Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The Music Came Drifting Over The Barricades, and The Soldiers Fell Back.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

"Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy" - Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones

"Hippies. They're everywhere. They wanna save the earth, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad." - Eric Cartman, Die Hippie, Die
In Praise of The Scorpions and The Hoff

Spring 1967- Autumn 1968 the demographic boom following WWII has led to a youth generation of unprecedented influence, bringing forth a year to rival 1848. Their new music is blaring from every loudspeaker in The West, Break On Through by the Doors, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and the distorted noise of Hendrix are sheer, raw, statements of intent. Youth is taking to the streets... By mid-June the student rebellions taking place in Washington and Paris begin to spread into other cities, Sergeant Pepper is played in London as an enormous smiling face is hung over the entrance to a squat on Carnaby Street. Before August the governments of De Gaulle in France and Wilson in Britain have fallen, and the Labour party in Britain is in turmoil, the pressure for change is external, and the Labour party isn't able to give it what it wants. Increasingly it becomes clear that the British political system cannot respond to this pressure with business as usual...

Oh, wait a second, this never happened.

The Baby Boom generation has, through dint of sheer cultural firepower, established some sort of claim to molding the 20th century, akin to The French Revolution or the pan-European events of 1848. As far as I can tell, their case rests almost entirely on the back of a couple of really good tunes. Paint It Black by The Stones, The End by The Doors and It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding by Dylan are certainly rousing anthems when you've got a petrol bomb in your hand, but shouldn't a revolution, well... Change something? Looking at it in political events per year, the biggest year of revolutions in the post-war world was 1989 (with it's sequel in '91, Post-Communist Revolutions 2: The Soviets). However hard I try, I don't remember Bob Dylan or short hemlines having anything to do with it. Unfortunately for the Eastern Europeans, they just didn't pick the right soundtrack, and they don't have the influence on the global media of the anglophone baby boomer left. Where the world could treat 1989 as year zero of modernity, much of the media prefers to slip back to 1967 and recycle trite truisms about it's importance to feminism, homosexual rights, and the pill. It all comes down to those kickass theme-songs...

In the western media's narrative, the Wende is irrevocably associated with two tunes - Looking For Freedom by David Hasselhoff and Wind Of Change by The Scorpions. Between the two of them they typify the end of communism and for this they deserve our praise. So, in the spirit of casting down the oppressors, I'm going to briefly go over their stories.

With an original line-up forming in 1969, The Scorpions wouldn't be the most obvious choice as the voice of youth 20 years later. A long suffering slogger of a German hard rock band, they had been ploughing a long furrow of "successful in Japan" records until their first big breakthrough: 1984's single Rock You Like A Hurricane. Wind Of Change would be their high water mark, but would also be one of the last great big hair anthems before Alternative Rock changed the game. The song was explicitly and theatrically branded as the ballad to end the Cold War, and used a montage of Cold War history as the backdrop for the video. They were so successful in this in my mind (and the mind of Wikipedia) that, despite this song's release in 1990 when Berlin was reunified but Germany was still two states, I cant visualise that man wielding a sledgehammer atop The Wall without hearing a whistling solo and thinking of power ballads and mullets.

Hasselhoff on the other hand was downright lucky, he'd been trying to break into pop music since 1984 (with most success in Austria), and his television career was kicking off again with Baywatch that year. 1989 comes and his second album Looking For Freedom was creeping up the West German charts when Erich Honecker resigned. His single of the same name (fantastic video, lots of shots of Kit from Knightrider along with The Hoff, as he prefers to be called, and females in various states of dress) hit the top of the charts in West Germany as The Wall was preparing to fall and then stayed the duration. With it's rousing but empty declarations on Freedom this song was close enough to a symbol that Hasselhoff was invited to belt this soft rock anthem out atop the Berlin Wall (dressed up in leather, scarf and pixie lights in front of The Brandenberg Gate, watch here) at New Year celebrations, barely a month after The Wall had fallen. The full story of Hasselhoff's delusions of political/historical importance is documented by the BBC. God Save The Hoff!

Some Quotes
"I've done everything, and I talk about what I've learnt through all those journeys: how I tried to save the world and I forgot to save myself." - David discusses his Autobiography

"I wanted to play around with the format, really tear it to pieces and shake it up. For example, if Mitch saves someone from drowning, and that person then goes out and releases a virus that kills a million people. Imagine the moral implications of that. " - David discusses Baywatch.
1989 did have some genuinely revolutionary (in both senses of the word) music, it was the year of N.W.A's Straight Out Of Compton and Public Enemy put out the single Fight The Power (see below). Hip-Hop was genuinely trying to smash down some social walls at the time, with KRS-One also at the top of his game, this was the era when Hip-Hop was closest to its Black Panthers roots. But Black American rappers weren't closely associated with the Soviet public consciousness, and I have trouble making links between the two however much I love watching Flavour Flav aggressively wield a clock in front of their incredibly threatening (camp) militaristic danceless troupe, The S1W.

Public Enemy's Fight The Power, released on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing.

It's a sad shame, and probably more of a refection of my Anglocentric world than reality, that '89 is treated as a geopolitical phenomenon, rather than having the social implications of other youth movements. In a year which saw Tiananmen Square and Ceaucescu's execution there is very little spoken of changes to society. In the 21st century we will have to think harder how to brand our revolutions, you need to have the right soundtrack!

In memory of Boris Yeltsin, when he wasn't being an asshole, and of the Greek resistance against The Junta, who seized power 40 years ago this week.

William spent a long night awake, waiting for the telephone call inviting him to perform Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds at Woodstock.


Charles Pooter said...


Indeed, but the devil always had the best tunes...

Tom P said...

It's not the greatest song, biut I'm pretty sure Right Here Right Now by Jesus Jones is about the 1989 revolutions.

Blognor Regis said...

Good stuff.

That David Hasselhoff record is diabolical though I have to say.

And who knew Rudolf Schenker was such a fashion icon: the pioneer of the much loved in Mittle Europa 'tache and millet combo.