The ballads of Frank Rennicke
THE FIRST CASSETTE of Frank Rennicke's music which I received, Sehnsucht nach Deutschland, (Yearning for Germany) made it clear from the cover that this was politically committed singing, nothing escapist or vague. The cynically disposed would probably say it was music "in a time warp" a leap back into the thirties. The fanatically nationalistic texts to the songs in this collection are accompanied by a caricature negro, a Jewish looking Uncle Sam and so on. If there were any remaining doubts about the song writer's politics, these were dispelled by the words of a lyric in praise of the late Rudolph Hess, a "hero" and "model for German youth". Herr Rennicke's sentiments can be summed up in the words of the title of that collection: yearning for Germany. Most of his songs are political and deal with the plight of modern Germany or nostalgia for a Germany which has been buried "under the rubble of time". I share many of Herr Rennicke's opinions and I share much of his cynicism as expressed in his lyrics. I agree that the West is a swindle, (Sonntag Abend in Berlin), that there has hardly been real culture produced in Germany since 1945, that the consequences of anti-authoritarian education are apathy and ultimately nihilism; "nur der Unsinn zaehlt in dieser Welt", (only nonsense counts in this world) that Germany is overrun by foreigners ("they act as though this is not our homeland any more") and that Germany's days are numbered "if help does not come soon"; but when Herr Rennicke sings of Adolph Hitler as "the man who only wanted peace" even a fascist's eye-brow might be raised. The problem is that Herr Rennicke suffers from the fault, characteristically German I believe and characteristically national-socialist too, of taking every good argument so far that fanaticism comes perilously close to crankiness. One song intended as a satire against immigration fails as satire because it is simply not subtle enough. It's amusing to a degree if you are the sort of person who likes making jokes at the expense of immigrants, but even the best jokes pale after you've heard them often enough. Successful satire needs to be made of more lasting stuff. Rennicke can only preach (or sing) to the already converted and I cannot imagine that anyone would change their political opinions as a result of listening to these lyrics. Admittedly, that is hardly the function of a lyrical ballad, but these are pitched at such a narrow audience that they will fail to reach many who could and should be reached. This suits the interests of the Western establishment in general and the puppet government in Bonn in particular. A nightmare scenario for them would be someone like Rennicke getting to the top of the charts. That would mean far more than some vulnerable upsurge in right-wing voting at the polls. So it is no surprise to learn that the musician has recently been prosecuted for writing music to "mislead youth". Indeed the songs are patriotic, anti- immigrant and defend the honour of Germany's war dead, which is totally "misleading" by modern standards. So far as Germany's war dead are concerned, Rennicke is one of the very few young Germans prepared to publically defend the honour of the German army in the last war. The vilification of the Wehrmacht not only in Britain, Russia and America but in the German rump state itself has not let up in fifty years while the former allies have yet to officially apologize for the least of their numerous war crimes; on the contrary, the Queen Mother publically unveiled a monument to "two and a half cities a month" Harris responsible for the destruction of Dresden. Many of Rennicke's songs redress the balance by singing the praises of the German soldier in the last war.
And the music itself? Interestingly, here is a young folk singer with nationalistic beliefs who consciously rejects all rock "music" even when produced by bands which claim to share Herr Rennicke's Weltanschauung or whom he respects, like the late Ian Stuart. Being myself unable to notice any qualitative difference between an electronic nihilistic din produced by slang-whangers with long hair claiming to be anarchists and slang-whangers with cropped hair claiming to be nazis and having wondered for a long time how the medium of rock could be understood as anything other than the expression of a technological, modernist rejection of European harmony and order, it came as a surprise to discover that not all national-socialists feel themselves to be well represented by skinhead oiks, still less by their pathetic so-called "music", and that there are young national-socialists who are as sickened by and hostile to "heavy rock" and futurist art in general as any musical traditonalist could wish. (If it is true that Hitler and Stalin alike did all they could to discourage Futuristic art, this surely earned them badly needed Browny points at the Pearly Gates!)
Frank Rennicke's music is in the folk tradition of guitar and solo- voice, a genre in politics more readily associated with the soft sentiments of a non-aligned political left then committed nationalism, except perhaps Celtic nationalism. In fact these ballads do call to mind Celtic ballads, sad, romantic and with a clear and carefully chosen text. His politics are clearly not typical for a modern ballad singer but like most ballad and folk singers, (the proletarian Billy Bragg is an exception) Frank Rennicke is a romantic and his songs are romantic; instead of a personal romanticism, his is a political romanticism. He yearns for a time and place which is not today and which is not this "Germany". Passionate, the music also has a strongly melancholy and nostalgic quality; many of the songs are taken from traditional ballads (a song to fallen comrades of two world wars, for instance, is sung to a tune widely associated with "The Dubliners", The Town I loved.) At times, especially in ich fuehle deutsch, his most recent collection of songs, some of the lyrics are sentimental rather than romantic and probably too much so for English tastes.
Apart from the obvious political and historical songs, some are satirical (Uncle Sam is especially good) and some are very personal. Some of the satirical songs have a potentially much wider appeal: for instance the satire on the United States already mentioned and an amusing piece about the obiquitious "Ady" who is "always there" in every newspaper report, on the stage and on the radio and television and who is blamed for everything, close on fifty years after his death.
Aware of what is happening, sure in the knowledge of what he rejects and what he yearns for, Frank Rennicke seems often at a loss to understand how it all happened. One of his songs, a powerfully gloomy lyric on the theme of J'accuse addressed to the older generation, "Ihr Alten, Euch gilt unser Wort", asks how it was possible that the older generation, who had once fought for Germany when they were young, could allow without a whimper of protest the building of the Berlin wall, the immigration flood, pornography, homosexuality and left-wing education. The compliance of the older generation to post-war trends is remarkable. Ironically, it has not a little to do with the cult of obedience and respect for authority which was inculcated into them by another value system. This reminds me of the question, similarly apt and for which there was also no answer forthcoming, posed years ago by John Tyndall in Spearhead, namely how was it possible that men who had fought in the Battle of Britain, risking their lives to save their country from invasion, should have been deafeningly silent when the African and Asian invasion of Britain began a few years later? The Germans, like the English, find something inherently shocking in the idea that they should rebel against established authority. Most English and Germans seen to be incapable of understanding the difference between authority and order, which makes them fine soldiers but in political matters "as easily led by the nose as asses are".
Can a nation survive when most of the nation are no longer interested in their survival as a nation? In one especially poignant ballad, Rennicke wonders if modern Germans are really the German people at all. ("Das kann doch unser Volk nicht sein"). If his emotional source of inspiration had included the New Right in addition to his acknowledged debt to Hermann L”ns and the German romantics, Rennicke's politics might be more "up-to-date" and even persuasive; but an enrichment of the intellect is not necessarily an enrichment of the artist. Love songs would perhaps be watered down if the lover were made to "see reason", for if we manage to persuade a lover to see reason, will he still be able to write love songs? (Shades of the dilemma of Peter Shaeffer's Equus here.) Similarly, if Rennicke's politics were more "sensible" they would lose in intensity of feeling, and it is intensity of feeling which is their overriding quality, whether one shares that feeling or not. This is the music of a dedicated German nationalist, with a strong element of the Christian crusader in him. The melancholia of the ballads would not be so strong were the almost forelorn but passionately held faith in the German Reich not there. Is it possible to accept the music and remain unpersuaded by the faith? I think so. If not, how is it possible that atheists are able to listen with emotion to a The Messiah? Or is it that such music stir a half-buried faith within them?
These songs are unlikely to find themselves on the shelves of WH Smith's FNAC or Hertes. The Zeitgeist has its own highly effective away of "burning" undesirable works: it ignores them. Herr Rennicke's work is "not in demand" for political reasons not commercial ones. His music would find a ready market if it were widely promoted. There are two kinds of customer who would buy Herr Rennicke's works and visit his concerts if they knew about him: those broadly sympathetic to his politics and those who enjoy romantic ballads. If you are either kind you will probably enjoy this music, if you belong to both categories you certainly will. The sentimentally disposed should keep a hanky to hand for these lyrics: Frank Rennicke has come to praise the past and not to bury it.
At the time of writing Herr Rennicke has produced seven collections available as cassette or record but not on compact disk. They are Protestnoten fr Deutschland; An Deutschland!; Unterm Schutt der Zeit; Sehnsucht nach Deutschland; Soldaten Lieder; Mein Kamerad; ich fhle deutsch They cost 20 marks each including postage from Frank Rennicke, Postfach 1145, 7044-Ehningen Germany. In the reviewer's experience orders are dealt with promptly on receipt of payment. Details about foreign currency payments must be requested from the musician.