Tuesday, January 03, 2006

First Crumbs of the Year

New Year's wasn't so bad at all, which led the Krautmeister to ask in an e-mail whether this reflected the state of the German economy. I think it's partially that -- who wants to spend substantial quantities of money on stuff that just goes bang when money's tight, after all? -- but there also seemed to be a technological shift taking place this year.

In previous years, there were mostly really loud explosions, but from what I could hear, these bombs have been refined. There was one which seemed to make a huge splashing noise after the explosion, and another that seemed to be a composite, where there was hissing, then a lot of tiny explosions and then a few big ones: sssssssskkkkkkkkkktttttktktktktktkABOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Presumably there was a visual display with this as well. But by far, the majority of what I heard until I went to bed about 1:30 in the morning were whistlers. The night sounded like thousands of suicidal canaries were about.

And the next morning there were fewer red sidewalks. What inevitably happens on New Year's evening is that at some point the snow starts to melt, and the cheap dyed paper wrapping the fireworks falls into the water and the cheap cardboard holding the powder is blown up and it all turns into mush. The tubular firecracker corpses become indistinguishable from the tubular leavings of our doggie friends, so red sidewalks are best avoided.

Anyway, it's over until next year, at which point I hope to be annoyed at citizens of an entirely different country.

And this year's dead guy was Buhaina Art Blakey. The classic Blue Note period, but also the 1958 album of his band with Thelonious Monk. A great way to usher in the New Year.

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Strange English of the month has to go to the Volksb├╝hne, Berlin's beloved hard-core lefty theater, which has been presenting a play with the enigmatic title Life Is The New Hard. What, for heaven's sake, was the old hard?

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The odd business called M├Ârder (murderer) has opened a few doors away. Very hard to tell what goes on in there, although it seems to sell wine, Gummi Bears, and soda. On the first, it was offering pickles and aspirin. Ah, well. At least it's not White Trash Fast Food -- or likely to become a draw like they were.

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Thanks to Natalie for this article from the Berliner Zeitung (and, thus, in German), which states the amazing fact that the best selling records in Germany last year were...German! This may not seem like much, but it's actually a pretty ground-breaking event. Pop music in postwar Europe has, for years, been all about colonization by first the Americans, and then, after the Beatles, the British. When I first moved here, German divisions of the major labels signed German acts as tax-losses to offset the profits from their Rod Stewart and Tina Turner releases, and you'd almost never hear anyone singing in German on a pop station. The Hamburg band Element of Crime were considered radicals for making pop music in German, and they were about the only big-selling band that did so.

All in all, I think this is a healthy development. Pop music in Europe is multilingual, so that we get the occasional world music number or tune in another language on the charts. Germans have avoided their own pop and folk culture and language because of the residual memory of the uses Hitler and company made of them, but maybe those days are over. Certainly the days of the major labels are over, and the next few years in what the record industry calls the GAS Territories -- Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the German-speaking market, which is the second-largest in the world -- should be very interesting to watch.

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