40 years ago today, on March 18, 1977, Iggy Pop’s first solo album The Idiot was released. From the moment I gazed upon its stark monochrome cover in the racks of the long-gone Tower Records on Sunset Strip on the day of its release, that recording cast a spell on me that endures to this day, and profoundly influenced my music. To celebrate the anniversary of Mr. Pop’s powerful solo debut, this slightly abridged sneak preview from my forthcoming memoir, a work in progress:
In March of ’77, in the wake of my still ongoing Low high, the long vanished Iggy Pop returned from the realm of the living dead with his bleak comeback solo album, The Idiot.
Even if they were too heavy on electric guitar for me, some of Pop’s weirder and moodier work with the Stooges had a certain undeniable, well, raw power, that spoke to me. But this new slice of jaunty gloom and doom was a beast of a different color altogether.
Essentially a Bowie album with Iggy on vocals, it was drenched in the same sinister electronic sludge and harsh menacing ambiance I so loved in Low, only grittier and meaner. As cold as most of Low‘s music was, it hinted that some human warmth, however damaged, might survive in the bleak tomorrow that was surely coming. The Idiot‘s dehumanized jaded vocals and broken down robotics had much worse news to impart: the mass produced future the 80s would bring wouldn’t work at all.
In 1977, nobody else was singing, as Iggy did, about ”Talkin’ with Dracula and his crew” let alone having ”Visions of swastikas in my head and plans for everyone.” Lyrical themes guaranteed to sink their fangs as firmly into my adolescent influence artery as Low had in January, and as Kraftwerk’s Tran-Europe Express would a little later in that very same memorable March.
The Idiot’s proud advertisement of its spawning in haunted and walled West Berlin’s Hansa Studios only added to its appeal to me. I recognized the name Hansa from another much-played soundscape recorded in Berlin, the previous year’s Tangerine Dream disc Stratosfear.
The 1920s mythos of sexually depraved anything goes doomed and decadent Berlin cast its powerful spell on me since my childhood. Marlene Dietrich’s many bittersweet songs dedicated to the city of her birth were never far from my turntable, along with the Brecht/Weill modernist operas which provided part of the Weimar Republic’s soundtrack. The city’s particular mood of nightmare angst preserved in the UFA films of the 20s and early 30s had long since shaped my sense of aesthetics. Dr. Mabuse, M, and the Blue Angel were central cultural touchstones. Influences incarnated earlier that semester when I played Cabaret’s sinister nightclub Master of Ceremonies in drama class.
That heady backdrop helped me imagine Iggy crooning his disaffected dirges in an artfully monochrome fantasy West Berlin I created in my mind. A desolate war-scorched ruin as grainy gray and cold as the album cover’s color scheme. The grim city I invented appealed to my morbidity as the polar opposite of the sunny and vacuous ”have a nice day” L.A. I detested. I liked to think I could see an echo of the anguished Expressionist spirit of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari‘s Cesare the somnambulist in Iggy’s stylized pose on the cover.
Through some glitch in my unformed adolescent brain, until The Idiot fell into my hands, I conceived of the Berlin whose cultural legacy so bewitched me as being as lost as Atlantis. An urban void erased from time and space in 1945, no more worthy of visiting than a parking lot where once stood a razed palace. In 1977, Germany’s ghostly former capital wasn’t hip or trendy in the least. It was a nearly forgotten backwater, save when it showed up as the uninviting setting for the previous decade’s already dated Cold War thrillers.
I’d already worn out the grooves of Lou Reed’s album Berlin, which certainly made an impression too. But it was the fact that Pop’s music was actually recorded there that got me thinking about Berlin as a tangible locale where innovative art was still being created by the last of the bohemians. The Idiot, which I’ve always seen as the unfairly unacknowledged missing part of what should really be remembered as Bowie’s Berlin Quartet was probably the first consciously noticed catalyst drawing me to the city I’d end up spending more of my life in than any other.
I say ”conscious”, because deeper psychic deposits would later be stirred suggesting that this music and its associations only reawakened some pre-existing karmic connection between my mindstream and Berlin.
Some years later, I learned that Pop and Bowie had only briefly visited Berlin when they recorded The Idiot in 1976. So my fantasy of a ”real Berlin” which the album triggered in me was itself only based on the shaky ground of their fantasies of a mythic metropolis they barely knew. But that’s okay. I’d discover that Berlin doesn’t really exist anyway.
Much of The Idiot, like Low before it, was actually recorded in the Chateau d’Herouville near Paris. But we’re dealing here with the potent effect of myth to move the adolescent imagination, not anything so prosaic and ambiguous as fact. Worth noting but rarely mentioned: parts of the haunting Low and The Idiot were recorded in a studio famously rumored to be literally haunted.
I have mostly refused to interpret my music, preferring to allow listeners to come to their own conclusions. This has inevitably sparked some confusion. Despite several recent interviews I’ve granted detailing my apolitical stance, I notice that the current atmosphere of divisive partisan dualism has led some to again project erroneous worldly political conceptions on my work. As clarification, perhaps it will be instructive to cite this Open Letter that Zeena and I released in June 1991 under the auspices of Radio Werewolf via Gymnastic Records, the record label who released our albums at that time. While the Radio Werewolf Operation ceased in 1993, the following statement still accurately represents my point of view:
“As there has been so much unfounded and misinformed controversy over Radio Werewolf‘s supposed ‘political’ beliefs, allow this statement to clearly present our personal opinion. Radio Werewolf is against all forms of politics, right, left, or middle. Politics has absolutely nothing to do with our music! Politics is the concern of the small-minded masses, who cannot see the greater artistic picture we present. Politics of any kind we find boring, monotonous and totally lacking in importance. We a re against all forms of mass control, censorship, mindless conformism, economic and banking exploitation (which is the root of all politics) Our vision of human potential goes much higher than the restrictions of social and political issues can ever hope to contain. Our only social concern is for the welfare of the environment, threatened by capitalist corporations. The world of money, politics, ideology seems meaningless and empty to us, compared to the disastrous environmental situation our planet is in, as well as the endangerment and extinction of millions of animal species by a truly destructive humanity. We consider ourselves artists first and foremost, and refuse the glib name-calling and rumor-mongering the so-called ‘media’ has used to sell magazines at our expense. RW, June 1991″
Celebrate International Women’s Day with the official film of NIKOLAS SCHRECK’s 2014 sonic magic concert “In Her Thrall: Evokation des Ewig-Weiblichen” paying tribute to some of his most inspirational female singers, including NICO, MARLENE DIETRICH, DEBBIE HARRY, ZEENA, GRACE SLICK, DANIELLE DAX, AC MARIAS, etc. while casting an eternal musical spell against misogyny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHKft53rJzI
Pictured above, Nikolas performing “In Her Thrall: Evokation des Ewig-Weiblichen” in Dresden. Photo by Andreas Kah.
One of the greatest drummers ever, the percussion engineer who invented the Motorik beat with Can and broke the Anglo-American music monopoly, light years ahead of his time. OM AMI DEWA HRI! NS
Jaki Liebezeit of Can
“This is the first time you hear some music which does not come from the United States.’ It was more European-based, I think. … It was not a typical American music anymore. I was very much interested in another way to play music and then I started to give up the traditional jazz and rock drumkit. I changed it to something else in a new configuration and also with a different drum technique. – Jaki Liebezeit”
Twenty-five years ago today, Radio Werewolf ceremonially concluded the public performance aspect of its sonic-magic cycle with The Zürich Experiment, held at the historic Kaufleuten concert hall, Zurich, Switzerland at Midnight, December 30, 1991. Pictured below, the poster for the event, and a still from the Zurich Experiment video showing Nikolas, Zeena & RW percussionist Christoph D on stage
In February 2010, when I was completing The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman, I attended the book launch in Berlin for Die Zwillinge by my friends Jutta Winkelmann and Gisela Getty, the twins who became infamous in the Sixties and early 70s as the photogenic faces ofthe German counterculture. This event was populated by a veritable love-in of prominent survivors from the rapidly thinning Teutonic communard contingent of the ageing acid and revolution generation.
A gaunt grizzled gentleman with the bearing and look of a battle-worn pirate captain came up to me. He told me, with a snaggle toothed grin, that he was an admirer of the Radio Werewolf album The Fiery Summons. As we conversed, it turned out that this was none other than the notorious terrorist activist and author “Bommi” Baumann. A legendary and controversially contrarian figure in the radical insurgency that rose in West Germany in 1968, Bommi was revered and reviled for his founding of the self-described terrorist unit the June 2 Movement, and though he eventually renounced his violent actions as counter-productive, his dramatic fugitive years on the run as a wanted man and eventual imprisonment had made him a divisive and polarizing force.
I had quoted Bommi’s positive reflections on Manson in the original 1988 edition of The Manson File, a work he was also familiar with. When I told him that I was in the process of finishing a greatly expanded and updated version of my book, he graciously invited me to his home to interview him in depth about the relatively forgotten influence of Manson on the German radical left. Although already suffering from the liver disease which eventually killed him on July 16th, 2016, Bommi took time to share his memories of that volatile period with me. After our formal interview, to the soundtrack of old Nepali and Afghanistani music cassettes he’d purchased as a fugitive in the hippie meccas of Katmandu and Kabul in the mid-70s, he regaled me with anecdotes from his colorful criminal escapades, including his extremely eye-opening encounters with German and U.S. Intelligence operatives. As a tribute to one of the last of the free thinkers, here below is an excerpted section from The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman which includes the information gleaned from my interview with Bommi. Om Dewa Ami Hri!
Manson Über Alles: Comrade Charlie and the German Radical Left
“That much-spoken of but so vaguely defined Revolution remained something of a middle-class student fantasy in the USA and Britain, nations with no domestic model of serious armed uprising against their ruling elites to draw on.
German hippies, known as Gammler, were far more inclined toward violent revolution than their pacifist flower children cousins in America. Imminent social upheaval was simply a more realistic prospect in West Germany. Working class street-fighting against capitalism was no pot-induced pipe-dream in the homeland of Karl Marx but an everyday historical reality.
Especially in the country’s former capitol and Cold War hotspot, that walled island of ideological ferment stranded between the Superpowers which had long been known as “Red Berlin.” It was there that the police shooting of young student protestor Benno Ohnesorg during a peaceful demonstration against the Shah of Iran on June 2, 1967 split the first fissures in the then-new Federal Republic’s staid social structure.
The Ohnesorg murder abruptly radicalized the formerly sedate post-war German left, giving birth to a movement recalled today as the “68ers”. The heavy-handed brutality with which German police and intelligence agencies, often at the behest of the omnipresent CIA, infiltrated and repressed the far left only served to push anti-establishment street fighters to ever more desperate and violent countermeasures. From the other side of the Iron Curtain, the East German Stasi manipulated and secretly funded many of these often hapless amateur Western revolutionaries in order to fulfill their owncynical Realpolitik agenda.
By December of 1969, the atmosphere was so tense that several German leftist factions could even interpret the Manson commune’s then inexplicable deeds in far off California as revolutionary acts of war. Naturally, once the German media got hold of the already grossly misreported and sensationalized story much was lost in translation. Nevertheless, the rudiments of Manson’s larger-than-life outlaw mystique struck a particular chord in West Berlin’s radical underground. Long-haired stoned orgiasts offing rich pigs? Groovy!
At the forefront of West German leftist pro-Mansonism in the early Seventies was young Michael “Bommi” Baumann, charismatic co-founder of the Central Council of Wandering Hashish Rebels. Even the name of Baumann’s loose-linked anarchic network was anathema to the more orthodox oldschool of West German Marxist-Leninists, who cleaved closely to the Bolshevik party line from whence sprang the now overused phrase “politically correct”.
Baumann’s Hash Rebels took off from where RainerLanghans’s then much publicized Kommune 1 left off. The Hash Rebels enlivened their anarchist socialist political platform with an aggressive and provocative sex, drugs, guns, and rock and roll attitude that polarized the puritanical German left, which favored bookish hyper-rational intellectualismrather than bohemian countercultural extremes. Affinities between Baumann’s Hash Rebels and Manson’s Slippies on the Spahn Ranch were obvious.
Like his confreres in the Weather Underground in the\ U.S.A., Baumann had lost faith in the potential of peaceful protest to bring any substantive change to the war-mongering pro-U.S. German establishment. By 1968, he already extolled armed revolution. However, his plans for the radical reform of society extended beyond the usual limits of leftist political platform. Even before the Hash Rebels embraced sooutre an outlaw as Manson, they supported Valerie Solanis, the eccentric ultrafeminist and failed assassin of Andy Warhol whose SCUM Manifesto is one of the more bizarre screeds produced in a period marked by incendiary rhetoric.
When I spoke with Baumann about the early days of the Hash Rebel Movement, he told me that he believed then and now that a truly transformative revolution must “reach out to all factions” including the forces of spiritual liberation. This vision included the consciousness-raising properties of psychedelic drugs, which the law-abiding “uptight” West German left largely disdained as counter-revolutionary escapism.
In this eclectic spirit, Baumann’s Hash Rebels joined forces with several disparate metaphysical streams. Along with the usual yogic acid-heads drawn to the counterculture world-wide, the Hash Rebels’ iconoclast allies ranged from a prominent Sufi translator of Islamic mystical texts to a psychedelic Satanic coven in the Berlin district of Moabit centered around an esoteric bookstore operated by an initiate of the German sex-magical order, the Fraternitas Saturni. According to Baumann, these socialist Satanists celebrated rituals on certain nights on the Teufelsburg, an artificial mountain made ofWorld War II rubble which served as one of the CIA’s most important listening posts.
In 1968, influenced by the international Satanomania craze unwittingly unleashed by Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the Hash Rebels had already adopted some Satanic elements into their revolutionary position. The Hash Rebels’ then unheard of penchant for dressing in black at political demonstrations defied the norms of counterculture conformism and made them antinomians among the antinomians. Baumann, like Manson, didn’t consider himself a hippie and generally considered the romantic utopianism of the flower children to be naive and self-destructive.
Manson’s image as a creature of the Teufel was particularly pronounced in Germany, whose long history of xenophobic witch-hunting goes back to the sadistic Kramer and Sprenger of Malleus Maleficarum infamy. This prevalent notion of Manson as seditionary Satanist which prevailed in the German media inspired the Baumann group’s activism in its early days of street-fighting. In his once banned autobiography Terror or Love? – a title which echoes LIFE magazine’s description of the Manson circle as “The Love and Terror Cult” – Baumann wrote:
“The whole action was a little crazy, and of course everyone shouted, ‘Say hello to Charles Manson’. When the bulls came in we put on the record Sympathy for the Devil and yelled ‘Hail Satan!’ Sure, Charles Manson, we wrote that on the wall with red paint. And we were on that trip of signaling with two fingers: ‘Hail Satan’ was actually our internal greeting. Unconsciously we had touched one of those borderline places- we didn’t think Charles Manson so bad. We found him quite funny.
We still had a guy among us who celebrated Black Masses in a torn-down house on the Kreuzberg. He turned us on to this. In that film, Rosemary’s Baby, that’s where the ‘Hail Satan!’ is from, at the end, where they’re all standing around the crib, screaming.
People like Proudhon, the old anarchists, often were also Satanists at the same time; Bakunin too. God and the State is actually in some ways a Gnostic piece. It has religious content when he says that once we take the Bible seriously, we can only say at the end, ‘Hail Satan’. That story fascinated us.”
When I asked Baumann if this was pro-Manson grafitti he explained that, “We went into the apartments of guys we had some trouble with or we with them, and we painted ‘Greetings from Charles Manson’ on the wall. It was an image you can travel on, that frightened, and it was directed against certain people.”
Naturally, Baumann told me, a magical-Gnostic approach to revolution aroused the disdain of the traditional West German Left, including his erstwhile friends in the Baader-Meinhof gang, or Red Army Faction, which followed the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist hatred of anything that smacked of the supernatural or mysticism. Like Manson, Baumann’s vision of revolution broke with the old Communist model of a repressive and purely materialistic dictatorship of the proletariat. In many respects, Baumann’s anarchic approach to societal transformation has more in common with the Digger ideals of a total freedom transcending ideology than the blind Ho Chi Minh and Mao worship indulged in by so many of his supposedly “anti-authoritarian” revolutionary peers.
Baumann was amused to note that his unrepentant advocacy of Manson later led Professor K.H Frick, an academic historian of Western Occultism, to float the absurd rumor that Baumann was personally chosen by Manson to be the “head of the Satanists in Germany”. Which only goes to show that the Ed Sanders “ooo-eee-ooo” school of gullible occult fantasy so associated with Manson in Satanic Panic-prone Anglo-Saxon culture also infected Europe.
After a brief spell in West German prison which granted him his own local reputation as an outlaw hero to the subversive young, Baumann formed the clandestine terror group, the June 2 Movement, whose Mansonesque motto was “A Pig is a Pig … The Pig Must Be Offed!”
Under the aegis of the June 2 Movement, Baumann went underground, wanted by the German state as a Terrorist, arsonist and bank robber. He later served time for these crimes after a long adventurous period on the lam that brought him as far afield as India, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. There he became involved in the highest levels of the shadowy global narcotics trade, with its murky connections to intelligence agencies. Baumann’s book Terror und Rausch, informed by that experience, sheds light on the same hidden connections between narcotics traffic and the governmental power structure which Manson so often refers to.
Even forty years later, Baumann still retains a fellow convict’s collegial pirate respect for Manson and has continued to follow the case.
When I asked him what attracted him to the Charlie mystique in his youth, he said,
“It was a big thing here in the newspapers as well when they got arrested. We had a certain sympathy because it ended all this naive hippie ‘have a nice day’ way of thinking. That love, peace and brown rice bullshit which doesn’t correspond with reality, let’s face it. So, we saw it as something that goes our way, so we supported Manson, based on what information we had. Yes, it was a bit gruesome but it stops all that idiotic bullshit. The whole idea that it went our way in that sense it was militant, it was clandestine. More extreme. We corresponded somehow … Here in Berlin he had many followers, several fans, the girls liked him, his clothes, his looks, a lot came together to create that image, of course. The real Marxist-Leninist and Maoist left-wing was appalled, of course, goes without saying, but to the counterculture, he was a hero, and somehow accepted. You could get his record, posters from America, and pictures of Manson were pasted up everywhere. He had a certain influence in 1969 and 1970.”
Baumann claims that the iconic German left-wing rock group Ton, Steine, Scherben were also Manson admirers, as were several prominent left-wing activists who eventually sold out to the establishment by becoming involved in mainstream political parties. Baumann suspected these reformed revolutionaies would no longer admit the Manson influence of their youth.
Most of Baumann’s surviving fellow revolutionaries fro the ‘68 generation have either compromised their insurrectionary ideals or continue to trade on a nostalgic romantic myth bearing little relation to reality. Baumann renounced terrorism after the police killed one of his fellow guerillas in 1972 but remains an outspoken critic of the system. He has recently made himself a controversial and uncomfortable figure in radical circles by breaking the taboo of critiquing his former comrades’ misguided but still glorified revolutionary actions, including the exploits of the fabled RAF, which he claims were largely inspired by West German intelligence operatives an police agent provocateurs.”