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Friday, May 31, 2013

Early Insight

In the late 1960s Giorgio and I started to write songs together. It was pure fun. We were both beginners then,  still waiting for success, and no one tried to dominate the other. Though we had some minor hits, we did not really make it. Soon we both found other songwriting partners. At about the same time I started my career as a producer Giorgio had some success as a singer of his own songs and moved to Munich where I lived. We met regularly, exchanging our hopes, ideas and experiences. I never forget what Giorgio told me one November evening in 1969, when he visited Roswitha and me in our Pasing flat. “Michel”, he said after dinner, “you must become international. I certainly will. Germany is too small for our talents.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meeting Giorgio Moroder

The first time I met Giorgio was in Berlin. It was the summer of 1964. I had just finished high school, and not yet started to my studies. A publisher who had heard some of my very first songs had invited me to spend two weeks in his offices. There, Giorgio was sitting in a small walk-in cupboard, huge head phones on his head, an electric guitar on his lap and a ReVox A77 in front of him. His job was to prepare cheap backing tracks for demos of songs that were written by the publisher's staff writers. Although he was neatly ensconced in a closet and I was only kind of a guest student peeping in, we were both underdogs, and that made us natural companions. As we ate our burgers in a near-by gasthaus, he told me he intended to become an international star. My goal was more modest. I just wanted one of my songs to be recorded. At that time I wrote the music to my lyrics myself. Giorgio made a backing track for me, probably out of pity. It was the beginning of a life long friendship.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Flashback

My friend, Sylvester, and I spent the last week in a London Sound Studio to record demos for a new show. In many ways it was a journey back in time. Studios like the Battersea's Sphere used to be our second home for almost twenty years. As I revisited the past, I was amazed how familiar all still was: The engineer, the technical assistant, the singers and musicians (though all a generation younger), the mikes and stands, and even the gold records on the wall of the hallway. Well, the old 24-track-Studer was sadly standing in a corner, of course, because recording went digital long ago. But it was still there. And the Neve mixing console still dominated the control room. In such a studio you forget whether you are in Philadelphia, Munich, Seoul, Tokyo or London. Not only do the studios look alike, the people you meet there resemble each other. Race, language, age are irrelevant. It's all about making good music and getting it well recorded.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everyday Climbing

To compare mountaineering to our way through life may be commonplace blah. Nevertheless I admit that I learned quite a lot from climbing which was of good use in life's lowlands. Before good climbers start an ascent they spend weeks, months and sometimes years studying the rock face, considering carefully and in detail which way to go. If they are not totally sure they can make it on their own, they select partners who can meet the challenge and whose abilities complement each other. Then they choose the properly fitting equipment, considering all imponderables. And although their goal is the peak, of course, they don't think of it when they are climbing. They just concentrate on what they're doing, and try not to make a fateful mistake as they move up to the next secure slab.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Backward Songwriting

There is no doubt in my opinion that Billy Joel is one of the best songwriters of the last century. In a recent interview he gave Andrew Goldman of the New York Times Billy explained: "I write backward — I write the music first and then I write the words. Most people write the words first and then they write the music. Keith Richards was explaining his method of songwriting. He calls it “vowel movement.” They come up with a riff, and it’s like sounds, and whatever sound . . . like “start me up” — “up” works because it has a consonant at the end of it, but if you go “take me home,” it wouldn’t have worked. I kind of subscribe to that. It has to sound right sometimes even more than being a poetic lyric. It’s a struggle to fit words onto music, and I want it to be really, really good, so I take a long time. I love having written, but I hate writing. So then I go through postpartum depression, and it’s: “Ugh, I gotta start all over again? Where am I going to get the” — what do you call it? Sitzfleisch?"

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Eiger North Face

Next to Whymper's Matterhorn ascent the conquering the Eiger's North Face is a story that deserves to be told over and over again. The first to get really high on the face were Max Sedlmayer and Karl Mehringer who in 1935 were halted by bad weather. Their bodies were spotted weeks later. The following year saw one of the most traumatic episodes in the Eiger's history.our young climbers - Andreas Hinterstoisser, Edi Ranier, Willy Angerer and Toni Kurz - made a renewed attempt on the north wall. Hinterstoisser opened up a route to the summit with a brilliant traverse but it could not be reversed without a rope in place. After being caught up in a huge storm they were unable to retreat the way they had come and all four were killed. Toni Kurz perished hanging from his abseil rope only feet from a rescue team. The would-be rescuers tried to reach the stricken climber from a window which emerges onto the face from the railway tunnel running right through the mountain. But a knot prevented him sliding any further towards the outstretched arms and his own fingers were so badly frozen he could not free himself. The rescuers had to withdraw for the night despite the stricken climber's pleas not to be left alone. When they returned the next morning he was much weaker and with the words "Ich kann nicht mehr" (I cannot go on) he died almost within reach of safety. (In 2008 the German movie Nordwand ("North Face") tried to dramatize that story for the big screen, but failed badly.) After more fatal attempts to climb the mountain by its most difficult face, a group of four finally managed to put up a route. Two Germans, Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig (Wiggerl) Vörg, and the Austrians Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer, joined forces in 1938 to make the first ascent. The dramatic tale was recounted in Harrer's book The White Spider which is named after the distinctive ice field near the summit and has become a mountaineering classic.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Whymper Learned





“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."
Edward Whymper

Friday, May 24, 2013

Matterhorn


In the summer of 1860, the twenty-year old Edward Whymper came to Zermatt. Hired by a London publisher to make sketches of mountain scenes, he was not one of those British mounteneering aristocrats trying to reach the last unconquered summits. Actually he had never been to the Alps before. Maybe the arrogance of his noble countrymen spurred his ambition to do what they tried in vain - climb the majestic Matterhorn. In the years 1861-1865, he made several attempts by the south-west ridge together with an Italian guide from the Valtournanche, Jean-Antoine Carrel. Patriotically believing that a native Italian and not an Englishman should be the first to set foot on the summit, Carrel eventually betrayed Whymper. He had already started the ascent with an Italian rope, when Whymper hurried back to Zermatt, gathered some Englishmen and hired three Swiss guides to try the opposite face of the Matterhorn. His attempt by what is now the usual route was crowned with success (14th of July 1865); but on the descent four of the party slipped and were killed, and only the breaking of the rope saved Whymper and the two remaining guides from the same fate. This is maybe the most dramatic mountain story, still waiting to be told in an appropriate form. I think it would make a great movie, and I always dreamed of writing the perfect screenplay for it. Unfortunately mountain movies went out of fashion many years ago.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Peak


This clip gives a faint idea of the Three Peaks' beauty and the panorama route's extreme difficulty. To climb that face is an admirable achievement, to watch these guys do it is taking my breath away. You will hear Alex Huber, right now arguably the world's best climber, explain the ascent. He was the first to do it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Impossible Dream

You can't follow all your dreams. One of those I knowingly gave up was to climb one of the Three Peaks in the Dolomites (Tre Cime des Lavaredo). When I was twenty I would have been able to achieve the ability to make it, but music, literature and philosophy got the better of me. Instead of traveling to the mountains I devoted my weekends to reading and writing. At 25 I was already spending all of my time at the recording studio in order to climb the hit charts. Since then all I can do is to look from below and watch with admiration and a bit of envy those going up that amazing rock faces .

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's The Use?


“People ask me, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
George Mallory

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rock Climbing

The boy scouts not only turned me into a songwriter, they also made me a rock climber. When I was 14 we met with a group of scouts in Rhineland-Palatinate. They don't have mountains there, but many 60 to 200 feet boulders which are ideal climbing walls. My fellow boy scouts taught me how to use rope and hook and overcome the fear of heights. After a few days I wanted nothing more than to become an extreme rock climber. A year after that summer camp my family moved from Stuttgart to Munich, and there the rock faces of the Alps were just right at our front door. It was a God given chance to perfect my new passion. I soon got to know my own limits. Though I spent, alone and with friends, many a weekend of my teenage years in the mountains, I never became very good at climbing, hardly made it to grade V. But I am still fascinated by that sport, and tend to admire great rock climbers as much as great rock musicians.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lesson For Life


"Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise. A Scout knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens."
Robert Baden-Powell

Saturday, May 18, 2013

1954

Nowadays joining the scouts as a boy has become very outdated. When I was ten it still was a great way to get away from home over the weekends and during the school holidays. I loved hiking and camping and sitting with my peers around the campfire until late at night. We played adventure games in the woods, long before they became a pastime at the computer. The rain was pounding on the tent-roof when I tried my luck on a friend's guitar. At Christmas 1954 I got my own six string. From then on hardly a day went by without my practicing until my fingers bled. After I had learned to accompany some songs, I found it more interesting to invent new ones. That's how I became a songwriter. It's all the fault of my boy scout weekends and the bad weather in the summer of 1954.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Vanity Fair On Rebecca

America's number one magazine, Vanity Fair, devotes 13 pages of its June edition to Rebecca. The article by the respected journalist, David Kamp, tells almost the whole story of what happened to my musical in New York, true to the facts and totally unbiased. Whoever is interested in the real story of The Road to Manderley can read it now online, although without the four full page pictures from the show. The main question, though, remains unanswered: Who was behind all this?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Voltaire Once Again, Corrected

More often than not the last words of famous people are fictitious. Some celebrities, such as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, seem to be "quotation magnets", attracting clever statements others invented. In an earlier blog entry I quoted Voltaire who allegedly refused on his deathbed to renounce Satan with the words: "This is no time to make enemies." According to the Secret Diary Of Le Duc De Croy which I read last week that quotation is pure, if wonderful, fiction. It's true, though, that Voltaire refused to make his peace with the Catholic religion. When the priest who came to his bed called on Jesus, Voltaire hissed "Curse the wretch!". He told the horrified clergyman: "Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror...Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world." This said the great philosopher closed his eyes and died peacefully.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Telegram


Remember the time when you sent a telegram to forward an urgent message? I used that idea because in 1977 the word telegram was the same in all European languages. Today some kids probably never heard of it. My Silver Convention girls ended up being number 8 in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Sylvester played the keyboards himself, and loved it. Admittedly it was not the greatest song, but 36 years later I still think the performance was excellent.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest

My Texan friend Achim reminded me that this is the week of the Eurovision Song Contest. As always, this event will feature singers and songwriters from about 40 countries and attract more than a hundred million viewers. Nobody believes that the winning song will be "Europe's best pop song", and it's not even guaranteed to climb the charts. Nevertheless the basic idea to unite once a year the viewers of tv stations all over Europe for one joint program still works. No successful songwriter in Europe can avoid   to participate with one or two songs in the course of his or her career. I didn't keep count of the songs I wrote for that contest over the years, I guess between six and eight. Once I reached number three. But my favorite entry only made it to number 13. If the singer, MaryRoos, looks a bit absent-minded in the attached video clip from the show it's because her boyfriend broke off with her four minutes before she went on stage. She was still in tears when the conductor raised the baton.

Of course I had no idea that Mary's relationship was doomed when I wrote the lyrics. They fit amazingly well to the moment, though they probably didn't tell exactly what was on her mind when she sang: "Walk tall, walk tall, I've finally learned to get back on my feet whenever I fall".

Monday, May 13, 2013

Consolation


According to Marcus Aurelius "everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so". I am not sure if I'm ready to accept that as a fact, but as I get older I use this sentence as a consolation. And if I'm really disappointed about something, I think of a friend I knew who was outraged that he had missed his plane to Vancouver, only to learn the next morning that his plane crashed in the Rockies.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Historical Truth


"The Assembly has witnessed over the last weeks how historical truth is established; once an allegation has been repeated a few times, it is no longer an allegation, it is an established fact, even if no evidence has been brought out in order to support it."
Dag Hammarskjold


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Missed Career

There was a time when I was contemplating a career as an academic historian. There were several reasons why I decided otherwise, but an important one was that I realized that historians are nothing else but storytellers bound to specific traditions and academic rules. Beside dates, names and all kinds of artifacts here is no such thing as a historic truth. It's all subjective interpretation. How could it be anything else? Ask three people on the street who have watched an accident, and you get three different stories. Sten Gagnér, my beloved academic teacher, told me that a historian's goal must be to find out "how it really was". That sounded simple enough, but it dawned on me pretty soon that it was impossible.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sidney's Rule


"Believable action is based on authenticity, and accuracy is very important to me. I always spend time researching my novels, exploring the customs and attitudes of the county I'm using for their setting."
Sidney Sheldon

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Authenticity


I believe a writer's first obligation is to be truthful. That doesn't mean historical correctness. Dramatic truth is not necessarily reflecting reality. What it demands is the writer's honesty. For one, he must not write about things he does not know nor understand. Even fictious characters and situations must be understood. If you write about, let's say, a day in a policeman's life you have to understand how policemen spend their days. The same applies, and even more so, to emotions. If you don't believe in true love, you'd better write about kung-fu, provided you're familiar with it. What you write about something you don't know can only be a cliché.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Writer's Truth


Every good story reveals the writer's heart and soul. It is not coincidential which tale you choose to tell. Certain stories touch you, others, though maybe more interesting to others, leave you cold. I actually feel an inner connection, almost an intimate relationship, to certain historical individuals. That makes me often believe they want me to tell their story. As I start researching and structuring, I often realize that the story's theme has something to do with my own life. There's usually a dilemma - a choice between two ways of equal value - which is mirroring problems I had to solve or wish I could solve. In the decicive last third of any good story the protagonist needs to make a decision. It's necessarily the decision the writer approves of.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Create!


“I want to thank anyone who spends a part of their day creating, I don't care if it's a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music - anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us - I think this world would be unlivable without art and I thank you.”
Steven Soderbergh ( one of those who deserve a thank-you)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Next: 3D

The Metropolitan Opera's production of Siegfried that premiered in the last season featured amazing 3D projections. They were developed by the Canadian firm Réalisations which had previously created effects for Cirque du Soleil and other theatre groups. The new technology allows projected 3D images on-stage to be seen without special eyewear. For instance, an opera singer might move inside a projection down the stairs of of a castle, which would appear three-dimensional to the audience. As the singer moves, the set around him or her would shift in what appears to be 3D. As far as I know those projections have not yet been used for a musical.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

In The Garden Of Dreams

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sven

Projections have been used for a long time in the theatre. As new technology such as computer animation and powerful beamers has made it much easier and more affordable to apply them, the use of projections has become inflationary. Some directors like moving projections, and the latest thing is 3-D. I'm all for it, as long as the stage is not turned into a movie screen. Theatre must never try to compete with reality because it must stay above it. Its purpose is a play with reality. My favorite theatrical video designer, Sven Ortel, has internalized that
.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Difference Between Good & Great Drama


"The basis of drama is the struggle of the hero towards a specific goal at the end of which he realizes that what kept him from it was, in the lesser drama, civilisation and, in the great drama, the discovery of something that he did not set out to discover but which can be seen retrospectively as inevitable."
David Mamet

Thursday, May 2, 2013

David Mamet


Among the dramatists I admire most David Mamet will always stay in my personal top ten. His work includes two of my favorite films, The Verdict and Wag The Dog, as well as two perfect plays, Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed The Plow. He's great with words, a "brain-dead liberal", a vitriolic critic, and also a great teacher. "Any drama is a succession of scenes," he keeps reminding his fellow playwrights. "Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal – so that he is forced to go on to the next scene to get what he wants. To write a successful scene, one must stringently apply and stringently answer the following three questions: 1. Who wants what from whom? 2. What happens if they don't get it? 3. Why now?" 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Inspiration

“When I am ..... completely myself, entirely alone... or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these ideas come I know not nor can I force them.” 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart