Thursday, July 31, 2008

È pericoloso sporgersi

We thank the gracious collector of German Joys for having written about the astute introduction to the musical mores at German parties over at Nothing for Ungood (this is a bit of a clumsy site to navigate - "nichts für ungut!" - and I haven't actually found the article that he is referring to, which is why in some of the following I draw only on Andrew's detailed post).

Andrew lists a string of must-party sing-alongs from the olden days, called "Schlager" in German (a more or less direct translation of the term "hits"), which brought back memories. After all, these songs provided the soundtrack to my own childhood, spent during that crazy period when people painted their walls in three shades of mustard yellow, wore flares that reached from here to Rüdesheim - co-ordinated with Darwinian sideburns (if the wearer was male) - and danced the kasatchok on their flokatis in a state of blissful inebriation.

Not kidding. I was there.

And if I had my mother’s photo collection here, I would scan and post a picture of mini-me (circa 4 years old) in a teeny-tiny flokati coat. Since I don’t have the photo, this rare experience will have to wait for another time. Remind me, though.

But, fond memories of my moderate hippie childhood aside, I would like to make an addendum to the NfU list, which sadly leaves out a musical genre that seems very specific to the German taste and is no less pervasive than the Schlager: Italopop.

Pronounced: "Italopopp-a" (now I am kidding).

Now you people outside of Germany will of course not know what that is (in fact I imagine that even most Italians won't know the concept - but don't worry: I'm here to enlighten you all). Italopop is a vague umbrella term covering a broad and diverse range of musical expression. Italopop comes in all shapes and sizes, from the insanely cheerful to the downright suicidal, although on the whole the songs evince a certain thematic continuity.

Because - surprise, surprise - they are mainly about one thing: the love stuff. Amore - happy amore, sad amore, constipated amore, amore vongole, more amore.

In its nostalgic moments, Italopop harks back at the crooning of not quite Italian Mario Lanza (I'm thinking here of Umberto Tozzi, the drained brain behind that ubiquitous piece of seventies soft-porn drivel, Ti Amó, every German housewife's secret heart-throb Eros Ramazotti, or the gratingly fluffy Angelo Branduardi, beloved by left-leaning school-teachers with an attitude), if more experimental and in-yer-face, it emulates the rough timbre of Italy's own Elvis, Adriano Celentano, whose vocal nemesis is lesbian pop princess Gianna Nannini.

In 1982 or so there was even a German Italopop spoof by the German band Spliff:

Oh poor old brain that has so much completely unnecessary information in it! And I swear I didn't have to look any of this up - it's all just there, in my sad head.

So, this then is Italopop, which has been providing the musical accompaniment to the special Italo-German relationship post WWII for several decades now. Its halcyon days were the vain 1980s and 1990s, when the more banal strand of this kind of music provided a superficial alternative to Punk. No "London is drowning and I / live by the river" urban despair here, only "O Sole Mio".

Which is probably the reason why Italopop is of enduring popularity in this here country, played up and down German radio stations and in department stores (even in our sleepy little town), especially during the summer. August is the cruellest Italopop month.

Italopop is preferably enjoyed with a gigantic latte macchiato, another token of aforementioned Italo-German relationship specially invented for German tourist stomachs too sensitive for proper espresso. And only German tourists felt cool about drinking overpriced jugs of hot milk with a few drops of espresso in them - until Stellardollar and other coffee chains came along to flog the stuff at an even higher price to Anglo-American aficionados.

Well, until recently.

The thing is: most Germans don't even understand enough Italian to get the lyrics of Italopop, some of which are far more complex than I have made them out to be. They just go "Azzurro ... la la la la la la la ... Azzurro ... la la" to the music and feel great because it reminds them of their last holiday in Tuscany.

But really, if you play any - any! - Italopop track backwards, you will hear the subcommittee of the Siena-East branch of the Partito Comunista Italiano sing Avanti Popolo (solo: Antonio Gramsci).

PS: No, the title of this post has nothing to do with its content. I just like the sound of it. It's the "Nicht aus dem Fenster lehnen" warning that you still come across in some German trains.

Next instalment of “Extend your musical expertise with The Wife”: Why The Hollies were crap lyricists (and why John Darnielle is a divine poet).


John said...

Sorry, if the site is hard to navigate. Here is a direct link to the article.

Right now it's still on the main page, but way down at the bottom.

The Wife said...

I'm sorry, really. I didn't want to come across as bolshy or anything. I guess I'm a bit impatient with webpages - old-fashioned person that I am.

Like the blog, by the way!