Helmut Kohl isn’t crazy about punk music. The former Chancellor has little time for the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and especially Die Toten Hosen. In the early 1980s when the band was starting out, the Goethe Institut helped to organise their first tour of France, until Kohl vetoed official support for the band, declaring that the Dead Trousers was not representative of Germany.
‘We laughed about that because we had no master plan,’ Germany’s punk music maestro Campino told me over coffee last week. ‘Our aim was simply to have fun. We were on a crusade for happiness.’
To be honest, in the 1980s punk wasn’t my cup of tea either. My musical tastes tend to be mainstream -- if progressive – pop and rock: Beatles, Bowie, Eno, Kraftwerk, Springsteen, Pink Floyd and k.d. lang. Since moving to Germany I’ve grown devoted to Berlin techno. I did once spend an evening chatting to Iggy Pop and his then girlfriend Esther Freidmann – a talented photographer -- about setting up a darkroom in their Schöneberg apartment. Pop, the godfather of punk and a man of incredible extremes, was pleasant and polite. He didn’t rip off his shirt or mutilate his torso. Nevertheless his music always left me feeling a little ... abused. A year or two later, a Toronto punk friend asked me to buy her a pair of stomping books from Boy in Camden Lock. I half-expected the purchase to necessitate me being spat at by a dozen cobbling anarchists.
But I am interested in the nature of creativity. Where does an idea come from and how does an artist transform it into – say – Moby Dick or the Venus di Milo? The poet and critic Craig Raine once said, ‘The task of the artist at any time is uncompromisingly simple – to discover what has not yet been done, and to do it.’ Ezra Pound was even more concise. ‘MAKE IT NEW,’ he wrote in the Cantos.
So last week I asked Campino how he creates a song; does he begin with the sound, or with the lyrics? Over coffee he told me about his creative journey, and his current work on material for the band’s 30th anniversary tour in 2012. He said, ‘Great songs are written because something needs to be expressed, not simply because one person has something to say. They are bigger than an individual ego.’
A key aspect of creativity is the drawing together of opposing elements, experiences and ideas in an original manner. Nothing new ever emerged from a passive life, except perhaps a taste for Swanson’s TV dinners. Campino’s mother was an English monarchist. His father was a proud German. As he told me, ‘The England-Germany divide was a big thing in my family. My father never came with us on visits to England. My English cousins wouldn’t stop talking about the war.’
As he grew up, Campino began to define his individuality between the two countries.
‘At the age of seven my great passion was for Liverpool Football Club. I was a hard-core supporter, in a way because of my mother.’
But at the same time he became ‘a bit of a troublemaker’, dressing as a punk, singing the Sex Pistols’ ‘God save the Queen... the fascist regime... she ain’t no human being’. His rebellion troubled her.
To my mind this dichotomy was central to his development as an individual, and to his becoming a remarkably honest and original singer/songwriter.
His story and revelations are fascinating, and I hope you’ll click on to the full interview on this site’s home page ... no matter what Helmet Kohl might think.