Monday, May 28, 2012

Lilli Marleen

Underneath the lantern,
By the barrack gate
Darling I remember
The way you used to wait
T'was there that you whispered tenderly,
That you loved me,
You'd always be,
My Lilli of the Lamplight,
My own Lilli Marlene

In World War II, every country had it's song that more than any other "spoke" the mood. For most countries, that song was not Lilli Marlene.

Vor der Kaserne
Vor dem großen Tor
Stand eine Laterne
Und steht sie noch davor
So woll'n wir uns da wieder seh'n
Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh'n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.

But throughout the countries involved in the European war, on both sides, in many languages, Lilli Marlene was at the very least a close runner-up, and by being so widespread surely qualifies as the leading song of that war.

The version that first pushed Lili Marleen to fame was by Lale Anderson, who was born in Bremerhaven, Germany, in the Lehe district.

In 1971, while with Det B, 42d MP Gp (Customs) at the US Army installation in Bremerhaven-Weddewarden, I had an apartment in Bremerhaven-Lehe, on Artilleriestraße, named for the artillery barracks or Kaserne that was across from my kitchen window. I looked down into its courtyard. Lale presumably grew up knowing that same barracks as "the Kaserne," and its gate may have been what she pictured as she sang "vor dem großen tor."

I wish I had known that when I listened to Marlene Dietrich singing Lili Marlen in my tiny mansard apartment.

I certainly thought of the song when I looked at that gate.

Lili Marleen An Allen Fronten has 184 historical recordings of different versions on 7 CDs. I wish I could get that out of the Library. Maybe my kids will get it for me for Father's Day? Nah.

Today is Memorial Day, and I think of my father's friends who died in that war, my friends who died in Vietnam, family and friends who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and lost friends there. Of everyone who has lost family and friends in any war.

I watch our flag dance in the breeze.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hildegard Knef

I was sitting on the couch this morning, taking another break from reading Stasiland - a wonderful but heart-shearing book of stories of secret police victims da drüben, as the DDR was known to us then - and apparently my mind circled out from those times and my post yesterday about Katja Ebstein.

The name "Hildegard Knef" came into my aimless drifting.

For a moment I wasn't sure if I remembered her as actress or singer, but a quick Google search confirmed she was both, and the opening bars of  the first YooToob clip i played - Ich brauch' Tapetenwechsel - went deep into my soul (even if the English lyrics seem a bit goofy) - it was on the record I had. As was the second - Insel meiner Angst.

For both songs, I had to move away from the computer, standing stiffly in the door of the room, muttering "holy shit" under my breath.

In various episodes of mental illness I sent versions of myself through my brain like herds of crazed wolverines followed by Attila the Hun's Mongolian Hordes* equipped with weed-eaters, attempting to rid myself of whatever memories drove me toward the abyss. I never seemed to have much success at the intended goal, but many times in the last decade of therapy I have learned how much of the good was chased away in my ineffectual attempts to destroy the evil.

I went back to the attic, but didn't find the Knef album. Is it gone?

This post is taking me a long time to assemble, interspersing writing with crying, walking around the house, listening to the same songs again, finding more, for Im achtzigsten Stockwerk, I again had to move away from the computer, to stand in the doorway mumbling.

So, I am ordering the CD of  my old Knef album, and looking to see what else I might like to get, in the affordable range.

I think now that when I found the Katja Ebstein album in 1971, I was looking for something to keep me from playing Knef over and over again - and like Mike, I think I was initially disappointed.

What I don't remember at all is why I never asked either Ruth Gottwalles or Claudia Haase to help me find some more music that I would like. Did we only talk about the music we enjoyed in the Tanzbars, not what we enjoyed on our own records?

Bremerhaven. Helmstedt. Braunschweig. Zonengrenze. Zollfahndung. Da drüben. Dienstfahrt im Sowjetischen Besatzungszone. Feierabend.

Long, long ago.


* Back when I was young & oblivious I once wrote: 

I was crazy when I started,
I'll be crazier when I'm done
that's why they call me
Attila the Hun

If you ever find yourself with even a remotely plausible belief that you have mental health problems, get therapy now. Do not let decades go by. If not for yourself, then for those who might attempt to love you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Katja Ebstein

In Bremerhaven, sometime in the first half of 1971, I was trying to find more record albums by German singers I might like, and came across Mein Leben ist wie ein Lied [My life is like a song] by Katja Ebstein.

Although I had no idea what she sounded like, I was sufficiently curious how Simon & Garfunkel's "I am a rock, I am an island" sounded in German [Ich lebe allein auf einer Insel] by a female vocalist, that I bought the album.

Sometime after that, I was relocated to Helmstedt, where after hearing the Album a few times, my roommate, Mike Matson, commented "I always assumed you bought this for the cover photograph, but I'm beginning to really like her singing."


As we can see on the album I recovered from the attic this morning, she really does have a great nose. Edgar, who also has a great nose, and has reason to appreciate them, seems to agree. Also, the color green also appeals to both Edgar and me. Edgar is a German Igel [hedgehog], so I can't imagine why Katja is looking at him with such suspicion.

Yootoob has a fine clip of her in 1972, at age 27, singing that album's lead song, Und Wenn Ein Neurer Tag Erwacht.

Since neither of my regular readers understands German, and I had a bit of trouble following the lyrics myself (tending instead to just drift into enjoyment of the voice), here is my heavily edited version of the Google translation of the German lyrics found on the web:

And when a new day awakens

without purpose or meaning
you go your way
and you do not know
where it leads.

so often in a beginning
but what comes tomorrow
is in your hands
remember that.

And when a new day awakens
from the dreams of a night.

You feel all at once, free again.
And when a new day awakens
and the sun again will laugh
the great loneliness is long behind
long behind, long behind.

you see your world
and you ask
someone does not hold to you

you should not be
for there comes a time
that you are no more alone!

And from 2007, when she was 62, "Wölfe und Schafe" ["Wolves and Sheep"].

I had no idea until yesterday how many albums she had done prior to mine (maybe one, maybe three) or how many total she has done now - 40 if i counted correctly at Wikipedia,  or 15 (+ 3) per a web discography.

Either way, I have missed a lot of fun over the intervening years.

A greatest hits CD I ordered the other day arrived moments ago and is now playing in the living room, so time to wrap this up and go listen.

After I played the CD, repeating a few songs, I thought it would be nice to at least play the LP once, especially after taking a look at the song titles on the back (image above is blown up and reconfoogled from the album back, click for large, legible version). So I uncovered the turntable, which seems to have last been used several years ago to play Linda Ronstadt's version of December Dream, and got it working. But after that exercise, I am ready for some quiet. I'll comment here again after I have played it.

Okay. Ummm. I found myself several times wondering what SGT Winston & SGT Matson were thinking. I now am pretty sure that Mike concluded I had bought it for the cover photo AFTER listening to it the first time. The arrangements are appalling & some of the songs are ridiculous - but then again, the voice, and her German, are quite wonderful at times, and I suspect at that time we would not have preferred her more mature voice had it been available.

Further thought reminded me that it was a change of pace from Country Joe & the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Julie Driscoll, even Marlene Dietrich. Many others*. But I still think the meine größten Erfolge CD is much, much better.

 * Hildegard Knef!

Om Oy

Every now and then I come across a picture in a book showing a sign that says "Om Oy," and for a moment I gaze at it without comprehension. Sooner or later though, I realize that it is actually "0m 0y" (zero-m zero-y), and the British counterpart to an American "MP 0," or milepost zero.

That American railroads mark their lines in decimal fractions of a mile (eg "MP 8.4") while the Brits used miles and yards (they may still, or may have converted to metric) is interesting enough to let my mind idle on that for a bit, after which I mostly move on to other items of interest in that or subsequent photographs.

Recently though, a friend and I shared a brief discussion on "it's about the journey, not the destination," and my brain has turned that cliché into a journey, rather than a destination, categorizing random appropriate and inappropriate items into one or another or both. 
  • Journey: knowing oneself, loving another, walking on the beach, reading a book
  • Destination: root canal repair, surgery
  • Either or both, depending on your attitude, your mindfulness: eating, driving somewhere,  writing a blog post, most any part of life?
In that context, a "0m 0y" sign in a photograph jumped out at me this morning as signifying not just a starting point, but a destination - after all, most milepost-zero signs are located at the major terminus of the railway line, which is a destination for a large number of travelers on the railway.

So I wondered how often "it's not about the journey, it's about the starting point," and of course, how often is our destination actually our starting point?

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

My instinctive reaction to that is "I don't want to go there."

"Vicious circles"

"Viscous circles."

Trapped in an infinite loop, revisiting the same cycles of despair and frustration.

But then again, I am always happy to get back home to our cats, who typically ignore my arrival unless it is near their feeding time (a several hour window that rises steeply in intensity when they fear that I might be late or gone forever).

And often I am pleased to awaken to a new day.

But now the kitties are expressing concern that I might not return from the journey into blog-posting-land until their breakfast is exceedingly overdo, and I have not yet hshowered (journey? destination? both!).

So I shall click "publish" and walk away from the computer.