Monday, November 21, 2005

Life is more than going to see things, and that's too bad

In an interview with Merritt in The Independent, he mentions two concerts that each made a lasting impression upon him - one was seeing Einstürzende Neubauten perform their first NY show in 1984, and the other was a set by the falsetto-voiced ukulele player, Tiny Tim. Merritt said, "Both were life-changing shows, although for opposite aesthetics."

Formed in West Berlin in 1980, Einstürzende Neubauten pushed music to the limits of listenability with its cacophony of guitar noise, power tools used as musical instruments, and rhythms banged out on pieces of metal. Their live shows were legendary for being utterly chaotic, and Merritt wrote the following for Time Out New York about the concert he witnessed:

"...Einstürzende Neubauten, the German difficult-listening group that ruined my hearing 15 years ago (and left me with spark burns on my neck for weeks); the construction-site-as-music-ensemble is so loud without amplification that no one could tell when Danceteria turned off the sound system; the band that commanded its followers to 'listen with pain' and destroyed whatever stage it played on with buzz saws and jackhammers; the group whose name means 'collapsing new buildings,' which perfectly describes its sound."

It's plain to see why Merritt would be drawn to Tiny Tim, as both are avid ukulele players and have a commanding knowledge of early American pop music. With his thick, six-foot frame, unruly long hair, and high singing voice, Tiny Tim was often dismissed as merely a kitschy novelty, but his love for late 19th century/early 20th century music was completely sincere. The Allmusic biography for Tiny Tim says, "...he was an avid collector of 78 rpm records and sheet music, and often scoured the New York Public Library's musical archives for material." Gaining a modest amount of recognition in the Greenwich Village scene in the early 60s, his big break came with an appearance on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and soon he became a television variety/talk show staple. Some attribute the birth of trash/tabloid TV to a single event in 1969: his televised marriage on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to his girlfriend, Miss Vicki.

In Chickfactor #11, Merritt recalled the forementioned Tiny Tim show:

"Tiny Tim did a show at the Rathskeller in Boston in the late '80s with five band members and five audience members, he played for two hours. Mr. Tim would play the same three chords on his ukulele for 15 minutes, so the band could easily play along (they'd never rehearsed), and trill in falsetto every standard he could think of with those chords, from 1880s Stephen Foster to 1970s Donna Summer. After a while he'd change one of the chords and go off on a new set of songs, never stopping for applause. His enthusiasm for songs of the early 20th century was really touching, and of course he was such a freakish person and so adrift in time, that by the end all eleven of us were blubbering and sobbing along with 'Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me.'"

Einstürzende Neubauten - "Krieg in Den Städten"
Tiny Tim - "Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips with Me / On the Good Ship Lollipop" (live)


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