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Freaky Repost: Can

Posted by purplemary54 on August 23, 2013

I’m currently too busy enjoying the decent breeze from my small and adorable USB fan to feel very freaky about anything.  But here’s a flashback to one of my favorite Freaky Fridays.  Sorry if I offend any Germans out there by so blatantly stereotyping your nationality.

Let’s face it: Germans are weird.  If you subtract their warlike tendencies and their brilliant business and engineering abilities, they are one odd bunch.  This is not a bad thing.  The Weimar period between the two world wars is one of the most fascinating creative times of the 20th century.  Of course, that was kind of a strange period all over Europe, but Germany seemed to radiate weird.  The war had taken such a horrible toll, and the punitive treaty that France and England imposed guaranteed that the Germany would be crippled economically (it made them easy pickings for a smart madman like Hitler).  It also led to images like this.

Lichtsignale (The Flare), Otto Dix, 1917

Okay, this one is actually from the end of WWI, but the psychic damage had already been done.  Otto Dix is a favorite of mine; a German Expressionist, he would later be declared a “Degenerate” by Hitler, and his work would be banned and burned.

Germany seems to pass its psychic scars on to musicians very well.  David Bowie and Lou Reed both went there and created darkly beautiful and hypnotic music.  U2 had its first midlife crisis there.  For goodness sakes, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill are German.  (Names seem familiar?  Try this classic by Bobby Darin to refresh your memory.)  The country inspires strange music that is filled with anxiety and dread, or, to use the proper German term, Sturm und Drang.

All this oddness brings me to one of the oddest, and most legendary, German bands ever: Can.  From Cologne, the band members were influenced by avant-garde music.  Irmin Schmidt traveled to New York in the late 1960s, and was exposed to Andy Warhol’s Factory and the Velvet Underground (you can hear that influence clearly in their sound).  They managed to blend the avant-garde sound with jazz and psychedelia to create something that is sometimes called krautrock, but I think is better left unnamed.

(I must note that this video was not created by Can, although it fits the song perfectly.  Kunkmonk over at YouTube did a pretty good job.)

Of course, nothing Can did back in the 70s sounds old now.  You can hear echoes of them in Beck and Radiohead, just to name two of the acts I’m sure have been influenced by Can.  They were so ahead of their time, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking they were current.  I remember buying one of their albums when I was around 19, because Rolling Stone told me it was brilliant.  I was not ready for it.  There’s something menacing about their spacey musings, something dark and freaky.  As I’ve gotten older and learned more about the weird world that spawned both Expressionism and Surrealism, I get where that darkness was coming from; I appreciate it.  There’s this feeling, just underneath, that nothing is right and nothing is good, but you keep on going anyway because you know that giving up is worse.

Awesome stuff.  Just don’t listen to it with the lights off.

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