Showing My Age
The other day, I was thinking about the German punk rocker Nina Hagen. I can't recall what brought her to mind, but her 1982 album NunSexMonkRock is probably my all-time favorite rock album. In it, she covers almost all of the hot-button topics, sex, religion, aliens, and her newly-born daughter, Cosima Shiva. In one song, she claims that her daughter was fathered by an alien. I loved it! It wasn't just the songs though, it was her voice. Nina was an opera prodigy, and she was trained for Wagnerian opera before throwing it over to become a punk rocker. In her songs, she uses the full-range of her voice, jumping around from one octave to another like a jazz saxophonist.
Unfortunately, Nina's work started going downhill after that album. Fearless was pretty good and she did a few interesting songs after that but she never made another really outstanding album. Now she's 52, and though she tries to maintain her outrageous persona, it's just for show. She's found religion and she's been reduced to doing voiceovers on animated features for kids in Germany. Yuck!
I don't really recall where I first learned about Nina Hagen, but I can remember the moment I first heard two of my other favorite artists. I was a reluctantly conventional student at the University of Florida on the verge of making the plunge into bohemianism when this guy down the hall in my dorm asked me into his room to hear this album. It was Highway 69 Revisited by Bob Dylan. I was blown away by the experience. It was like someone had shown me a world that I didn't even know existed. And speaking of that "blown" turn of phrase, that was the first time I heard the phrase, "Blew my mind."
I couldn't pick out one Dylan album that's my favorite. So much of his work is wonderful, and he still hits the marks sometimes. The last song on his CD from a few years ago, Time Out of Mind, is the best song I've ever heard about getting old. I'd mention the song's damned title, but I can't recall it.
With Dylan, it isn't so much the music as it is the lyrics. As far as I'm concerned, he's the best lyricist ever. No one has matched him, especially in his earlier work. Laurie Anderson comes close. Sometime back in the 1980's, I was driving in my car and my radio was tuned in to the Georgia Tech student station. That's when I heard Anderson's song "Big Science". I ran right out and got the CD. Though her lyrics aren't as lush and surrealistic as Dylan's, they're almost as good, but I first heard her in middle age, so she didn't have quite the same impact on me as Dylan.
I guess all of this shows my age. The hip-hop era has left me behind. It's not that I'm the typical old curmudgeon who rails about how the kids don't know what good music is or anything like that. It's just that, though I'm always looking for interesting new writers, I've pretty much lost interest in new music. I've listened to a few hip-hop artists and found them interesting. For instance, I like Eminem, but I've never bought any of his CD's and don't think that I ever will. Perhaps it's the decline of my sex drive with age. So much of pop music, even in its more sophisticated manifestations, is about getting laid, but what the hell. So goes the world. Maybe I'll just go listen to Nina again but, at this hour, she would just keep me awake.