaphysics (more another time) of Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Bohemia and Moravia. That same someone then sent me the source of that story -Lina Heydrich, Leben mit einem Kriegsverbrecher (“Life with a War Criminal”, 1976)- and located in the final chorus of Heydrich Senior’s sentimental opera, Das Leierkind (“The Barrel-Organ Child”), 1 the quote in question:
Ja, die Welt ist nur ein Leierkasten,
den unser Herrgott selber dreht,
und jeder muss nach dem Liede tanzen,
das grad’ auf der Walze steht.
An alternative translation:
Yes, the world is but a barrel-organ
Which our Lord God himself doth grind,
And all must dance unto the song
With which the cylinder is tined. 2
You can’t (always) blame fathers for their sons. Heydrich Senior is merely echoing the blows of fate/fateful bellows attributed to organ-grinders in 18th and 19th century romantic fiction – Büchner’s ballad singer’s quasi-Lutheranism announcing Marie’s betrayal with the drum-major of Woyzeck (1837), for example:
Auf der Welt ist kein Bestand,
Wir müssen alle sterben,
das ist uns wohlbekannt.
Topical lyrics of this type had their visual counterpoint in ballad busking in a) proto-PowerPoint illustrations, and/or b) social and occasionally political automated tableaux which, along with bellows and barrel, ran off the crank on many Black Forest organs. The latter seem to have developed from the the region’s weight-powered flute clock automata, and Ignaz Bruder of Waldkirch (1780-1845) is their best-known manufacturer:
They offer more wide-ranging but less precise theatrics than my splendid organ-god – none of them beat 4/4 or 3/4:
But let’s cut to the chase. Automations seen this Christmas which I might try to add to the organ if I were a rich wastrel:
- I met a nice small candle-powered Christmas pyramid/Weihnachtspyramide at the German Deli in Hackney Wick. Here‘s a similar one:
I’d go for a triple-decker cranked version populated with home-made figures representing farmers, warriors and priests, or promotors, policemen, and bureaucrats, crowned by an organ-grinder. Say no to electrically-powered Star Wars scenes:
Large municipal executions have also become popular over the last couple of decades. Like the one above, to eliminate draughts and working people they are usually mains-powered and use decorative lightbulb candles and recorded music:
I think I recall seeing a very large hybrid incorporating a carousel ride at a fair I played at once in Germany, but I can’t find anything on YouTube and I was probably tipsy.
- A bunch of (male) Haredim hand-in-hand, observed dancing around in a circle outside a house on Stamford Hill, London, humming a song. They were rather like this:
- Everyone knows the sleigh ride/troika from the Prokofiev’s orchestral suite:
… but the virtually unknown eponymous film (1934), with its Hitlerian Emperor Paul I, is quite marvellous, and the robotic servants of the machine society -how un-Soviet!- are simply dying for recycling:
Work is said to be underway on a device that will coordinate music playback with video in order to enable me to (write music for and) accompany (suitably edited) films.
- “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:
- A lobster. Robert Conquest’s paraphrase of Shakespeare’s take on the ages of man in As you like it:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
The path to the pot is plagued by good purpose. The DG’s splendid adjunct auntie S has a pet herring gull, rescued as a broken-winged chick, and loves animals. 4 Having plied the organ-grinder with champagne and milk-based vodka, the DG announced to her that the organ-grinder had a pet lobster, rather like Gérard de Nerval:
Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.
“Oh, how wonderful,” she exclaimed. “And where do you keep it?!”
But the organ-top would be a more impressive and in many ways satisfactory location.
- Anyone got a score? ↩
- Tined? Wassat? ↩
- I like Motton’s first line -I was looking for a two-syllable noun meaning permanence- but I’d also like to hang onto the Bestand/bekannt rhyme. Motton says Leierkasten is a hurdy-gurdy, which is quite reasonable, and the BBC turns it into a simple violin, which is pretty naughty given their wealth. ↩
- Though she was enjoying her beef stew. ↩
- Milton says (Samson Agonistes (1671)) that seraphim can play trumpets in between singing the old “Holy, holy, holy!” or whatever else they get up to:
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires
With some Norwegian, a bunny, and a bell-ringing act.
I’ve recently introduced democratic fundamentals by allowing the mob to decide whether I do Postman Pat in Norwegian. The other day someone came up to me and said, “You-must-have-watched-the weather-in-Norwegian-on-L!ve-TV-in-the-90s.” Unfortunately I was elsewhere, but fortunately there are snippets on YouTube, and here is Anne Marie Foss:
… as well as the Pontins-pi$$take talent competition, Spanish Archer, which, judging by YouTube, was big on accordions. (As patient readers know, organetto is used in Italian for both the accordion and the barrel organ.) The Family Von Skrappe survived Rhodri Williams’ attentions for several minutes:
Harry Hussey’s falsetto “To you!” interjections and Tulips from Amsterdam and Sue Bennett’s tuned cowbells sound like Spike Jones, and the fun was by no means cooked up for Kelvin MacKenzie. Here they are in a longer clip featuring some xylophone action at the 1993 Scarborough contest of the National Accordion Organisation of the United Kingdom:
Finally, here’s Harry doing the Dambusters at the Leyland club, where I haven’t been for a long time:
Cómo introducir la juventud a los auténticos valores socialistas; y cómo calentar la leche para tu café fácilmente, sin ensuciar la cacerola ni que se forme piel encima de la leche.
Was: How pleased I am to find both the Zarah Leander and the Nina Hagen versions of “Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n” on the line.
Someone now on another side used to put on a wobbly Zarah cassette when we did leather gigs over in the Federal Republic, and her sombre timbre recalls dark drunken nights on the way home, swerving back and forth over tree-lined moon-dappled country roads in the minibus to get rabbits for Sunday lunch:
She’s by far the most compelling singer in German from the second half of the 30s, partly no doubt because of Hitler’s curious decision to guarantee American domination of the entertainment industry by exiling half of Germany’s creative class in a westerly direction and murdering the rest to the east. But I’ve no doubt she’d have shone amidst better than the following appalling rubbish, posted by my good friend the ex-president:
I believe Nina Hagen figured she was what Zarah Leander could have been:
Even when she was on Planet P-Funk:
Let’s be honest: Madonna was so utterly, hopelessly inadequate:
In 1981, Hagen her daughter Cosma Shiva to the world. The father is the 1988 late Dutch guitarist Ferdinand Karmelk . in 1987 married Hagen in a “punk wedding” on Ibiza the then 17-year-old musician “Iroquois” from the London squat scene. After only one week separated the pair again. In 1989, she was romantically involved with the Frenchman Frank Chevalier, from this relationship comes a son. In May 1996, Hagen married the 15 years younger than David Lynn. The couple separated in 2000 In January 2004, Hagen married the 22 years younger Danish singer Lucas Alexander Breinholm. The separation took place in January 2005 From 2005 to 2010 Hagen was associated with a 28 years younger physiotherapists in Canada. Since 1982, Hagen is a vegetarian. She settled in August 2009 in Schüttorf of Pastor Karl-Wilhelm ter Horst reformed Protestant baptism. .
Post-war was pretty grim for reasons already outlined, but in the 60s came the spaghetti versions of the Wild West novels of Karl May (the German Zane Grey – he didn’t actually change his name to match, unlike Francisco González Ledesma aka Silver Kane, the late, Spanish equivalent). Older Dutchpersons tend to think of cowboys and Indians as German-speaking, because until quite late in the 20th century there was no daytime Dutch television, so they all watched the German channels:
And then, at long last, with Beethoven and Goethe getting restless in their graves, Zarah Leander’s old employers signed Siggi Götz, the Bavarian Benny Hill (does that make him the fastest milkman in the East?), to return German culture to pre-Hitlerian heights:
Fassbinder’s Lola, a distressingly brilliant swords-to-JCBs film, is also up there, again courtesy of Richard:
I sing Capri-Fischer, whose message from the Wirtschaftswunderbar is: why send troops to [Italy|whatever] when you can buy it:
Although I’m probably a bit more like a bovine Gracie Fields:
The secrets of Erith Driving Test Centre.
- Do your test in late July. You won’t skid all over the place when they take you up to Belvedere, which is a kind of L-driver lunar graveyard. I’ll tell you about the other advantage in a moment.
- Before you go to meet your fate, you’ll need a relaxing al fresco banana and slash. The best place is at the far northern end of Manorway: Lidl distribution centre to right of you, bus depot to left of you, quiet footpath leading to the Thames estuary in front of you.
- Park your bike behind the building or the learners will use it for target practice.
- When you’re finished, it being late July, go back to your banana peel, leave your bike, and walk to the Thames. The blackberries along the path are OK, but they’re far better if you walk 100m right along the river bank. I collected around 25 quid’s worth at Waitrose prices between my M1 last Thursday and my M2 today. They’re quite bitter but full, so no point in waiting much longer.
I’ve got a bit of a blackberry fetish. A decade ago I was doing something quite stressful and tiring in London, and leading a fairly ambitious nocturnal existence. On the August Bank Holiday Saturday, I cycled south to drink some of this excellent beer, but soon realised there was something wrong – even slower than usual, and a terrible sense of doom – and a couple of miles short of the festival tent all systems said no thanks. Then out of nothing, an endless hedge of blackberries, where I grazed for half an hour until I looked like a Nazi zombie (Hitler’s bicycle corps was notorious). It then occurred to me that lying in bed for a couple of days might reasonably be preceded by a couple of beers.
But the ripest blackberries,
Nor the mulleins topped with gold,
Peach nor honey-locust trees,
Nor the flowers, when all are told,
Pleased us like the cabin, near
Which as silver river ran,
And where lived, for many a year,
Christopher, the crazy man.
So, I got my licence. Now I need to buy a second-hand Piaggio Ape 50 panel van, preferably near London / Bristol.
The Organ-Grinder travelled to Erith courtesy of the Woolwich Ferry, probably London’s greatest ride.