Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ol' Lang's Prime

Paul Brazill is one of the most prolific writers publishing in the on-line crime world today. Tending toward Flash-fiction, Paul brings about dirty, funny stories of men in demise in the time it takes to eat your value meal. Think Charles Bukowski around nine in the morning just about to go to bed for the night, discovering a $50 winning horse ticket in an old suit pocket, long since worth anything deciding for one more round and you'll be in the ballpark. Paul hails from Poland by way of England and brings the Narrative Music series out of middle America for the first time with the dark Germanic tale rendered by.... Randy Newman? Seriously?

Seriously.

In Germany Before The War by Randy Newman

For many years, Randy Newman meant very little to me although he had always been in my peripheral vision. I remember Alan Price’s version ‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear ‘ when I was a kid and I was aware of ‘Small People’ but he was someone on the horizon; a writer of novelty songs. Of no interest to someone who grew up on glam rock and punk, then.



However, at some point in the eighties, during my longest period of unemployment, I borrowed Nina Simone’s ‘Baltimore’ from the public library thinking that her voice could transform shit into shinola no matter what the song was. It was a ragged and occasionally brilliant album but the, (Newman penned), song ‘Baltimore’ impressed. 



Some time after that, I visited the town's premier second hand record shop ‘The Other Record Shop’ where Newman’s ‘Little Criminals’ was always in the fifty pence section. The cover didn’t appeal but I bought it anyway.



I don’t remember much of the album apart from this one song. Lush strings, plaintive piano an aching nostalgic feeling. I loved it. I played it without really listening. So, I played it again. And listened.



‘In Germany Before The War

There was a man who owned a store

In nineteen hundred thirty-four

In Dusseldorf ...

’

Lovely sepia images. Snapshots and memories of somewhere that you’ve never been.



And more:

‘I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea ..’

A sad, sense of yearning. But then something changes :

‘A little girl has lost her way 

With hair of gold and eyes of gray

Reflected in his glasses

As he watches her. ..

’

The nostalgic melody starts to seem sinister. The lovely strings are like malignant clouds spreading across the sky. The river seems dark and dangerous .The plaintive piano seems to be stalking. No, you think. It can’t be.



But then,:



‘We lie beneath the autumn sky

My little golden girl and I

And she lies very still ‘

And you know it IS.

It chilled me more than any song had before. And maybe even since.

In Germany Before The War, it turns out, was inspired by the classic 1931 Fritz Lang film M, which featured Peter Lorre as a serial child killer. This in turn was inspired by Peter Kürten who was known as the Düsseldorf Ripper, the Vampire of Düsseldorf or the Monster of Düsseldorf and was executed in July 1931 after confessing to nine murders. 



Here are the lyrics:

In Germany Before The War

There was a man who owned a store
I
n nineteen hundred thirty-four

In Dusseldorf


And every night at fine-o-nine

He'd cross the park down to the Rhine

And he'd sit there by the shore

I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea
I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea



A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray

Reflected in his glasses

As he watches her

A little girl has lost her way

With hair of gold and eyes of gray

I

I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea



We lie beneath the autumn sky

My little golden girl and I

And she lies very still

7 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Thans for letting me do this Jed. Of course, I should link to the tune!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-34xJCI7MY&feature=related

Harry said...

Wow Paul, I probably never would have heard that song had you not placed it in my path. I listened while I read your piece and maybe I'm a slow reader but it seemed to time out perfectly. Your background story lent more to each note there near the end. Very enjoyable, you may have invented something new here!

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

The story of Peter Kurten is absolutely chilling and Randy Newman's song is haunting -- one that stays with you.

Thanks, Paul, for your Narrative Music piece -- well done.

Joe said...

Great piece, Paul! As with Harry, now I have to check it out, too. Thank you for the direction! Happy New Year!

Scott Phillips said...

it's funny, I had known that album for years without realizing what that song was about, and then a couple of years ago I bought it on CD and listened carefully and got an electric shock up my spine. Like learning an old friend or a beloved uncle was a murderer....

Frank Bill said...

Great piece of history Paul, turned me onto something new. Thanks..

Paul D. Brazill said...

Ta everyone.