For a little over two decades now (yikes, I feel old), the Electronic Shrine has been a love letter to one of my favorite artists ever. This site may not see much action these days, but Nina and her music have had a huge influence on different parts of my life. And since I’ve never talked about personal stuff on here, here’s my Nina story. Or at least some of the more interesting bits!
My first experience as a Nina virgin
The first time I ever heard Nina was when I was 12 or 13 — so it must have been around 1982. I was traveling with my parents and we were staying in a hotel in Durango, CO. Or was it Silverton? Anyway, I always had my “jambox” with me to play tapes or the radio. I remember dialing around the local stations to see what they had on, and suddenly I heard THE VOICE. I’d never heard anything like it. Was it a man? Woman?? I had no idea. My sheltered, small-town little mind was completely blown. (Turns out the song was “I Love Paul”, so you can imagine my confusion!) I immediately hit the Record button and managed to capture several more fascinating/weird songs. Apparently it was a college station playing a solid block of…whoever it was. I listened to those 3-4 songs a lot, still fascinated and mystified. Back home, I played it to my friend Amanda and she was mystified as well.
One day a couple of years later, she called me and sounded all excited: “That singer with the weird voice! I saw a video on MTV. It’s Nina Hagen…and it’s a woman!!” So funny. And that’s when I had a name to look for when hitting all those mall record shops!
Thinking about it now, I’m blown away by the chances of my discovering her at all. We almost never took road trips like that, and we just happened to be in that city and I happened to turn on my radio at that exact time when that station happened to be playing a block of Nina… Well, it’s kind fun to think about. For me, anyway. Probably nobody else. 🙂 A non-coastal American station playing her music seems rare enough, right?
“And you are not alone!”
Fast-forward to 1993 or 1994. I was living in Phoenix, AZ and still closeted as hell. I began to tinker with HTML and made my own website for fun, and soon I gave Nina her own big section of it, which kept growing. That led to splitting it off into its own fansite, which is how I was able to have some contact with other Nina freaks (and gay folks, since they go hand in hand!). In 1995 or so, a fellow named Geoffrey set up a Nina email list…remember those? This way I was able to visit with other Nina freaks and make some new friends, though all of them lived far away. Geoffrey had a Nina fansite called “Planet Bearth”, which you can still see frozen in time circa 1999 at http://www.oocities.org/~tiere/.
So…in ’98 my best friend Troy and I flew to Los Angeles to see her play at the Key Club, and we met up with a bunch of these fun folks in person. We all stayed in this big hotel suite — one of the most painful nights of my life was sleeping on that awful couch-bed with the bar RIGHT in the middle of my back. Otherwise we had a great time hanging out, and several of them are still good friends to this day.
After that show I got to meet her for the first time. I was super nervous, because the few times I’ve met famous (or even semi-famous) people I didn’t know what to say. So when it was my turn to get a photo with her, I sat down at her little table and she asked me to wait a couple of minutes while she touched up her makeup. She pulled out a clear plastic makeup bag and started rummaging around in it, then yanked out a few things and began quickly working with a tiny mirror. The light was very dim in that little lounge area we were in, and I asked her if she could see well enough. Without missing a beat, she said in her usual growly voice, “Oh yeahhh. Honey, I could do this in the dark.” And I absolutely believed her.
Somehow I managed to give her my contact info, and for a few years after that she would call/fax me with info to put on the site: upcoming shows, music, etc. It was an honor, though I still found myself a bit tongue-tied when talking to her. The first time she called me, it was totally unexpected and my brain went blank — when she heard me sounding kind of disoriented she said in this squeaky voice, “Were you having a siesta??” Then I relaxed. 🙂
The Nina Love Connection
Nina is indirectly how I met my husband of 12 years (and counting). True story: in 2005 I was in Vancouver, BC with my buddy Troy to see Nina at the Commodore Ballroom. We wore these RIDICULOUS custom shirts we had made the day before, and we must have looked like utter dorkos. We didn’t care, because “nobody knows who we are and they’ll never see us again, right?” Luckily we came home with real tour shirts from her merch table…
A few days later back in Seattle, I was at a Scissor Sisters show and wearing my (official) Nina tour shirt from Vancouver. It was a while before the show started, so there was a lot of empty floor. I was by the stage, and I happened to look behind me and saw…a guy wearing the same shirt! I spotted him from 50 feet away — I’d know that shirt anywhere. I immediately headed over to him to say hi, because these days it’s not often I run into anyone in a Nina shirt on. So, being the derpy dork I am, I walked up and said “Nice shirt!” Then he looked at mine and laughed. (He later told me that he saw us in our silly shirts in Vancouver.) And that was it — before we knew it, we were having dinner and hanging out. We saw her together at her 50th birthday bash in Seattle, then twice more in Portland later that year. I’ve met a lot of great people via the Nina Connection over the years, and this one became the love of my life.
And guess what? It turns out that I had already “known” him in a way. When he told me his name the first time, it somehow rang a bell. Later I remembered seeing it on the old Nina mailing lists quite a bit. Funny that we would eventually end up together under completely random(?) circumstances. (If you were on those old mailing lists, he was on there as Chris Haase. He used to live in Germany. How perfect is that?)
That time Nina married that Danish guy
There’s no way I can write all this without mentioning her brief marriage to a certain performer, because it was a confusing and controversial twist for a lot of her hardcore fans (and his, to be honest). It came out of nowhere and it just seemed like another joke, like her “punk wedding” to Iroquois in the late 80’s. But it was real, and when watching them perform together it seemed pretty clear that they were into each other. We certainly had our opinions of him, but if she was happy, that’s all that really mattered, right? Sorta?
By the way, I’m not going to call him by name because of what happened at the end of their marriage. If you don’t remember what that was, there’s more on that below…but basically they each have scrubbed the other off their websites as if the whole thing never happened. So to respect their wishes for privacy, let’s just call him LuLu.
Anyway, in 2004 I got this weirdly disjointed email:
Received: Mon, Nov 22, 2004 at 7:57 PM
From: Kotoya Mayamu
Subject: YOUR NINA HAGEN PAGE ! Request from Nina P.A.Hello,
I am Kotoya Mayamu – assistant for Nina Hagen !
I am writing to you in regards to your Nina Hagen shrine homepage, which you have made, and that we have looked through recently ! You have made a great page and in many ways a nice and good tribute to Ms. Hagen´s work and career.
However there are certain pictures that are absolutely unauthorized by Nina Hagen herself and are therefore unacceptable to put on a tribute page for her !
We would kindly ask you to remove certain pictures that are not in favour of Ms. Hagen or how she wants to be portrayed in this day and age. We kindly hope that you will respect this and will do us the great favour of removing those particular photographs.
I have gone through your photo galleries and have listed the numbers on the specific photo´s which we would like you to remove from your otherwise nice website. If you wish to have other pictures to put in instead it should be no problem finding them on the net or I will even mail you some that Nina approves of.
Here is the list of photo numbers that we would like to ask you to please take out of your Nina Hagen shrine:
PHOTO: 016 – 022 – 091 – 104 – 110 – 111 – 121 – 152 – 153 – 155 – 300 – 371 – 425 – 429 – 525 – 601 – 619 – 620 – 667.
A couple of these listed pictures were featured in Nina Hagen´s 1988 biography, which is not a book she feels the need or have specific interest in promoting nowadays. The others must have been taken from magazines or so.
Also – one last thing. In your articles and interview section there is one article called “Shiva Diva”. Nina would much rather give a new interview than to have an old dated story on a website for her which has nothing to do with her life now, so please be kind to take that one article out as well.
We trust and hope that you can understand this and that it will be no problem for you to accomodate this wish. We have done similar editing on other fan sites of Nina, and have felt it much better to do it personally through communication with the webmaster, than to do it through a lawyer.
Thank you for your support, Nina appreciates it and we wish to see a page which can be fully appreciated and keep up the good work.
Thank you very much,
Assistant for Nina Hagen.
So this guy(?) claimed that Nina wanted to censor my website because it had “embarrassing” pictures of her with previous boyfriends/husbands, articles about her Hinduism, a couple of pictures where she was doing something like flashing a boob, etc. It seemed weird because she’s always seemed fearless and unapologetic about her life and decisions. So I wasn’t 100% sure this was actually coming from Nina herself because she’d seen the Shrine many times and we’d corresponded quite a few times.
Then I found out that Kotoya was also LuLu’s webmaster and assistant, and suddenly it all made sense. So I expressed my doubts, and the response I got was:
I have never heard any mention of you from Nina or that she has had any correspondance with you, but obviously she is not keen to have the already listed pictures on display on your or any other fans´ websites.
I will talk to Nina about you claiming to have corresponded with her in the past, but since I have never known her to get too close to fans (which eventually also caused her to close the old forum on her website) I doubt that she will call you herself ? But we can get our lawyer to do so if you like ?!
Again with the lawyer thing? Really?
I suspected this Kotoya person was full of shit, though. Nina used to hang out with fans after almost every show, and she knew me every time — once she called me over by my full name after I hadn’t seen/emailed her in 5-6 years, which I totally didn’t expect. She always greeted my buddies Randy F. and John Pichardo (R.I.P.) warmly when they showed up, and they got to hang out with her privately several times. Many others did, too. I’m not saying we were special or anything — I’m just saying that this business of “she’s never heard of you, she doesn’t get close to her fans” sounded suspicious. I also figured the legal threat wasn’t coming from Nina herself, because it just didn’t seem like her.
So Kotoya and I went back and forth about all this a few times, but I admit that I eventually caved and took a few things down just to get him to leave me alone. But as soon as I heard that Nina and LuLu were soon to be divorced, it was clear that Kotoya’s “authority” had evaporated. So I put that stuff right back on the Shrine…because fuck that guy.
Anyway, towards the end of their marriage things got ugly. Some of you might remember the epic online battle they had, each posting nasty things about the other on their websites and having arguments in the guestbooks. It was pretty amazing to watch, but not exactly happy reading. A lot of dirty laundry was aired in public between them.
Things also started to get ugly between their fans. They were flaming each other on both of their websites, posting angry stuff on the guestbooks, forums, and mailing lists. The peak of this nastiness was probably when someone made a parody of LuLu’s website called “Looseass Starfucker” which was super mean (and pretty damn funny I have to admit) but it reflected how some of her fans were feeling. So when they divorced, fans on both sides breathed a sigh of relief. I think they’d both like to forget it ever happened, and it seems that both have agreed to not talk about each other in public again. It’s probably for the best, really. (However, I recently saw an interview where he said they had recorded a double-CD duet album which never got released because of the divorce. What??)
When this Nina/LuLu war was going on, my friend Mychael was smart enough to save a copy of it at the time — hate-pages, guestbooks, unflattering photos, the Looseass site, etc. because he knew it would soon vanish and it might be interesting in a historical(?) sense. I recently found this little archive on an old CD, thinking it was lost forever…but I really can’t bring myself to read much of it. It’s pretty brutal.
Slowdown in Shrine Town
By 2005 or so, things began to slow down with the site. By that time she was running her own website, and few years later she was on Facebook. So that was pretty much the end of getting info directly from The Goddess to put online. But she’s able to do it all in her own unique style (to put it lightly!), and if a performer has the time and energy to do all that, more power to ’em. Anyway, this is one reason I haven’t added anything new for a really long time. That, and scarce new music and just life getting in the way.
And even though my fandom got a bit…complicated (probably the best word for it) after the release of her last couple of albums, I’ll always love Nina and will never forget the impact she’s had on me for so many years, and the connections I made with a lot of great people through her music. It’s been said a billion times, but she really is utterly unique. And that’s one of the many things about her that sucked us Nina Freaks in.