By Mark Silver
I has been said that the only thing that describes the inexplicable better than silence is music. When it comes to describing musicians Nina Hagen must be among the most difficult to characterize. Add to that, the limitation of dealing with a text medium, with out sound and you can ascertain that once again Squirrel Man Rob, (Pop Lust's alter ego), has fostered a near impossible task upon me, your humble essayist.
Nina Hagen is constantly metamorphosing, if anyone was ever able to accurately depict her, I am sure that she would instantly transform into something else entirely. Due to the fact that she constantly reinvents herself, some of her fans have compared her to a chameleon. I totally disagree with that comparison. A chameleon changes for the purposes of camouflage, to be hidden and to blend in with its environment. Nina changes to be different and to stand out from the trendy and status quo. Whatever form Nina may embrace, you can only be certain of one thing, she will be years ahead of everyone else.
That said, I will cop out entirely from trying to describe Nina Hagen or her music. (I'm not worthy I'm not worthy). I will however assert, find out about Nina Hagen for yourself it's worth it! Instead, I will continue with a diary of my own, less exciting personal experiences connected to Nina Hagen.
Although my sampling for the following conclusion is somewhat small, I will none the less state, unequivocally, that avid fans of Nina Hagen are not assholes. This kind of proclamation coming from an old curmudgeon such as your humble essayist is remarkable when compared to my opinion of most of humanity's sum total.
I have met several people through the Internet's fan to fan mailing list "Fearless". ( authors note: now "Zarah").These people have been unusually kind and helpful. They have assisted me when I made my Nina pilgrimages to the strange and exotic destinations of San Francisco and Los Angeles.. The "Fearless" folks have a singular devotion to Nina Hagen that works like a strong cohesive, that bonds together an otherwise diverse international freaky family.
I have, in my life, seen Nina Hagen live on four occasions. Twice when she played last in Seattle at the now defunct club Under The Rail for two nights back in the 80's. What I really remember most, was the second night. I was sitting in the café that connected with the club over by the window. I am just hanging out, chatting with friends and who do you think comes walking down the sidewalk, just a thin pane of glass away from me? Nina Hagen! Perhaps she recognized me because I danced my ass* off the night before, (*those that know me will attest that my ass has since grown back), or perhaps it was because when I saw her I lit up like a Christmas tree and was illuminated and grinning like acid head. For what ever reason, she looked at me and stuck her tongue out right at me. A moment of rapture my friends.
Back in May of this year Kali Destroyer from the "Fearless" list posted a suggestion that read in part:
I understand the frustration people have in not being able to see Nina in their own towns. However, instead of moaning about how Nina never comes "here" why don't you save up your money and go to LA or NY or wherever?
That sounded like sagely advice to me. Then I found out from the list in early May, that Nina would be playing in San Francisco on July 31st at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in a benefit concert for the refugee children of Tibet. I went!
I stayed at the Bush Hotel right next to the gates to China Town and with in walking distance of the Nina show. The view down Grant street afforded a 24 hour a day street theater. With busses constantly dropping off tourists by day, and hard drinking homeless hollering by night. The flashes of light at night in my room turned out not to be heat lightning but were due to the late night flash photos of one of SF's most photographed sights, the gates.
Nina was an angel dressed in black as she closed the show after performances by Trance Mission and traditional Tibetan dance and music. Nina performed spiritual songs like Ave Maria, Shiva and My Sweet Lord. This was not a rock show by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed how this genre of music highlighted Nina's vocal talents. At the end, the other wise reserved art center crowd, let loose a thunderous standing ovation and Nina encored with the beautiful old spiritual song Right On Time, which she sang a cappella with a voice that sent shivers up and down my spine.
After the show Nina tried to further satisfy all her numerous fans by greeting them in the lobby and signing autographs and otherwise attending to them. There was such a crush of a queue to meet her that I hung back with Sean Campbell, (Fearless list owner), and we thought it best to wait for the crowds to thin out. This didn't happen and after a while Nina told the crowd, "please it is late, these people, (the art center staff), need to go home to their families." Then she stated that she would further greet fans by the stage door if we would all exit the building so they could close.
Sean and I rapidly took our cue and hustled out to find the stage door. I quickly spotted it and was the first to arrive. The Tibetan dancers were still loading up a van and a station wagon with their instruments and a kindly security guard didn't chase off the now smaller group of fans. After about twenty minutes Nina came out. And I was right next to the door. I shook her hand and dumbfoundedly offered my praises to her and I got her to sign a couple of copies of Mondo Magazine on the cover in which she appeared. We talked for a while and then I got to stand there next to her as she greeted the few others who were still waiting. After about fifteen minutes I left, (I heard it all dispersed a little later). As I walked back to the Bush Hotel I may have been glowing from all the radiance I had just soaked up.
Well, I am into this over a thousand words now. And Rob may not have enough space for all I would like to tell, so stay tuned to Pop Lust magazine for my next installment about my seeing Nina in LA last July. Tentatively titled, I attended a pre concert private reception party with Nina Hagen and got complimentary drinks and snacks.
In the mean time on the web visit the Nina Hagen Electronic Shrine and Planet Bearth, then follow the links from there.
I Got My Picture Taken With Nina Hagen
By Mark Silver
Hello once more readers of Pop Lust, it is I your humble essayist, here to chafe your posterior yet again.
To continue my diary of meetings with the renowned artist Nina Hagen I ask you to go back with me to July of 1998, Los Angeles Calf.
On the 18th Nina Hagen will be performing at the Key Club in a benefit concert for H.E.A.L. (Health Education Aids Liaison) an aids alternatives organization.*
If you are going to see much of Nina you had best be prepared to attend benefit concerts, keeping in mind that she has worked long and hard to improve life for all on this planet. Nina often uses her exquisite voice to sing for causes you might not otherwise hear about. And believe me when I tell you, I'm not talking about a superficial celebrity flaunting her favorite "pet" charity like she was walking a prissy French poodle. This woman is as real as they come and has a sincere concern for the plight of humanity. (An attribute your humble essayist has yet to acquire).
So here I am in LA, it's July, it's hot as hell, with
a constant haze of air pollution. I am contributing my allotment to the vapors by picking up a rental car at the airport. I would recommend to all visitors in LA, bring a car, rent a car, have access to a car or at least have a friend with a car. LA has a pleasant climate year round and you might get by with few clothes and many locals are near naked anyhow, but if you forgot to pack a car, you are screwed! 'Nuff said.
I've made my reservations at the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel on Orchid Ave. right behind Mann's Chinese Movie Theater. The desk clerk is sitting on the steps in front of the hotel when I arrive. She has an eastern European accent which I can't quite place. Her standard greeting to everyone coming or going seems to be, "sure is hot". Everyone answering seems to agree, most often with a simple "yup sure is". The hotel is not fancy but it is inexpensive with large rooms and lot's of tacky art deco character. A friend from the "fearless" list has recommended the place to me and if you are ever staying in Hollywood dear reader let me pass that recommendation on to you. It may not have room service or a concierge but everything works and it is a bargain.
So how does one get to meet Nina? I would like to tell you that it was my good looks and charming mannerisms but those who know me would quickly catch me in that lie. In this case the truth is that it was accurate, timely information and an extra $50.00 that did the trick. I learned from the fearless list, (a fan to fan e-mail group now called Zarah), that those who donated an additional fifty bucks to H.E.A.L. would get to attend a special VIP preconcert reception with the Goddess herself. I was on the phone to H.E.A.L. in an nanosecond to work out the details. A good thing too, for the VIP reception sold out in a instant.
Now it is evening in the city of angels and time for your humble essayist to drag ass over to the Key Club. I want to get there seriously early to grab a good spot in line and try to assure a great vantage for the show. So I headed over and found the club and paid to have the car parked. (I only stated you would need a car, I never said it would be cheap). I then lined up in the queue.
When the doors finally opened those that were on the VIP list were given special wrist bands to allow them entry to the VIP bar downstairs. Rather than rush to the downstairs bar I sauntered over to a table set up near the stage selling Nina paraphernalia. There were many items for sale that had been signed by Nina and donated to help raise money for H.E.A.L. Good thing I brought plenty cash! Hey it's for charity, right?
Now with my arms loaded with merchandise I stumbled down the stairs to the VIP bar. The coat check gal was kind enough to provide me with a large plastic sack in which to stow my newly acquired bounty, which she checked in for me for only a buck. I didn't see anyone wearing a coat, perhaps the 90 degree weather was a factor in this. Then after imperiously flashing my wrist band I am admitted into the VIP bar. Nina had not yet made her appearance and I planted my posterior on an open barstool conveniently located right at the bar. I then ordered a drink and found out some wonderful news. The Key Club was donating free libations to those attending the VIP reception! Never one to miss out on a bargain your humble essayist started in on an enthused program of imbibing premium beverages.
There was more great news. The Key Club started serving complimentary snacks from the restaurant upstairs. A superb gesture on their part, except that almost everything they offered had chicken in it and Nina and many of her followers are vegetarians. Being omnivorous myself, I had no problem indulging in these appetizing morsels. In a song Nina wrote with Lene Lovich, they sing, "Don't kill the animals, the animals are free". In my experience animals usually "cost" and are rarely "free", however the chicken casadillos were offered for free and that my friends is close enough for me.
Since I was so thoroughly enthralled with my aforementioned libation and dinning agenda, I can't say for sure when Nina entered the bar. There couldn't have been much more than forty people in the tiny VIP bar and all of them briskly lined up to meet Nina. Fortune smiled upon me again as the line was forming right behind me and when I poured myself off the barstool I was near the front of it.
Nina was gorgeous as always. Her hair was long and black in pony-tails with yellow tips. She had on platform tennis shoes and a jump suit skirt ensemble with day-glo planets, stars and comets on it.
The first people in line were all given Polaroid's taken with Nina, (also gratis, ya gotta love that!). Later this activity ceased, due to the fact that the flash was bothering Nina's eyes. I was one of the lucky ones who acquired this particular memento. I then got the honor of sitting and talking with Nina Hagen for a few minutes. I really don't remember our precise exchange of words. I asked her to sign a few things, which she did and I yammered on about her shows and her music and how much I admired her for so long and what a privilege it was to meet her again and whatever other inane musings I could vocalize while in the presence of one of my most cherished singers. What I do remember most succinctly was that when my audience with prima Nina was over, she gave me a big hug and a kiss. Bliss!
And now on to the show. The opening act? Who Knows? Who cares? I was down in the VIP bar when they were playing and didn't hear a single note. Nina though, KICKED ASS. First she introduced Christine the founder/director of H.E.A.L. in LA who spoke about AIDS. Then Nina sang an opening mantra and then Return Of The Mother, Hand Grenade (a new song written for H.E.A.L.) Freakquency Control, LSD, Ska Thing, Pollution Pirates, I am Nina (Junkie), Nina 4 President /What it is, Easy Friend (by Nirvana), All Apologies (by Nirvana), Giant Step, I'm Gonna Live the Life, Zero Zero UFO, Freedom Fighter, Back To the Godhead, Hare Krishna and My Sweet Lord (by George Harrison).
She then left the stage briefly and thunderous applause from a thankful crowd ensued.
For her encore performance she sang Born In Berlin, King Of Hearts. And new songs that might be called Oh Lord Haidakhan and then Young People. She closed the show with We're in Space and a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria. The show was so fantastic that even when they cranked the lights back up, most people elected to stay and cheer rather than leave. All together she sang for over two hours.
Well dear readers, are you still with me? If so please let me thank you kindly for your indulgence. This isn't the end of the story, but you have just read the highlights from one of the most perfect evenings in my life.
I would suggest learning more about Nina Hagen and have supplied some Internet resources below. I can't really think of anyone to compare her music to. It truly is so unique that it defies categorization. There is one thought I would like to conclude with. If there is a heaven and if there are angels residing there and if those angels have voices and if those angels voices sound half as superb as the voice of Nina Hagen. Then I hope I am on the guest list.
Mark A. Silver