harold schellinx - picture by wolfgang dorninger
I wondered where The Ramones had their music from. In the middle of the seventies there was nothing that sounded like it. Their songs were funny, fresh and explosive. They were also easy to hook up with. Those Ramones could have lived right around the corner. Everything else I heard then lived around the corner from years before.It took a few weeks to understand. I got a little help from television. It showed a piece of ‘paranoid’ by Black Sabbath. Now listen for yourself: “PT boat on its way to Havana, used to make a living man picking the banana” or “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 dàdadàdadàdadàm dàdadàdadàdadàm”, that “dàdadàdadàdadàm”, is half the riff of ‘paranoid’ which ends more like “dàdaaa dàm”, but needs loads more of dàda’s to come to the point.
I can imagine The Ramones sitting together drinking beer and throwing empty cans at the loudspeakers. They somehow like the song, but Black Sabbath are a bunch of hippies wearing big silly crucifixes. The song is too long. The song is too long because it has to many dàda’s in it. And they don’t like the dàdaa dàm. The first Ramones long player is a 28 minutes remix of ‘paranoid.’ “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat, o yeah.” That ‘brat’ was Ozzy Osbourne singing “Can you help me?”
Now I think this remodeling was a postmodern act. And if it was not a postmodern act, because I am too dumb to understand postmodernism, it was at least a liberating one. Black Sabbath and such were still battling with their formative years, when they were forced to listen to headmasters, and morality weighed heavy on the young souls. Their resistance was a moral and philosophical discourse; it hadn’t anything to do with street life. Their generation gave us the yuck of last century: Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
The cover of the first album is in black and white. Everybody knows that cover. Everybody who has seen that cover remembers the position of Joey’s right foot. Everybody knows that all four members had chosen Ramone as a family name. That was funny. In those days other families included The Waltons, The Partridge Family, The Carpenters, Sly and the Family Stone, The Osmond Brothers and The Monkees. Baptizing oneself Ramone could be classified a postmodern act, if I weren’t so ignorant about that.
The Ramones were unique. Maybe only the Cramps can be compared to them. The Cramps used swamp zombies as their running gag. It is not a long way from Ozzy to the swamp, though the bookshop where they sell comic strips is almost next-door. Donald Duck and Ronald Reagan were equally important to the Ramones.
Just as their first album marked the beginning of a new era, so did disco. Disco is gay. The gayest of them all were Village People. Their songs came directly from Hollywood, an endless mix of ‘There is no business like show business’ and Kojak. Disco tried to restore the Hollywoodean America of the twenties, when everyone was gay (as in having or showing a carefree spirit) and white, well dressed and rich. The only black people around then were stall mates, waiters or chubby house helps. The disco blacks served their beats with a smile; all of them were very well mannered. Disco gave us funny diseases like Aids or the Beegees. But it gave us also postmodern philosophies, o yes.
In the last years of the twentieth century postmodernism was really big. Every newspaper and periodical bulged with articles on postmodernism. Postmodernism was not only mainstream, it also defined what belonged to mainstream and what not. This mixture of being the nominator and the nominated was of course very postmodern. No wonder it attracted loads of persons who only wanted to talk about themselves and sneer at others.
Postmodernism was about editing; thoughts, fashion, arts, politics, city center’s, logo’s, companies, health care, shopping, language, social behavior, dna, the human body and Michael Jackson were all subject to this editing. If the Ramones and their likes behaved as if a new era had begun, this new era had to be defined. In politics the isms disappeared. In discourse serious thinking and arguments disappeared. Popular insult was to call someone moralistic. Immoral behavior makes you end up in jail or in big business. Mainstream postmodernists never admitted that they were in fact post nihilists. The meaning of ‘to bother’ and to care’ got mixed up. Buddhist maxims like ‘detachment’ were used as a disguise. In the nineties everybody was on its way to enlightenment. Everybody was wearing shades as well; you simply had to.
These days the very margins of society are well defined. And though Tuned City was big, as in lots of things happening, many people involved, hundreds of hours invested in organization, I consider it a marginal event. I don’t think Carsten Stabenow compromised a lot. I admire him for setting this up; I take also courage and inspiration from it. Carsten knew what he was doing: the subjects discussed in the symposiums reflected his personal interest; the sound installations came from artists he knew, the same for the performing artists. He didn’t look at numbers or curriculums; he looked at character and quality.
On Saturday fifth of July Tuned City was built under the roofs of Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, former home to the GDR radio studios and equipped with one of the best recording halls in the world. I also read one day that in some parts of the buildings the marble floor was brought in from Hitler’s Reichskanzlei. This mere fact alone constitutes my fascination. Some day I want to go there and record echoes of footsteps that have died down long ago. But I was busy on Saturday. They won’t confiscate the building right away. MTV has still to colonize the more central river part of Berlin.
In fact we were sitting on the sidewalk of the Weserstrasse in Neukölln. Next to us was a tailor studio, owned by a lady who had lived here for more then twenty-five years and had seen the rise and fall of her street. For long years she had lived between black windows and the noises of empty houses. Cake and Coffee records shop was yet another little store that opened in this dangerous neighborhood. We got in, while restoring work was still going on: the perfect space for Harold Schellinx’s Found Tapes Exhibition. Most of his equipment comes from flea markets. The tapes he finds along the road. While the neighbor repaired clothes, Harold repaired tapes. The idea to launch a tape repair shop came up. Maybe we will do so next year, when we can afford to pay the rent.
Sunday afternoon might have been better, but most of us were leaving on that day. So there was Ben Roberts rushing in directly from Madrid who talked about his fascination for abandoned tapes and the sounds on it, especially the unintended sounds, because they evoked so many images and thoughts about life that once was and now is not any more. He played some of these recordings causing a kind of tap dance for three cassette players whose play, fast forward and rewind buttons were pressed continuously: in came voices from answering machines and African missionaries and lots more.
When that was done we went outside and had a long talk with Xavier Erkizia about the sound map of the Basque Region and his exceptional ideal situation in the Basque Art World, where he has carte blanche at the San Sebastian Art Centre, because the director has a blind belief in his moves. Of course also this situation is threatened by bureaucracy and political programs composed by editors. We ended up with hours and hours of recorded material. What started as an interview turned into a very long talk among friends. All the time Oier Iruretogoiena played sounds from his closed laptop. Some day it will be heard. But then again the program for ‘some day’ is quite full already.