The Foreign Correspondent – Stories about German Rock Music # 6

Rio Reiser was a German singer, musician, composer and actor. Born in Berlin in 1950 he started his muical career as singer and writer of ‘Ton, Steine, Scherben’ a former punk and anarchy band in the early 1970s in Berlin. From their background in the local squatter scene they made a lot of simple songs but all within a message ‘Macht kaputt was euch kaputt macht (Destroy what makes you sick)’, ‘Keine Macht für Niemand (No power to Nobody). At that time he had his coming out to his homosexuality. Being bored only known as a political band they moved away from Berlin to a farmyard in Northern Germany. They changed their music into more melancholic sounds added with very personal lyrics. At the end of the decade they have seen their financial disaster in fact of a big tour through Germany without a professional management. A new management under the guidance of Claudia Roth (now a leading member of the German Green Party) tried to help them get rid of their ows. But with less success and the band dissolved in 1985.

With the legacy of liabilities about 100.000 Euro Rio Reiser started a solo career. Produced by Annette Humpe produced his first solo record and it became on of the best selling German records of this year (included his hit singles ‘König von  Deutschland’ and ‘Junimond’). After this successful record he was one of the top acts on several open-air festivals in the following years. Most of them festivals had a political background. If it was against racism in Germany (east German skinheads burned houses of asylum seekers) or the building of new nuclear power plants, he joined the initiators. In the early 1990s he was seen as a actor in several TV-movies – mostly as a disenchanted political activist of the 70s generation.

Surely knowing his rocking songs I have a penchant for his ballads. Not that he had a great voice but the words he sung were true and gave me a feeling that there is someone who expresses his personal feelings in a song. I am glad, that I saw him once live in Stuttgart in the early 1990s. It was a great concert at all with a very familiar atmosphere. To watch and listen to him when he only played his songs playing the piano was awesome. He died in 1996 at the age of 46 on circulatory failure and internal bleeding. Some word about Rio Reiser from Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten, Bad Seeds) that I found in the internet:

Ive never heard someone singing in Germany and seen the like Rio was able, within seconds of an intimate relationship, almost a love affair, set up with each of his listeners.

Singing in public is a peculiar jobs: One can the blood is withdrawn from the people, like a vampire swallow, or you can turn it and return.

Rio Reiser exuded strength and power he got from the audience, and he gave it back. Charisma is a skill that can not be learned, and it has nothing to do with mere image and stage presence. Even with a banal song he could sing any particular word so that a cold-running down the back. “


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