Guest Post: Rose Bexar on On Listening Critically, Part 1: Taking Stock of a New Fandom

by Anna Blanch on August 16, 2009

Today I bring you another guest post. Actually, this is the first part of a two-parter. This time I welcome Dr Rose Bexar, new;y minted PhD, medievalist, and scholar of fandom! I guarantee you will learn a great deal about Die Prinzen and that’s just for starters! This is an insightful examination of what it means to listen critically. You can find out more about Dr. Rose on her Contributor profile. You can take a look at some of the other recent contributors and their profiles here.

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On Listening Critically, Part 1: Taking Stock of a New Fandom



Rose Bexar

Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

–Matthew 12:34

“I imagine you’ll love this,” my friend Greenie told me about three months ago and introduced me to a song German pop stars Die Prinzen (The Princes) had just performed for the Eurovision after-show: Be Cool, Speak Deutsch.” She was right. I tend to fall into new fandoms very easily in times of stress, and with an impending move and an impending dissertation defense, “Be Cool, Speak Deutsch” was just the dose of comic relief I needed. So I started poking around on YouTube and finding more and more songs by Die Prinzen that I liked. Millionär” and “Mein Fahrrad” (“My Bicycle”) sounded familiar enough that I think I must have heard them before in a German class somewhere, and songs like “Wer ist der Typ” (“Who Is That Guy,” my new frustration song), “Küssen Verboten” (“Kissing Forbidden”) and “Frauen sind die neuen Männer” (“Women Are the New Men”) hit me squarely on my funny bone, not to mention those wonderful classically-trained voices and harmonies inspired by the very bands the oldies station never seems to play anymore….[1]

It was inevitable, I suppose. Not only am I a choir nerd with a German degree and an oldies fan currently having to resort to country to find good music on the radio, but my high school German teacher once said I looked like the lead singer of Lucilectric, and I’ve long thought Dave Barry would be proud of Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Pants) for picking such a fun name.[2] Sooner or later some German pop group had to claim me as a fan. And I sure fell hard for Die Prinzen. I mean, how could I not love a band that comes up with puns like HardChor?



Expanding my knowledge of their music has been a much slower process than my plunge into Monkeedom eleven years ago, however. For one thing, I have no room in my budget to buy CDs and know of no one from whom to borrow, so I have to make do with listening to one track at a time from what’s free online, which has been harder to find than one might think (Pandora was a bust, and it took me a while to figure out Last.fm). For another, I try to be extremely careful to listen to the words of a song and not just the music, and doing so in my second language requires a good bit of concentration, especially if I can’t find the lyrics written out somewhere. And really, taking it somewhat slow has been a good thing because it has allowed me to process the words a bit better before I start singing along.

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Eventually I reach the point in any fandom at which I have to sit back and take stock of exactly what I’m learning from it, why I like it, what I don’t like about it, etc., and whether this fandom has a legitimate place in my life as a Christian.

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Eventually I reach the point in any fandom at which I have to sit back and take stock of exactly what I’m learning from it, why I like it, what I don’t like about it, etc., and whether this fandom has a legitimate place in my life as a Christian. Sometimes it’s only internal dialogue; sometimes I talk through it with other fans; sometimes it comes out as fanfic or an idea for the “research bunny” hutch.[3] In this case, fanfic is out because I refuse to write Real Person Fic, and Greenie is about the only other fan I know. But a one-line comment I saw somewhere got me moving toward a more formal write-up and, eventually, this series on thinking critically about the music we listen to:


“Die Prinzen are the worst thing that’s ever happened to humanity.”

Really? The clown princes of German pop? A nice group of guys from East Germany who go out of their way to insult neo-Nazis and made a special music video, “Ich verändere die Welt” (“I Change the World”), to promote a children’s emergency service? I know xkcd rags on YouTube commenters for good reason, but… the worst thing ever? Really?!



Granted, Die Prinzen aren’t so clean-cut that a conservative Christian like me can endorse them for general audiences without any reservations at all. Though they’re not politically correct, I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily conservative by American standards—Sebastian is an active Social Democrat—and their lyrics don’t often disclose their faith; “Backstagepass ins Himmelreich” (“Backstage Pass to Heaven”) is as evangelistic as they ever get.[4] To misapply a quote from my hero Ronald Reagan, my approach to any band needs to be “Trust, but verify,” and in this case, “Audi Victoria,” a chorale with lyrics consisting mainly of Latinized gibberish, Michael Schumacher jokes, and vulgarity, was warning enough for me to pay close attention to their lyrics and not simply listen to the pretty music. There are some kinds of humor I just don’t dig. Though I’ve avoided most of the songs I thought might offend me, I would rate the songs I have heard, at worst, PG-13 for occasional profanity and discussion of ‘adult’ themes. But their albums contain plenty of G and PG songs like “Vergammelte Speisen” (“Spoiled Food”) and “Mein bester Freund” (“My Best Friend”—you’ll get most of the punchlines even if you don’t speak German); by and large, they’re cleaner than Monty Python. And since these songs were written for a broader audience than a typical American first-year German class, they have actual content—okay, maybe not “Sinnloses Lied” (“Senseless Song”)—and thus have more to say to us than how to use German parts of speech.



And what good is a Ph.D. in English if it hasn’t taught me how to analyze a text?



Tomorrow I’ll walk you through the results of my examination of the Prinzen songs I’ve heard to date as a kind of case study in critical listening. I hope you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.





Sources:

DiePrinzen.de

Prinzenwelt

Die Prinzen,” “Sebastian Krumbiegel,” “Tobias Künzel,” and “Jens Sembdner,” Wikipedia Germany.

James, Charles J. “Popular Music in the German-Speaking World: Die Prinzen.” Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German 30 (1997): 217.

Maas, Georg, and Hartmut Reszel. “Whatever Happened to…: The Decline and Renaissance of Rock in the Former GDR.” Popular Music 17 (1998): 267-77.



[1] Of the five vocalists—Sebastian Krumbiegel, Tobias Künzel, Wolfgang Lenk, Jens Sembdner, and Henri Schmidt—Jens started out singing with the Dresdener Kreuzchor, and the other four were members of the Leipziger Thomanerchor, the choir at Bach’s church. All five also studied at various music Hochschulen in Leipzig (equivalent to majoring in music at an American university). In the late ’80s, before Tobias joined, the group sang a capella so often and so well that their manager was able to skirt GDR pay regulations by billing them as a classical act rather than a rock band (Maas and Reszel 275)!

[2] That’s not to say I dislike country; it really is the last bastion of good American music these days. It’s just that when I’m craving the Beach Boys, Rascal Flatts doesn’t quite satisfy. And I never saw the resemblance to Luci van Org, though the remark was “She looks like you with too much makeup on.”

[3] In fanfiction circles, story ideas are called “plotbunnies” because they multiply like rabbits. Only problem is, scholarly ideas gang up on me the same way. You know you’re an academic when….

[4] There are other signs that the band retains more than musical training from those church choir years, however. Take “Monarchie in Germany,” a modest proposal of sorts which ‘laments’ the fact that Germany doesn’t have a king and then offers Die Prinzen as self-crowned princes—if that isn’t a tongue-in-cheek, modernized application of 1 Samuel 8… it should have been! Half of the tracks on their Christmas album are hymns, and one of the signs of spiritual deadness in “Keine Tränen mehr” is the fact that the woman can’t convince herself to go to church anymore. And I was overjoyed to learn that Jens’ solo project jes.41 is named for Isaiah 41:10 and aims to renew Lutheran church music for the young generation. (I can’t find more of “Backstagepass ins Himmelreich” than the thirty-second Amazon preview, which why I linked to the lyrics. Sorry.)

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