Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I sing in John Cale's "Life along the Borderline:Tribute


John Cale asked me to sing a couple of Nico songs for a show in Wroslaw, Poland, one of the series of Tribute to Nico concerts. Much more talented people than me do this - Mark Lanegan, Lisa Gerrard etc – so I was flattered to be included.I was sent the German lyrics to Mutterlein, to be learned phonetically, as the only German I know is “Supermaus reter die erde” ( Supermouse will save the world).

Translated into English for context, the song’s a German Catholic paean to motherhood, with all the baggage from back in the days when everyone of Nico’s parent’s generation were under suspicion of grave WW2 sins, the atmosphere that fed the Baader-Meinhof group’s strategy of tension. I doubt if Nico thought this explicitly , but artists are unreliable witnesses and inadequate commentators on their own work, especially if they're on a Class A losing streak.

The song: a perfect rhyming scheme, a meditation on death and heaven & underlying threat of the Nazi’s mission for women : “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche”. It’s a cool starter for 10 but Nico only sticks tight to the plan for four lines and loses rigour in verse 2, and doesn't deliver any 3 or 4, when she should have, when it could get interesting, and doesn’t develop the story. V1's death-wish text morphs into a Marian ode, the joys of the Bethlehem crib tempered by scripted pain and ultimate ascension to heaven after the miseries and blood of Golgotha. The poor half-rhyme - “keit” and “hinein” - is lame, which means we’re not dragged ineluctably to rapture promised in the closing line.

Wierdly , for Nico, the ending has an atom of optimism, like the atypical end of Cormac MacCarthy’s “The Road” , where for no reason the world isn’t ( but surely is ) irredeemably grim.
Whatever, my accent not apparently totally dismal, I gave the song a go, a tune somehow right in Wroslaw, the old Prussian/Russian/Polish/Swedish city that's seen every flavour of misery and destruction and cultural erasure but has come through, somehow, into the winningflood.

The lyrics:

Liebes kleines mutterlein [ Dear little mother ]
Nun darf ich endlich bei dir sein [ Finally I can be with you ]
Die sehnsucht und die einsamkeit [The longing and the loneliness ]
Erlosen sicht in seligkeit [Turn into bliss]

Die wiege ist dein heimatkleid [ the cradle is your costume ]
Ein schweben deine herrlichkeit [ A levitation of your glory ]
In wonne wandelt dein herzeleid [ In joy turns your heartbreak ]
Und greift in die siegende flut hinein [ and grasps into the winning flood ]

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