Monday, September 29, 2008

Nice Jewish Boy (sometimes!) in Berlin and Beyond

Mercury turning retrograde the other day always affects me, a double Gemini, intensely...

so much so that I skipped over rather a large chunk of time passing in my last blog entry, only to feel now the irrepressible urge to revisit it, sifting sand through my fingers, shifting words a la recherche de la temps (frank) perdu...

"Alright now we're gonna go back...to 1940...no money...and I live...in Berlin..."

Nope, not that retrograde...let's set the wayback machine for Fall 1988 when I arrived in Berlin to play the Berlin Jazzfest solo--my first major showcase in Europe, after being written up in the NY Times as the "Guitarist of 1000 Ideas" after a performance that July at the Knitting Factory's "What is Jazz Festival" (search me)...in any case I noticed upon arrival that the Berlin Jazzfest was coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht that very Festival week, and I determined to make some kind of statement about it music-wise, I didn't really premeditate it beyond feeling that it was my artistic duty then and there as a sensitive Jewish artist obsessed with his roots to make some kind of statement about it, particularly in Berlin, a city I found devastatingly beautiful (for years my favorite place to play in Europe) but haunted by ghosts--and which seemed to offer a kind of unlimited license for experimentation...

And at my evening performance 5 days before the 50th anniversary of this horrific event--the beginning of Open Season on Jews in Germany, Nov. 9th 1938--at the venue in Charlottenburg named The Delphi, I ended my evening's performance appropriately/oracularly enough with a new composition improvised on the spot, which incorporated electronic shrieks with eerie quotations from "Deutschland Uber Alles" and "Hatikvah", which I entitled "Verklarte Kristallnacht" ("Transfigured Crystal Night"), after Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht" (one of my favorite of the great composer's works, particularly in the reduced chamber version). You can hear my little momento mori musicale here....

After I was finished playing my piece, in a kind of trance I announced the title to the packed house, and there was a stunned silence--followed by an ovation from the audience (there had been very few musical commemorations of the Holocaust at that point, I can recall Schoenberg's "A Survivor from Warsaw" only--also regarding another Holocaust, Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima", whose title was apparently an after-thought). The next day my photo appeared in the Berlin Morgenpost with the caption: "Es is Lucas!" accompanying a glowing review of my concert, which helped set the stage for years of solo touring in Europe (stone alone)...

And one year after my performance at the Berlin Jazzfest, on the 51st anniversary of Kristallnacht itself, Nov. 9th 1989, the Wall came down...

So it was with a feeling of great satisfaction that I returned literally to the scene of the crime several weeks ago, in an eternal ricorso, bringing it all back home for me in spades when lovely Nicola Galliner, British ex-pat, longtime Berlin transplant, and Berlin Jewish Film Fest selectress who had chosen my Golem performance on a recommendation from Les Rabinowicz of the Australian Jewish Film Festival (thanks Les!) picked me up at Tegel Airport (which they are soon shuttering, what a pity-- an exquisite airport in miniature set square in the midst of the city, Tegel was always a delightful point of debarkation/arrival) early Saturday morning Sept. 13th after a tempestuous ride in from JFK and deposited me in the Hotel Savoy, a 4 star directly across the street from The Delphi...in fact the same Old World gemutlich hotel I had stayed in in 1988 on my first maiden voyage to Berlin...

My room this time was 2 doors down from the "Henry Miller" suite (he favored the Savoy and stayed there a lot--in fact, at dinner that night with Nicola, Ihno von Hasselt (one of the Berlin Jazzfest directors whom I well remembered from my first performance there 20 years ago, he'd looked rather concerned backstage truth be told immediately after I had conjured "Verklarte Kristallnacht" up out of the rather rarefied thin air of the Delphi), and Ihno's charming and witty companion, the famous German film scenarist and director Christa Maerker (who made a brilliant documentary about Phillip Roth a couple years back), Christa recalled being friends with the very German mistress of Henry Miller, who kept him enthralled at the Savoy for lo many a year (there's also a "Miro" and a "Picasso" room in the Savoy, replete with dozens of similar beast-with-two-backstories for each chambre, you can be sure)...

My "Golem" show that next afternoon at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival was held at a stunning 1920's art-deco theater on Rosa-Luxemburg Str., the Kino Babylon, which stands in Kreuzberg in East Berlin--a theater designed by famed German expressionist architect Hans Poelzig who was the set designer on "The Golem" (and whose 3D architectural rendering of the medieval Prague ghetto was actually constructed outdoors on a plot of land the size of a football field, where Templehof airport now exists)...

The Kino Babylon boasts a dazzling daily schedule of arthouse and film festival fare under to the artistic leadership of its present owner Timothy Grossman, a charming German-American whose father Stephen Wechsler , a Jewish communist from New York disgruntled with the McCarthy-era persecutions of the Left back in the day, defected to the Eastern bloc in 1952 by swimming across the Danube and subsequently changing his name to Victor Grossman...he has the distinction of being not only one of the very few American defectors to East Germany (along with Capitol Records pop-star Dean Reed), but of having attended both Harvard and Karl Marx University--and he has written a fascinating autobiography entitled "Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany".

Before leaving Berlin, Nicola invited me to a private viewing of a very cool short film at the Berlin Jewish Museum on Lindenstr. of Graham Rose's amazing "Mrs. Meitlemeihr" starring my friend the German film cult icon/freakazoid Udo Kier (Andy Warhol's "Frankenstein" and "Dracula", and Fassbinder's last lover), a Lars Von Trier favorite player and perhaps the most outrageous and intense German actor ever outside of Klaus Kinski...

I spent a wild night at Udo's house on the outskirts of Koln many years ago with my pal the NY-based artist David Scher, which I described in depth in the liner notes of my 2000 Tzadik CD "Street of Lost Brothers"...here Udo plays a very convincing Hitler, smuggled out of his Bunker at the end of World War II, now living in poverty and seclusion in London's East End after the War, where he emerges occasionally in drag to post letters in vain to Martin Bormann in Argentina imploring him to send money...Udo/Adolf becomes an object of affection to his very yiddische upstairs neighbor, whom he meets at the post office one day, and...well, you just have to see this, I don't know how unfortunately, let's just hope it eventually becomes available on DVD...

Nicola also showed me another great short film entitled "The Hitler Sisters", a blackest of black humor tour de force starring Tamy Ben-Tor, a supremely gifted Israeli performance artist and comedienne (her CV is here)... both these films really resonated with me--along with Israeli artist Roee Rosen's short film "Two Women and a Man" concerning Justine Frank, a mythical Belgian transgressive Jewish female artist created by Rosen (this clip is a meditation on the character of Justine Frank from Rosen's film, but not the film itself, though it contains examples of Justine's imagined shocking art) and this years "Stalags" by Ari Libsker, both of which I caught at Film Forum downtown, some of the best and most provocative cinema I've seen in years...

Before I left Berlin I had dinner with my pal Ed Ward, American ex-pat writer emeritus for Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal amongst other pubs who writes the amusing blog BerlinBites, Ed took me to a cool West Berlin restaurant specializing in Swabian delicacies...coffee with Wolf Kampmann, my longtime jazz journalist friend and supporter...and drinks with Ibadet Ramadani, leader of the great Berlin-based band Super700, Ibadet and her band are nearly done with a new album (I performed on their last one, produced by Gordon Raphael of Strokes renown)--check them out, they are the darlings of Nic Harcourt and KCRW (they played on his show live in LA last year) and they really do deserve an album release over here...

Then it was a very enjoyable first class train ride across Germany from Berlin to Amsterdam (I have always loved this particular journey, and Deutsche Bahnhof in general), where I was met by my friend the documentary film maker Flip Nagler... we dined that night at Nam Kee, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam, and were quite accidentally seated at a table alongside Arjen Gorter, the great double bassist for my friends the Willem Breuker Kollektief, who told me a sad story of how the Kollektief's government funding has been cut back severely this year, another sign of the worldwide economic downturn (I wrote liner notes referring to this unfortunate phenomenon for the album "The Universe of Absence" which I recorded with my friend Dutch lute player Jozef Von Wissem which was released on Willem's label BvHaast)...this is a real shame, as the Breuker Kollektief have toured all over the world, including in China and Africa, as unofficial Dutch cultural ambassadors, for the last 30 years, and many of their members have been with the ensemble for that full amount of time...I really hope they get their funding restored, the Kollektief are definitely a musical treasure deserving of support...

The next day I lectured in the afternoon at the new Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum located next to the Central Station, a magnificent new building set next to the new main Library/Bibliotheek (an immaculate, incredible edifice with myriad computer terminals for free use by the public) and also the temporary home of the Stedelijyk Art Museum which is currently undergoing renovations...my friends Arjen Veldt and Paul B and family (wife Esther and daughter Bibiche) turned up to document my talks...after the lecturing the family B helped me along with various student friends haul my guitars and massive fx suitcase onto a train at the Central Station, which I narrowly missed as the schedules keep changing capriciously from day to day and I had been directed to the wrong track...

Gary in Amsterdam, 9/18/08

Gary gives a guitar masterclass at the Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

Gary lectures on the craft of songwriting, Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

Gary goes one on one at the Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

Gary demonstrates how he wrote "Rise Up to Be" (the instrumental basis for "Grace") at the Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

Knees up at the Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

Gary's Gang, Amsterdam Central Station, 9/18/08

On the way to Breda, 9/18/08

Stratocaster's rule, Amsterdam Musik Conservatorum, 9/18/08

photos by Paul B | Click to enlarge

With a heave and a ho from Paul B and co. I got on the right train to Breda just in the nick--and arrived in time there to do a soundcheck for my evening performance of "Monsters from the Id" at the BUT Film Festival (B-Movie, Underground and Trash Film Festival), an annual event held by the city of Breda curated by the indefatigable and lovely Dorien from Stichting Idee-Fixe--the gang there at the Electron Club was exceedingly friendly and helpful, the club was the idea space for such a festival, with a huge movie screen and soundsystem in the main space, and a separate porno-kino room set up off to the side like a Kienholz installation, which showed Dutch hardcore loops from the 50's and 60's continuously...

Eventually I took the stage around 11pm to play a wild x-rated version of my project complete with extra footage from my pal ex-pat photographer Roy Stuart's "Glimpse" series (check out Roy's work here, and his several volumes of photos published by Taschen Books--he has a new feature film coming out next month premiering in Paris titled "The Lost Door" which I composed music for and played on the soundtrack with him)...I had to return to Amsterdam the next day, but did manage to catch a very entertaining and compelling 2007 feature at the festival which preceded my own performance, entitled "La Creme", directed by Reynald Bertrand...

Then it was back to sunny shimmering Amsterdam, where I hung out with my friends Flip and his lovely wife Berenike and had dinner at a fantastic new Turkish/Moroccan restaurant in the Pipe called Bazar, and also spent many hours hanging out in my favorite cinema store in the world, Cine Qu Non on Staalstraat with its owner, my friend Eric, where I discovered an amazing collection of Scopitone DVDs of 60's French and Italian pop stars...and also did diligence at my old favorite Lambiek's, the world's greatest comics store...

Back home, and Caroline and I went to 2 compelling film events, one a screening last Wednesday at the Alliance Francaise/Florence Gould Hall uptown of the work of my friend Marie Losier, my favorite experimental film maker, her films are fascinating and provocative, and it was a real treat to see on a big screen such gems as her "Manuelle Labor" (which Marie made in collaboration with Guy Maddin), and also her film portraits of Richard Foreman, George and Mike Kuchar, and Tony Conrad--plus a teaser music video clip from her upcoming 4-years-in-the-making portrait of my pal, British transgender rock icon Genesis P. Orridge (founder of Psychik TV, and also Throbbing Gristle, the only punk/new wave band name-checked by Captain Beefheart/Don Van Vliet as being any good)...Saturday night there was a party for Genesis and Marie at a fabulously swanky loft down in the Battery where they screened more clips from the upcoming documehtary, which I can't wait to see in toto...

I should also mention that the documentary "Wild Combination", all about my dear departed friend Arthur Russell currently playing at the IFC in Manhattan is really worth seeing...more on Arthur another time: suffice to say that along with A&R genius Howard Thompson (and precious few others) he actually encouraged me to devote myself to a life playing music--and I am so glad I took his advice to heart :-)

By the way, Howard now is major domo of the cool internet radio station North Fork Sound, and also writes a very amusing and informative blog.

Friday night I went with Caroline and our friend Cineaste editor Richard Porton to the inaugural party at Tavern on the Green for this year's New York Film Festival, sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (for whom I've been commissioned to compose a new score to accompany Tod Browning's silent version of "The Unholy Three" this spring)...it was a really misty night and a perfectly lovely atmosphere to hang outdoors in the gardens surrounding the joint sampling the smorgasboard of culinary delights on hand, and great fun running into folks such as old friend Dr. Annette Insdorf, who runs the undergraduate film studies program at Columbia, and also Don Palmer from the NY State Council of the Arts and his lovely wife...

Have to dash now, getting ready to leave soon for Mexico City and my poetry and music collaboration with Bruno Galindo this Saturday, which we will repeat in NYC on Oct. 11th at the Bowery Poetry Club and again on Oct. 14th at the Gershwin Hotel...be there now...

L'Shana Tovah!


xxLove


Gary

1 Comments:

Blogger Iria F. Crespo said...

Great blog Gary,

Beautiful photos, you are an excellent writer : )better than me!

Saludos

Iria F. Crespo.

11/13/2008 9:52 AM  

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