SLEEPLESS IN TÓRSHAVN (the complete saga)

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Part 1: Teitur, Catherine, Jonathan and I

I’m flying to the Faroe Islands! I’ve only known about it for five days, so my brain is still catching up as I cross the little taxiway to the tiny flat-roofed terminal. Neither the craggy, monochrome hills, nor the ominously cloudy disaster-film skies seem eager to help me back to reality.

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But wait, yes, there behind the gate stands my brand-new friend Teitur, beaming. We saw each other just two weeks ago in Berlin–and the fact that he actually lived on the Faroes had been nothing more than an odd anecdote in a Kreuzberg café.

Teitur and I, we’ve known each other since Teitur found out that I sing his song “Catherine the Waitress” in my concerts. In German, as “Jonathan, der Kellner” [Jonathan, the Waiter]. Teitur was not angry, fortunately, but rather delighted and intrigued. And so we met for a first cup of coffee over a year ago–in a café, in which his “You’re the Ocean” was playing in the background in an absurdly-fateful way, even though we were sure that nobody had recognized him.

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It was the start of a wonderful bromance, expressed at first as a back-and-forth exchange of timely, frenetic tips for leisure-time diversions. Then, two weeks ago, a couple of tour dates were unexpectedly dropped from Teitur’s calendar, affording him two “off-days” in Germany. And so we met in Berlin, to write.

We spent the two brief days behind drawn curtains in my work studio, and wrote four songs, all of them in English–without considering for whom, exactly, we were supposed to be writing. I had brought one of them half-finished, with English and German lyrics filled in, but both explicitly written from a man’s perspective. I wrote them under the illusion (yet again!) that I was James Taylor. In the end, when Teitur cut the demo, tears came to my eyes. Teitur sang exactly the way I would want to sing if I were a man! Probably because he also, from time to time, thinks that he’s James Taylor. Only he pulls it off much more convincingly.

Two of the other songs evolved from Teitur’s ideas, one of which was initially nothing more than the vague notion of a song (Bird!?), the other had nearly-complete lyrics with a nearly-complete melody. The fourth was a galloping, crazy twelve-minute-blues (B-b-b- baaaad chihuahua!!!)– written between midnight and 2:00 in the morning on the second day. When Teitur left, we promised that we would do the whole thing again soon, and in the meantime blitz each other with ideas over the telephone.

And now, barely two and a half weeks later, here I am. On the Faroe Islands. Teitur had said: “It would work right now. Or September?” And because it’s always dark on the Faroes in September, and always bright now, I bought a plane ticket on the spot. I missed Midsummer Night, the brightest night of the year, by just one day. I got here in four and a half hours, flying via Copenhagen. As I arrive, the summer temperatures hover between 48 and 52 degrees.

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Part 2: Middle Earth! Middle Earth!

The gently rolling, nearly untraveled road toward Tórshavn passes steep, barely secured cliffs, over an island tinted all in green and gray, faintly saturated and bathed in unreal dull-silver light. Middle Earth! Middle Earth! cries my pop-culture-clogged brain in an endless loop, and once or twice my mouth lets the thoughts slip out. Teitur laughs gently; I’m obviously not the first to say that.

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The sea stretches out there like quicksilver, and disappears at the horizon in the white-gray sky. All along the way you get a view of at least two of the other Faroe Islands, craggy, dusty green hills in bizarre formations, which are surprisingly reminiscent of the needle-like rocks on the coast of Thailand.

While driving by, Teitur points to a village on the smaller island opposite us and laughs: “That is the saddest village in all the Faroes; they accidentally settled on the shadowy side. There’s sunshine immediately to the right every so often, and to the left as well, but right there, where their village is, it’s always dark.”

We’re driving from the “airport island” over to the large, main island, Teitur explains to me. There, on Streymoy, is where Teitur and his girlfriend Ingilin live, along with 22,450 of the remaining Faroers (or Faroese, as I learn). It is the most populated of the eighteen small islands between Iceland and Scotland. Total population of all the islands together: under 50,000. By way of comparison: Kreuzberg’s population is 275,691.

In order to reach Streymoy, we pass through a long tunnel. After a few minutes, Teitur lets slip that we’re traveling under the ocean: “I thought it might freak you out.” I am not freaked out. To be honest, I feel rising in me a flowing, quiet soul-satisfaction, which will not leave me over the next few days. Almost as if the silvery light of the island were cleaning my brain from the inside.

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Grinning in silence, I greet each one of the countless sheep at the side of the road. From my hectic last-minute research I know that there are considerably more sheep than humans on the Faroes–but this is almost ridiculous, beating that thoroughly sheepish nation of Ireland, for example, by a mile. The sheep are plain and simply ubiquitous, scattered about in scraggly brown-white clumps between the cliffs and the hills. Their favorite spot, though, is at the side of the main roads, where they bleat indignantly after the occasional passing car. There are no fences. Teitur, who notices my white knuckles, says there are actually no sheep-instigated accidents on the Faroes. A couple of the animals recently strayed onto the runway at the airport, but nothing happened to them either. The sheep here are Vikings: bold, but reserved–they don’t run in front of cars or airplanes. They have dignity, and even the lambs reject the global lambkin-plan. They look like miniature mutton, with their scraggly, long fur, just as the putti in the Sistine Chapel look like miniature, sorrowful adults.

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I spot hardly any other animals, aside from one or two burly Middle-Earth-horses and the omnipresent, screeching black seabirds. We also see shockingly few people, and even fewer cars. The smattering of cottages, scattered in the hills, are small, powder-blue, black and dark-red slat houses, many of which have roofs made of sod (Middle Earth!). Yet in spite of that, nothing man-made here seems in any way old-fashioned or rustic. The Faroese building culture seems rather timeless and nearly futuristic in its simplicity–half Tolkien, half Arne Jacobsen.

I will stay in Tórshavn (English TH-horssshhhaunnnn), the “capital” of the island–which seems to belong inside quotation marks, at least for Teitur. As we drive into Tórshavn, I understand why: not even three minutes after the first concentrated houses flit by, we’ve reached the harbor–and the center of town as well.

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Part 3: Daylight in your eyes

The harbor lies there bathed in the same silvery light as the rest of the island, undisturbed by all the excesses of neon civilization. Over the rocking fishing boats and leisure craft looms the same threateningly dramatic sky, with dark gray brush-stroke clouds, which look as if a three-year-old Thor had thrown a tantrum while painting. Maybe because his harbor was too small for him.

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Two minutes away by foot, in a lane directly behind the dock, is the little house where I’m going to stay. A yoga studio with an apartment above, the woman who rents it (a friend of Teitur’s) is out of town, and is loaning her little yoga-bliss-filled abode to me. The hardwood floors and walls are coated in Nordic white, and black-and-white images of Indian retirees smile back at me on all sides. The little apartment is furnished in Spartan fashion, in Scandinavian-Indian chic, and radiates a peace and clarity that seems to fit almost too well with my silver-tinged state of mind.

Sari shawls hang at the windows, transparent, pink and white, defeated by the light of day. I make a mental note: “Transparent, bright, daylight,” fully aware that it will only be dark here for three hours tonight. On leaving, I carelessly crumple up the freshly-made note without thinking again of it and get into the car with Teitur. Now that I’ve dropped my suitcase off, we want to go to his house. –we’ve just gleefully decided, of course, that we’ll begin writing yet today.

It takes another twenty minutes over lonely country roads along the cliffs and hills, the light the same as hours before, when I landed. I have now lost any sense of time; a glance at the clock tells me it should be early evening.

When I see Teitur’s little house, the pent-up soul-satisfaction bubbles over for the first time. It’s one of the tiny Arne-Tolkien houses, and it stands in the middle of the sheepy nothingness, and after about two hundred green meters the view tumbles over the cliff into the sea. And bouncing around my feet is a dog who clearly seems pleased to see me again, even though we have never met. He’s named Dexter, but not after the serial killer.

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Inside await a neat little kitchen and a living room with a couch and a piano. Two large windows overlook the sea from there–each one a perfect frame for one of the two islands opposite ours. No wonder Teitur writes so many great songs, I think. I would never leave the house. A prophetic thought, as it turns out. Instead of making ourselves a fresh pot of coffee, we resolve to drink the cold coffee from that morning and get right to work.

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Five hours later, and with one nearly-complete song under our belts–this one in German–Teitur drives me home through the night that’s bright as day. I stumble into my house with a smile on my face, draw the pink shawls over the window, take to my bed, and sleep. Not.

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Part 4: Take this Waltz

I’ve been here for four days and my brain is buzzing in a mixture of sleeplessness and this bright light energy, which I can only ascribe to the nightless nights–and the music. So far, we’ve written one song every day, two in German–both quite clearly for me–and two in English, for Teitur, or, umm, Lana del Rey.

With frenetic hand gestures, we sweep aside every friendly attempt to coax us into touristy pursuits. At one point we almost would have gone mountain climbing with Teitur’s father, but then, fortunately, it rained. And I, ever the ardent advocate of idleness, am in seventh heaven. What a lucky break, to find a freak-friend who works just as impulsively and intensely as I do. Because that, at least for me, is an aspect of professional idleness–work like crazy, if the energy is there for it, and if it’s not, then just don’t. Right now it’s there, the energy–I’ll probably

spend next week alone on the couch, staring into space.

And so we throw ourselves into every twelve-hour workday, and are thankful, by the way, that Teitur’s friends–and above all his girlfriend–are obviously familiar with his modus operandi and smile gently as they coordinate their free-time activities around us. The occasional pang of guilt that I should actually be seeing more of the island is completely assuaged by a glance at the ocean through Teitur’s living room window. We need nothing. We only go out for an hour each day at noon, to walk the grateful dog and act as if we’re not thinking about songs along the way.

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The four songs of the first four days are all unfinished ideas, which I brought with me from home. On the fifth day we venture into rougher waters: we write a completely new song, from scratch, instigated by a vague idea Teitur has jotted down. For me, this is the “black belt” category of collaborative songwriting, and a discipline that I would permit myself to engage in with very few people. To wordsmith together, it works only when you trust each other completely and have no fear of exposing yourselves. At the same time, it really only makes sense when you have a similar tempo in thinking and rhyming, as well as a similar rhythm and a shared feeling for the overall direction of the song when choices have to be made. Otherwise you’re tripping on each other’s feet like a pair of dance partners where one is doing the tango and the other is doing the jitterbug.

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Teitur and I are dancing a waltz, on this day. I’m not just saying that–we apparently have a penchant for three-four time right now. But it’s mutual, and so we spin, with no missteps, toward the fifth complete song.

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Part 5: Metal, ADHD and the Art of Floral Arranging

On the evening of the fifth day the time has come: the outside world has decided that our grace period is up–and breaks in on us in the form of a good-humored Viking horde. Teitur had warned me that the Faroese don’t make appointments–they just knock. Sometimes also with two children in tow, whom they’ll drop off with friends for hours.

These lovely Vikings here have no children along, they’re carrying large quantities of clear liquid in their tattooed arms and seem to be equipped for a long evening. Sighing and maybe a little relieved, Teitur and I submit to our fate. And so a jolly troop of moderately-young people bursts into Teitur’s kitchen, and each one seems to joyfully and artfully embrace every German´s expectations of what Scandinavian country youth should look like. Well-groomed System of a Down beards and metal shirts on the men, nose rings, black-red lipstick and very long, very straight hair on the women. Regardless of sex: area-wide ink work, at least on both arms. Later on in the evening, Maybritt shows me her tattooed armpit.

A comparatively gentle and lithe Viking seizes my hand and seems never to want to let it go–at one point looking intently into my eyes to welcome me euphorically and eloquently: “How do you like it here on the Faroe Islands? I hope the island has been treating you well.” I relax at once and sink contentedly into one of the kitchen chairs. The metalheads I’ve gotten to know, so far in my life, have been the most lovable, characterful and most harmless (in the best sense) companions you could imagine. Ironically, metalheads seem to be the last real hippies of our time. Whoever doesn’t believe that, I recommend that they take the Wacken Festival documentary film to heart, or (even better) “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.”

And look: the gentle Viking (Bordùr!) ensnares me in an enthusiastic conversation about high sensitivity, the astounding effectiveness of extensive contact during the treatment of so-called ADHD children–and the art of flower arranging. That last one, by the way, is his profession. Along the way he rubs my back, punished from long bouts of sitting, with his tattooed arms. He probably takes me for an ADHD child, an impression that may not be so far off after five days of manic artistic activity. I’m delighted, and fearlessly return my new friend’s intense gaze. Bórdur is quite clearly one can short of a six-pack, in the best possible sense–just my kind of guy.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group converses excitedly in Faroese, a language that–forgive me–sounds to my ears exactly like the made-up language in the children’s TV series Pingu. In the midst of the tangle of voices, individual members of the group repeatedly get up and go into the next room to put new music on–elegiac, lyrical, wonderfully beautiful music, which can only have been created on this island. And it was. As Teitur whispers to me, these selections come exclusively from the works of the respective bands of the guests who are getting up. And how could they not be–each one of the wild guys and gals here has his or her own band project, and their styles range from experimental music to Sigur Ros to, oh well, Teitur. Naturally every one of them also plays in a grindcore metal band.

While I try to appreciate the beautiful music, and at the same time let Bórdur explain the subtleties of simple flower arrangements, I notice that the mirth is entering a new phase. Teitur has a guitar in his lap, and without warning the group launches into a thoughtful, complex, multi-voiced song, which I can only guess must revolve around the joys of fishing, hunting, or lovely maidens. Teitur’s friend Benjamin, with the lordly beard, sings softly in a wonderful, sonorous baritone, which brings tears to my eyes–Teitur and Bórdur join in restrained elegant harmonies around him. I’m so moved that I spontaneously kiss the dog sitting in my lap. The women on the opposite side of the room discreetly avert their eyes, they seem exceedingly familiar with the impromptu sing-along and seem about as moved as I would be if I were at a party in a Freiburg apartment, witnessing someone slur their way through a drinking story.

In the meantime, my friend Bórdur has silently taken leave of us, we see him through the window, wandering around in the brightly-lit night, his eyes on the ground, bending down now and again, he seems to be looking for something. But he might also have to throw up. When we’ve nearly forgotten about him, Bórdur returns with a look of joyful triumph in his eyes and lays an artfully-assembled, gigantic bouquet of wildflowers on the table. Then he drops into the chair and takes up the Norman songs once again.

The evening progresses. Alcohol is consumed, and in no small amount. My vision swims before my eyes even without schnapps, the furious work of the last few days not agreeing with the dog in my lap and the lulling songs in my ears.

When the taxi drops me off in front of my apartment, it’s two in the morning. Nocturnal party-bodies stagger through the narrow, bright-as-day lanes, and I make brief, uneasy associations with The Walking Dead. Dog-tired, blessed, and sympathetically drunk, I collapse into bed and sleep. Somehow.

Part 6: Don’t try this at home

We’ve socked away seven songs in the seven days. Completely crazy. One should probably say: “Don’t try this at home. Everything depicted in this blog entry was performed by professional stuntmen.”

At midnight on the Faroe Islands

At midnight on the Faroe Islands

But oh! On the other hand: Please, try this at home. Seven entire days at a stretch, writing from eleven a.m. to eleven p.m., with no breaks to speak of, drinking large quantities of cold coffe? Definitely not a mode of operation that one should keep up long-term, and I’ll probably have to air out my brain for three weeks once I get home. But was it fun? Fun isn’t the word. I’m floating, flying, buzzing–and taking home enough energy for at least the next three albums.

The happiness researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (–Really! I’m buying a ‘Y’!–) says the basic requirement for “Flow” is to strike exactly the right balance between the degree of the challenge and your own abilities. In addition to that, you must have the opportunity to focus completely–and a clearly outlined goal for good measure. Add, last but not least, a sense of purpose and „rightness“, and voilà: it´ll all add up to a feeling of blissful, timeless delight, aka „flow.“ Check, check, check, and check, Mr. Czikszentmihalyi.

Anyway, this eruptive work, as has already been noted elsewhere, fits surprisingly well with my distance-learning program as a professional idler. Because it’s part of a really serious form of idling, I think: to work with, rather than against, your own strengths and passions. And also, conversely, not against fatigue, reluctance, or random bouts of, well, idling. That’s naturally a concept of work that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to fit well with our concept of gainful employment–but in reality it can fit better than we think. I swear.

But I digress. If you’re curious, please read my favorite ukulele-swinging philosopher Tom Hodgkinson (How to be Idle/Die Kunst des Müßiggangs), for an example.

In any case, I will further plumb the depths of activity and inactivity. At home, what comes first, no matter what: doing nothing. Accompanied by professional nose-picking.

On the eighth day, to top it all off, we go into the studio and record six of the songs, which so far we’ve only sketched out on the computer, as serious demos. To make them sound just as beautiful in real life as they do in our heads, even if it’s only for us.

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That’s only possible, of course, because all of the people who work with Teitur are professional stuntmen. They include: Jonas Bloch Danielsen, the owner of the beautiful Studio Bloch with its exposed stone wall–Jonas, who makes every shuffling foot sound like, er, an angel’s rustling wing. And makes sure that Teitur’s piano sounds… just like Teitur’s piano. And then Per I. Højgaard Petersen, the completely insane drummer, who otherwise, among other things, plays with the Salvation Army. And naturally in a death metal band. And Teitur’s girlfriend, Ingilín Strøm, who sits in the kitchen, drawing comics with her right hand and cooking incomprehensibly good food with her left.

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And yes, on this eighth evening, we, the stuntmen, run out of steam. We begin to dither and drivel–and there’s an ugly moment, in which we briefly believe that we might have erased everything with the brush of a stray elbow. But despite that, as I drive the next morning to the airport, I have six great recordings in hand, and there are surely things in there that will end up exactly the same way on my album.

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I have no idea, as yet, whom the English songs are supposed to be for. Teitur might adopt a few of them, while others sound as absurd coming out of his mouth as they do out of mine. In any case, I feel the groaning and creaking as I open locks that I have kept artificially closed for years. How many ideas have I aborted because I thought, “SOMEBODY should write a song sometime, that…” From now on, that somebody is goind to be me, even if the somebody actually has to be a man, or a teenager, or a booty-shaking American girl, or an asshole, or Lana Del Rey. Or James Taylor. Now, I’m just cranking everything out. And it’s a fair guess that, at one time or another in the process, I’ll be traveling yet again to the Faroe Islands.

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Note: Dear oceanic friends, please don’t post any more pictures of dead whales on my blog. I know about “grindadrap.” That means: you can assume that I will address that issue if (and when) I prefer. I respect your dedication to animal welfare. In return, please respect my art and my storytelling. And my digital home.

Blog, Blog texts

Faroe Islands, here I come!

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Blog, Lost and Found

Favorite Award!

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Ms. Sandra Blackert from the lovely blog itsyour.life has given me the “Favorite Award” — Thank you very much! And I don’t have to do anything more than answer a few questions! Here you go:

 

 

1. How do you explain your blog to your grandmother?

I have dedicated myself to the search for the “True, Beautiful, Good and Daft.” But in reality that only means that I do what I want to do, and also would do. My grandmother was wonderful and very wise, she would have understood that!

2. What object can you not do without in your life?

It’s not pretty, but I must say: my asthma spray. A bit less prosaic: my dobrolele — a metal ukulele.

3. What reader question would you never answer?

Hmm, the only thing that occurs to me is this crazy question, which you always see being asked in women’s magazines: what part of your body are you most pleased with? And then all the supermodels and hot-shit actresses say something like: my wrists — I got them from my mother! And I always think: when is a woman just gonna write: my tits! I believe I have fantastic tits! The truth for me, by the way, would be: my hands. I got them from my mother.

4. What has been the biggest slip-up on your blog so far?

I shot six videos for my solo CD, and in each case announced a video premiere with great ballyhoo, brimming with pride. And there was a premiere, every time, but four out of six times the new video was blocked by Youtube after a few hours, and could only be seen again days later. Arrgh.

5. Do you write in advance or always in real time?

I always resolve to write in advance — I think that would also be a good approach for me, because with music other things tend to get in the way for months. But, despite that, I would prefer to feed my blog continuously, and under no circumstances let it degenerate into a “Music-Promotion Vehicle.” So I write on and off, when the muse strikes me, on demand — but not yet enough!

6. What talent would you like to have?

I envy people who can really sing everything! Who have this ease, which gives you the sense that it’s just flowing out of them… James Taylor, for example, or more currently: Ed Sheeran… What a physical delight it must be, to be able to sing like that. Sigh.

7. Which blog would you take with you to a desert island?

http://idler.co.uk/

8. Which habit would you most like to give up?

Senseless tinkering at the computer.

9. Does your blogging have anything to do with your (former) career?

Hmm, yeah, sure. With Wir sind Helden I always had the feeling that the core of what I do — and want to do — is writing. The calling in the career, perhaps. And I always had the feeling that writing comes up short, because I spend much too much time hauling finished work all over the place. The blog is a way for me to stay “writing.” Moreover, and this sounds terribly romantic, of course: I would like to be straight with “my” people, and less dependent on the constricted, clogged channels through which you’d otherwise have to push your art, in order to deliver it to the people — and when it arrives, it’s all crumpled-up and gooey and disheveled. I don’t want that anymore. I also don’t want to proselytize. I wish I could send my music directly to the homes of all who are interested, and not bother anyone else with it.

10. What is happiness for you?

Peace. Profound rapture. Tina Fey’s book Bossypants.


 

And for my part, I’m happy to NOMINATE THE FOLLOWING BLOGS:

http://idler.co.uk/

http://zenhabits.net/

https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/adbusters


My questions for the nominees are:

1. Do you remember how and when you became a reader?

2. Do you remember how and when you became a writer?

3. How do you navigate that trying energy field between idleness/ non-doing and enthusiasm/ drive?

4. When do you most enjoy writing? Do you (still) have those moments of writer’s bliss? Describe one.

5. Is writing more flow or more fight? Do you (mostly) have to wrestle the words to the page or does it (mostly) come easy?

6. Do you sometimes hold something back because you know it would be a cheap shot? And does holding it back hurt, because it would have been really funny? I do.

7. Did you ever post something and regret it? If so, you don’t have to tell me what it was.

8. Do you ever force it when you don’t feel it? How do you deal with the unspoken promise of the blogger to, well, blog?

9. Do you still do a lot of handwriting, say, in a journal? Is there a difference in what you write when you write by hand?

10. What is the sound of one hand… nah, just kidding.
But seriously: what is the sound of one hand flipping the finger? I think it’s a lovely sound.

Thank you so much for your time and your inspiring blogs,

Judith Holofernes


And here is how it works:

  • Thank the person that nominated you for the “Favorite Award” (Liebster Award) and link the blog in your post.
  •  Answer the 10 questions posted by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 3 to 8 other bloggers for the “Favorite Award”.
  • Compile a list with 11 questions for the bloggers you’ve nominated.
  • Include these rules in your article about the “Favorite Award,” so that the nominees know what they have to do.
  • Inform your bloggers about their nominations and your article.
  • You can download the “Favorite Award” logo here.
  • Put a link to your article here in the comments.
Blog, Lost and Found

I’M A-STARTIN’ WITH PARTON

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As many of you know, I am a fervent admirer of Dolly Parton. And since she’s releasing a new album this week, Die Zeit has happily entrusted me with a detailed Parton-portrait! Yeah. Yeeehaw. Finally.

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The article is in today’s edition of the real Die Zeit (on paper), and will be put online later.

But I’ve posted my favorite research discoveries for you on my YouTube channel in an acutely evangelistic playlist.

To the “mildly interested,” and to those with something a little different in mind, I recommend either the documentary at the beginning, or else: something from the top, something from the middle, and something from the bottom of the list.

To everyone else: a few snippets of ginger along the way, to cleanse the palate. Or a song by John Cage or System of a Down.

P.S.: My producer Ian Davenport sent the pretty picture above to me as a birthday card last year.

So. Here we go:

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To begin, the total package: a beautiful, comprehensive BBC documentary, 50 minutes long, with many lovely clips from live shows and interview excerpts. It helps to link the young Dolly to the present-day Dolly, because you can better comprehend what, umm, came before. Anyone who doesn’t like clicking through YouTube videos that much, but would enjoy an introduction to the Partonian oeuvre, can just view this one alone and regard the rest as the liner notes to a compilation of Best Ofs (for listening).

Anyone, on the other hand, who would like to spend an entire evening with Dolly–and isn’t scared off by the “Whoa, what a hairdo”-aspect–might now like to follow me:

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Dolly’s very first appearance on the Porter Wagoner show. The song is one of the few that she didn’t write herself, but no song could better sum her up: “this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool.” Wagoner became her mentor–also apparently in matters of fashion, judging by his flamboyant outfits–and she became his sidekick on the show.

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Jolene–probably the best-known and most agreed-upon Dolly hit in Germany. To me, one of the best songs ever written. Miss Parton says, incidentally, that she wrote it because she was jealous of a pretty, red-haired bank teller who chatted too long with her Carl. Dolly Parton’s husband, Carl Thomas Dean, is one of the best-kept secrets in pop–because hardly anyone’s caught sight of him in over 47 years of marriage.

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Jolene at 33 revolutions sounds amazingly–fantastic! Which reinforces my perhaps absurd-sounding theory, that men’s and women’s voices in country music have virtually the same effect: let’s call it, umm, innocence. In any case, a drastically slowed-down Dolly is a country singer whose record I would buy.

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One of the best-known (of many, many) cover versions…

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…and one of the most beautiful…

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Arguably her most famous and at the same time unknown hit (SHE wrote that???). She did. In fact, for her friend and mentor Porter Wagoner, whose show she left in a quarrel in the mid-70s, after far eclipsing him in popularity–not without singing him this song as a farewell during the broadcast. In the early 80s came the great reconciliation, followed by joint appearances. Porter died of lung cancer in 2007–with Dolly and his family at his side. Oh, and apropos dumb blonde: even Elvis wanted to sing “I will Always Love You”–but, because his manager wanted half of the publishing rights, Dolly declined. Her own version became one of her first big moves into the pop mainstream–and when she later passed it on to Whitney Houston, there was no more talk of transferring the rights.

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The naturally better cover version: Beth Ditto (pre-Gossip) at a Dolly-party in Portland. Beats the pants off of Whitney.

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Possibly my favorite song. Or no? Or yes? Still…? Yet, yet. If you chirp along with this in the morning, you’ll be tripping all day.

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It’s hard to believe today, but this harmless little song had a tough time on the radio back then because it seemed to women’s-libby to stations. At the end of the clip, you can see a man right in the middle of the audience who doesn’t applaud.

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A beautiful song, which shows the affinity between country and gospel. If you’re impatient, scroll down to the full-throated finale…

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Here, once again, more pronounced gospel elements… It’s always darkest just before the dawn! Dolly wrote the song at a time when she had just rebounded from a months-long bout of serious depression. This depression was triggered by exhaustion, and the realization that she–for both professional and biological reasons–would have no children.

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… and one more example of why country is known as “white soul.”

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Announcing the Disco-era Dolly! From the rooftops. Beg pardon.

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This one I included mostly for the “Aww, that’s hers too?”-moment, but you can also spend that moment dancing in the disco.

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The title song to the film of the same name, in which Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda star alongside Dolly, who plays a secretary with a slight emotional overload. And a rifle. Just think: “Falling Down” as Feel-Good Comedy.

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In conclusion, one of my favorite songs and an unbeaten Karaoke-favorite–even though it’s not easy to recruit a partner for the Kenny Rogers part (Martin Wenk, we still have an appointment!). My favorite moment in this live excerpt: when Dolly steps on her buddy’s foot, laughs, and says, “Scuse me, Kenny!” But he couldn’t have noticed it anyway, since Dolly once said: “Of course I have tiny feet. Nothing grows in the shade!” Barry Gibb of the BeeGees wrote the song; more recently, he earned new honor as “Ghetto Supastar” from Pras featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya.

That’s it! If I’ve been able to infect 0.2% of you, I’m happy.

I see-heee-eee-ee-eee the light of a clear blue morniiiiing!

Judith Holofernes

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Danke, ich hab schon – Official Video

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I’VE REASON TO BELIEVE WE WILL ALL BE RECEIVED IN…

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GRACELAND … PAUL SIMON

(The nice people of the editorial office at Visions asked me to write a piece about my “Favorite Album of All Time.” After around three months of tearing my hair out I have come to a consensus with myself on this record. The beautiful thing: here on the blog I can supplement the text with a lovely, evangelistic Youtube playlist.)

My mother bought Graceland the year it came out, 1986, I was ten years old and carried away. Before I could name it, I fell in love with Paul Simon’s diffident, subtle singing, his understatement, his impossibly light groove. But mostly I was struck by the love and the fragility in his voice. Paul Simon may (also) occasionally have been–as many people warn–an asshole, but his voice is one of those that convey pure love.

The enthusiasm for Simon’s absurdist, heartbreaking and hilarious lyrics would come only years later, made possible by a knowledge of English that I developed for that express purpose.

The album was celebrated and reviled–people argued that Simon had broken the cultural embargo on South Africa–and there were nasty rumors of unfair copyright distribution arrangements that put the African artists at a disadvantage.

I, at the age of ten, decided that such profound, light, uplifting music must trump all doubts. In the coming years I was to become a butt-wiggling, hooting prime example in miniature of how music can open borders, when you let it.

Graceland established my enduring enthusiasm for African music–but my heart races most where African, American and French tradition meets: in the southern states, with Delta Blues, Cajun and Zydeco. “That was your mother”, a silly, bouncy, bittersweet little Cajun song about the love of grown-up people, is secretly my favorite song on the record to this day.

And here I’ve put together a Youtube playlist with live appearances by Paul Simon during the Graceland years:

 IVEREASONTOBELIEVEWEWILLALLBERECEIVEDIN...

“There is a girl in New York City

Who calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I’m falling, flying

Or tumbling in turmoil I say

Whoa so this is what she means

She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody feels the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland”

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A light sword, a light heart…

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 …I’m gonna relax now in the train from Halle to Hamburg…

And on the occasion of this beautiful event here is a little documentation on the making of the album for you:

A festive Yeeeehhaaa:

Judith

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NOTES FROM KREUZBERG…1980:
CHILDREN OF THE CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

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I wrote this text for the Taz, the subject was, umm, my own sexual revolution, or some such thing. Maybe it was something completely different, something like… “Your opinion on the Grand Coalition,” and I just wanted to cut loose here. Whatever. In any case, I thought you’d certainly enjoy the piece, too:

Notes from Kreuzberg… 1980: Children of the Children of the Revolution

A child of the sexual revolution? Here! I was conceived on a shag rug, and after the birth my scruffy parents groomed the shaggy strands off my wrinkly body–along with their eight potential (and real) communal-/ sexual-partners, who basically can’t be distinguished from my father in my childhood photos.

By the first day of communal pre-school I had long since been thoroughly enlightened, but in a worst-case scenario all accounts lay open for the sorts of entries that get high-ranking politicians into trouble these days.

When our parents sat in the kitchen, legs crossed, smoking, and discussed whether it was all right that Thinga had pulled the hair of Mabob, we children hid in a remote corner of the pre-school’s loft bed and played at shagging.

Obviously yearning for clear authority, we named one person (–usually the Thinga who had pulled Mabob’s hair–) as foreman, who loudly directed us as we practiced push-ups in earnest two-person combinations.

My own, real sexual revolution came later, when I noticed that during sex you don’t really have to somebody chanting One, Two! One, Two!

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NOTES FROM… FREIBURG (1985):
DO I GET BARBIE?

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“Neeeelia, do I get Barbie?” ……. “No idea, do you?” Frustrated child-silence, aggravated child-eye-rolling, barbie-thin child-lips pressed together. But yes, obviously, that was the only appropriate answer to my question. “Do I get…,” naturally, was in fact a euphemism for “Are you buying me…,” just as “Neeeelia” was a euphemism for “Mama,” but my mother Cornelia took me at my word, as she so often did. And thus had every reason to ask herself whether I–her commune-socialized hippie daughter, disheveled on the inside as well as out–really got Barbie. I had clearly proven, a few weeks before, that I didn’t get patent leather shoes. I had grumbled for days on end. Then, for a few hours, I wobbled around triumphantly in the dainty grumble-begotten footwear, with the pained smile of an American child beauty pageant loser. Only to sheepishly admit, afterward, that I obviously just didn’t get them: patent leather shoes. And this despite the fact that we lived not in Berlin’s Kreuzberg quarter, but rather in the Breisgau city of Freiburg, where, I was convinced, a person could really use patent leather shoes. I had just started school, and because of my–attention: third euphemism— ”countercultural background” had just been christened with the nicknames “Punker” and “Nobody”–”Nobody,” naturally, because I had really never been christened and therefore technically did not exist.

From the depths of this psychosocial distress I undertook some initially tentative attempts to assimilate, and made contact with the dull, pink-skinned neighbor kid Sabine. And Sabine, clearly, got Barbies. Many Barbies. Barbie estates, Barbie horses, Barbie personal shoppers, Barbie catwalk, Barbie hair salon with Barbie Brazilian-Wax studio, Barbie townhouses, Barbie babies complete with the operating table for the Caesarean-section birth to preserve the Barbie cervix and the Barbie-like figure. And I had managed to get through multiple play dates safe and undetected in my childhood despair, through skillful mimicry. Just like Sabine, I had simply seized the Barbie briskly by the ankles and then marched her through the bright pink children’s room in that typical wobbly, foot-shackled Barbie gait. I had suppressed any cultural references to my brand-new favorite film, The Defiant Ones. And so by the end of these appointments, formally declared or not, Sabine had to have regarded me as almost exemplary. Probably she had simply chosen me as her imaginary friend.

And so now I stood in our six-square-meter attic kitchen and argued, with the audacity of despair, for my getting a Barbie. At least one. Behind my mother’s eyes a film seemed to be running, which played dramatic daughterly scenes from the past few months and years: the excessive, if cool-headed, use of carving knives; the building of huts and burrows; the grinding of dried beans into something almost edible; or the sexually charged role-playing games, set mostly on cruise ships, with my Berlin friend Aline. In which the last staging was the only one that represented no thinly-veiled version of the basic model, The Fugitive, with me in the role of Dr. Richard Kimble.

As I anxiously waited for her verdict, my mother seemed to reach the end of her nostalgic little Super-8 filmlet and immediately began to draft in her head the obligatory morally-amused master’s thesis in storytelling: “Barbies… Don’t we all carry a little Barbie inside us? For many….” I saw the corner of her mouth twitch, but I didn’t understand what could have been so funny about it: I had just graduated from The Fugitive to The Defiant Ones. The most normal thing in the world for a six-year-old.

And my mother, in her unending wisdom, realized instinctively what was at stake for me. She kept her thesis to herself. She even refrained from the obvious Barbie/patent leather shoe comparison. And a few days later she presented me with my foot-shackled, curvaceous gift. How I loved my cowboy-mother at that moment! Despite my tender age I was humbly aware of what an effort of cultural adaptation it had to have been for her to submit herself to a Barbie sales specialist at Karstadt’s Department Store. And she definitely sought advice, because what I held in my hands in that moment of feverish anticipation was in fact a Premium Barbie, blond and long-haired and solidly-sinuous like she was supposed to be–and not, as I had imagined in the nights leading up to then, some Barbie-substitute, or one of Barbie’s shabby female sidekicks, who were in fact manufactured only for Barbie-bewonderment.

With racing hearts, Barbie and I disappeared into my room. I closed my eyes and in my imagination quickly painted everything pink: the snot-green secondhand children’s furniture, the been-there-done-that carpet, the picked-apart spider plants and avocado palms. All my mangy stuffed animals got bound up with imaginary little bows, in my mind’s eye I filled my entire bookshelf with Wendy novels. Now it could begin. I boldly gripped Barbie by the ankles. Take a deep breath. Focus. We need a goal. We need… a… we need… a… we need… we need… we need. Oh, dammit.

I didn’t want to admit it, but after only a minute and a half alone with the doll the Barbie Principle had revealed itself to me in all its cruelty: With a Barbie you can’t play, with a Barbie you can only need. Or, at the most: have.

A house, for example! But we didn’t have one. A horse! We didn’t have that, either, only a hippopotamus, which quickly seemed to moan under its dainty load. One single Barbie-bewondering sidekick? My favorite cuddly toy, a homemade Snoopy with sock-ears and dead sock-eyes begged off. “Personal differences.” I resolved to give up all hope for outside help and simply integrate Barbie into my old games. Full of misgiving, I tried to push the handle of my bean-grinder into Barbie’s hand. Too big! I made Barbie totter on her little feet into the fort I had built the night before. She rolled her eyes. And anyway the look of the little lady, dressed to kill, seemed a bit out of place in this rustic setting–bear in mind that back then there were no “Celebrity Jungle Camp” TV shows yet. Setting beetles or bloodsuckers loose on Barbie’s face, an entertaining idea, didn’t occur to me either. My gaze wandered to the carving knife. Horrified by the visions that rose to my mind, I turned away from it immediately.

After a minute of silence I resolved to assign to Barbie a rather passive duty in the landscape of my play-universe: returning to my old favorite subject, I offered her the role of Dr. Richard Kimble’s murdered wife–and she, in a realistic appraisal of her alternatives, accepted. I lovingly laid her on the windowsill, her head in a decorative marmalade stain, a bean-stained telephone receiver in her pleading, outstretched hand. There she would stay, in her marmalade stain. Except for a few brief moments of resurrection, for example, when Mother came in unexpectedly and I paraded the deranged and marmalade-haired Barbie around the room. Or for occasional visits to Sabine, for whom I even washed the marmalade out of the hair. Until a few weeks later, anyway, when nobody was allowed to play with me–because out in the yard I had brewed tea from herbs, such as ivy, and had then offered them to Sabine and her friends, saying, “With this you can make yourself totally disappear.”

NOTESFROM...FREIBURG1985DOIGETBARBIE

P.S.: Behind the picture you’ll find more beautiful Barbie-balderdash.

P.P.S.: The piece has already been published, in an abridged version, in Freitag:

http://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/die-schone-und-der-marmeladentod

… and in somewhat longer form by the Freiburg Literature Office:

http://www.literaturbuero-freiburg.de/cms/uploads/media/Judith_Holofernes.doc

 

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Ein Leichtes Schwert – Official Video

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