Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rockers who flirt with the Heil life

Rockers who flirt with the Heil life

Bryan Ferry's fascist fancy is just the latest in Nazi dalliances, from Bowie to Primal Scream

Sean O'Hagan
Sunday April 22, 2007
The Observer

In every dream bunker, a heartache. One can but imagine the atmosphere in Bryan Ferry's recording studio - nicknamed 'the Fuhrerbunker' - this week. A few loose words of praise in a German magazine interview for the aesthetics of the Reich and its main propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, and an entire second career as Marks & Spencer's elder statesman of cool hangs in the balance.

Amid the countless column inches of opprobrium heaped on his head, Bry might have some cause to feel sorry for himself. In the annals of Nazi pop chic, he is not even remotely in the same league as, say, the post-punk group Joy Division, who were named after the section of a concentration camp given over to enforced prostitution, and whose early EP, 'An Ideal For Living', featured a drawing of a Hitler Youth member banging a drum. The unapologetic Joy Division - who later metamorphosed into the even more Teutonic-sounding New Order - remain one of the most influential groups on the planet, with a forthcoming biopic of Ian Curtis, a documentary on the group and a series of reissues all due later this year.

Back in the pre-Joy Division Seventies, Mick Jagger once asked Riefenstahl to photograph him with his wife Bianca. Back then, Ferry's pal and fellow glam rock pioneer David Bowie was the coolest pop star on the planet. Following a cocaine-fuelled sojourn in Berlin, Bowie famously arrived at Victoria station for a press conference in an open-topped, black Mercedes from which he seemed to give the Nazi salute. This on the back of some mid-Seventies American interviews in which he claimed that 'Britain is ready for a fascist leader', and called Hitler 'one of the first rock stars'. In his defence, Bowie later pointed out that he was wired on cocaine, dismissed the salute as a wave and pointed out that saying Britain was 'ready' for a Fuhrer was not the same as saying it 'needed' one. Was that an apology? Not really.

The coming of punk rock took Nazi chic to another level - as in deeper and dumber. Both Siouxsie Sioux and the predictably moronic Sid Vicious had a fondness for the swastika as the ultimate punk fashion accessory-cum-shock tactic. In early photographs of punk's inner-circle, Siouxsie sports an authentic SS armband. She seemed to wise up as fame beckoned, but Sid continued to wear his swastika T-shirts with pride, despite the derision of his more left-leaning punk compatriots. He also, lest we forget, wrote the creepiest song in the Sex Pistols' repertoire, 'Belsen Was a Gas', which he claimed was 'a joke'. On the sleeve of a tacky live album, it was credited as 'Einmel Belsen war wirklich vortreflich', which is a bad translation of the line, 'Once Belsen was brilliant'. Sid, of course, was the ultimate fall guy for manager Malcolm McLaren, who really should have known better but never seemed to. Malcolm has yet to apologise for anything, ever.

In the pre-punk Seventies, dressing up as a Nazi was a more pantomime affair. Before Freddie Starr made it famous, though not altogether funny, Keith Moon of the Who, and his regular drinking buddy, Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, liked to amuse themselves, but hardly anyone else, by donning Nazi uniforms and staggering around the East End of London.

Stanshall, a rock Dadaist if ever there was one, introduced the Bonzo's classic cool jazz parody 'The Intro, the Outro' with the immortal line, 'And, looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes!' Which proves you can namecheck the Fuhrer and be funny. Unlike French rocker Serge Gainsbourg, who recorded a very odd concept album called Rock Around the Bunker which comprised several dreadful songs including 'Nazi Rock' and 'Tata Teutonne'. Songs that mention the Nazis are blessedly few and far between these days, but Primal Scream's recent 'Swastika Eyes' has just been covered by veteran art rockers Suicide. I doubt either version will ever make it on to Bryan Ferry's iPod, though.

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