…or what do I do in between Kurt Vonnegut and Martin Walser?
In the fall of 1979 a small little known band in New York City put out a 7″ single with a white dust sleeve and no cover. In the spring of 2015, some 35 years later, the record, photos and a poster of the band with the lyrics of one of the songs appears in the exhibition Schlachthoff 5, DRESDENS’S ZERSTOERUNG IN LITERARISCHEN ZEUGNISSEN (Slaughterhouse 5, Dresden’s Destruction in Literary Records) in the Militaer Historisches Museum Dresden (Military History Museum
How does a simple rock’n roll song gets mixed up with literary giants? It begins with the very first song that I wrote which has the title “Just Like Dresden 45,” and which I performed and eventually produced and recorded together with Leo Faison in our band that was called the New York Niggers. The 1 000 records printed, with no or little promotion, scant airplay, some jukebox appearances and the end of the band a year later, the single developed a life of its own, got bootlegged, put on youtube and is collected with prices fetching up to $ 500.
A shroud of mystery developed around the record and the band over the years and every once in a while somebody contacts me from somewhere around the planet wanting to know more about the band or find out if I have any records left. In 2008 I decided to reissue the single as part of my MFA Thesis Exhibition at the University of Hawaii. This time it got a letter press cover based on a painting that was part of my thesis. 250/500 have the cover and are numbered. They are available.
In 2012 Eric Cecil, a young New York DJ researches the band, interviews me and publishes the best history of the band so far in Human Being Lawnmower # 3. Then in 2014 Ansgar Snethlage, the curator of the Schlachthof 5 exhibition contacts me and I send him material to use in the show. A year later the show is on and a 368 page catalog eventually comes in the mail. This catalog is well written and meticulously researched, with many photos of the city, paintings, drawings, letters and the stories of the different artists, who appeared in the show. The last 150 pages are dedicated the the different artists and their work that appeared in the show. I am humbled to find myself right between Kurt Vonnegut and Martin Walser. Looking back at the time when I wrote the song it to appear in a museum show along with all these artists and literary giants completely blows my mind, “Just Like Dresden 45.”
The catalog entry not written but translated by the author from German: “The first lines of “Just Like Dresden 45” were still written in Germany. Born in 1949 in Hannover, Dieter Runge was a member of the counter culture during the early 1970’s in his hometown and played rhythm guitar since 1977 with Rotz Kotz an early German punk band. But already in 1978 he went to New York, where he recorded the song in march 1979 as part of the first single by the New York Niggers (edition 1 000). Musically, “Just Like Dresden 45” is inspired by Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”1, raw Punk Rock in between Detroit Sound and the typical 70’s punk.
The single got positive critical reviews. The British Radio DL and pop expert David Peel played the song several times in his BBC show. The single got little airplay in the US, because of the controversial band name, even though the name was consciously chosen: two afro Americans had founded the band. The insulting name “Nigger” stood also as a metaphor for all suppressed people (just like “Rock’n Roll Nigger” by Patti Smith). Last but not least, was this breaking of taboo, typical for punk, meant to provoke.
The New York Niggers had some success in New York, but the music industry was not interested. Finally, the band disbanded after Runge quit. Runge, immersed himself into the East Village art and music scene and moved to the Virgin Island in the late 80’s and finally to Hawaii, where he lives today as independent artist, yoga and taiji teacher.
The most famous song by the New York Niggers, “Just Like Dresden 45”, plays, just like the band name, with provocation and “irrefuehrung” (to lead astray). It is not about the destruction of Dresden 1945, but mostly about the destruction of the soul of the bored and disappointed individual. Live is without meaning and empty, the contradictions of existence destroy the mind: “My brain catch fire just like Dresden 45. The banalization of “Dresden 45″serves as breaking of taboo.
Runge’s experiences in New York also gained entry into the song text. It was difficult for the young German without money and sometime without a steady home, to express his own feelings in English in the beginning. The party drug speed surpasses tiredness and can lead to a short term energy boost, which leaves the consumer burned out at the end. In this song speed stands for a “Lebensgefuehl” (life feeling) of the late 70’s that is only comparable to “Dresden”.
- The influence of Iggy’s “Lust For Life” really only applies to the very early stages of the song and the verse. Iggy’s line “I’m just a modern guy” became “I was thrown into this world by chance.” Once living at the NYN loft I wrote the bridge and chorus, which were very influenced by what I learned on the guitar from my band mates, especially the rock’n roll boogie riffing, which I did not know while still in Germany.
- The catalog is not clear as of who is the author of this entry, but I do agree with most of what is written and it actually broadens my understanding of my own song and it is a pleasure to experience the words of someone who reflects on the song and its context in some debt.
It is a truly a deep and satisfying experience to learn that a simple rock’n roll song, my very first, 35 years later through the intelligent reflection and presentation, can be elevated and seen as a true piece of art and put in context of history and other artists who I admire.