#9 Unter Dem Rhein- FSK Part 1: Why are the Americans Yodeling?

FSK or Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle is an Experimental/Rock/Folk ensemble from Munich. They started as an art-rock/ punk band slowly drifted into what can only be described as germericana, and out of that to a kind of ambient acoustic trance.

In 1990 they contacted me about producing their next album.  In early 1991 in the midst of songwriting and demoing for the first Cracker album, John Morand and I produced Son of Kraut.  It was to be the beginning of a long collaboration with the band that also involved Johnny Hickman.  Sometime later that Year Johnny Hickman and I traveled to Germany and toured with FSK for a full month.  It was an interesting tour not just  because of the collaboration between FSK and Cracker, but because we  did quite a few shows in the recently re-united east. The party after the fall of the communist government was over,  and many of the cultural touches unique to the East remained. It remained a rather surly collectivist place (but not without a fatalistic sense of humor). For instance There weren’t many hotels yet.  So one night we all slept together in one room upstairs above the bar.  The wall was lined with bunks  three high.  It was like sleeping in an Oscar-I class Soviet submarine.  Another night we stayed in a “hotel”  that was more like a workers dormitory.  At 8 AM martial music began blaring from a speaker in the ceiling.  It couldn’t be turned off.  The tour had been sponsored by Phillip Morris,  they gave us sample packs of cigarettes to give away at shows.  At the end of the tour we went to a kabob stand at 2 AM in East Berlin and sold some of the leftover cartons to shady Russians in track suits. It was like The Third Man. There were some other rather edgy moments. FSK was in the habit of playing the DDR (east german) anthem in the West Germany.  But it produced some confused and oddly enthusiastic responses in the East.

When I was working with FSK they were in their germericana phase. Thomas Meinecke had some ideas about taking the German folk music that had made it’s way to America, and re-interpreting and folding it back into modern German rock culture. For instance in the 1840′s many Germans and Bohemians moved to Texas. Their music mixed with the local Mexican music and produced what is known as Texas Bohemian style.*  We took several of these songs and put them back into FSK germericana formula. We re-exported them to Germany.  FSK called this grand concept “The Transatlantic feedback”. There were three collaborations with FSK. Son of Kraut, The Sound of Music, and International. Each album was a little different in it’s own way but all of them were part of the transatlantic feedback concept. Most people understood the whole concept,  I mean Germans are a cerebral bunch.  Not always of course one night a drunk woman started asking very loudly during the show “Why are the Americans yodeling?”

Unter Dem Rhein or literally Under the Rhine is a sly reference to the former German neighborhood in Cincinnati “Over the Rhine”.  The song melodies are taken from two different Pennsylvania Dutch* folk songs.  The words to the second half are either 1) nonsensical words intended for children 2) from a very old and obscure dialect of german  or 3)  a Thomas Meinecke (lyricist for FSK ) absurdist touch in the vein of Monty Pythons’ Wenn ist das Nunstruck git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!”

Unter Dem Rhein by FSK. mit David Lowery

This next song is a track from the third collaboration International.  I enjoy saying collaboration in regards to working with Germans.  I hope you’ve noted it by now.  This tells the story of a Baader-Meinhof terrorist who has been in hiding in the US for many years.  She has teamed up with urban drug dealers.  She is arrested on narcotics charges but later her true identity is discovered.  I wrote half the song in english and handed it off to Thomas Meinecke who finishes the story in German  (Michaela sings it).

(Gudrun and Holger are members of the Baader-Meinhof gang.  Tasha and Booker are her new partners in america).

Red Sonja- FSk with David Lowery

Even Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) get’s into the act.   I was working with Mark on vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot at the same time we were working on International.  Here Mark plays the UN interpreter translating the song from German to English.

Flagge Verbrennen (Regierung Ertranken)- FSK with Mark Linkous

Finally here is a performance from that tour in 1991

Dr. Bernice-David Lowery and Johnny Hickman with FSK

Stay tuned for part II (shiner song, Dr Bernice, and Eurotrash girl)

*Pennsylvania Dutch is not Dutch but a dialect of German.

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Poor Red Sonja
Never had a clue
She’d be busted down
in Charleston town
some Saturday
some Saturday

seems so far away
so kiss me now, kleine Frau
Wie’s gudrun tat
und holder tat

ein teurer BMW
Virginia nummernschild
Tasha, booker und ihr kleines kind
Die konspirative wohnung
out in forest hill
neue kleider, neue politik
neue kleider, neue politik

13 Responses to “#9 Unter Dem Rhein- FSK Part 1: Why are the Americans Yodeling?”

  1. Ade Brown Says:

    remarkable timeliness your random choices have.

    I took Greenland with me to see Howe Gelb, Giant Sand, A Band of Gypsies and Kristin Hersh today. And when I got home, Thomas Meinecke’s latest (2009) CD had arrived from Germany. I’d just bumped into his facebook page after it popped on your friends list and thought I’d fill in some of my gaps in FSK (I have your three coolaborations).

    Excellent stuff. Wish they’d come back to London so I could entice Mr Mungo back to the smoke.

  2. Didn’t know Thomas Meinecke had a solo CD, thanks Ade!

    Flagge Verbrennan and Red Sonja are actually on The Sound Of Music (along with the Shiner Song). That albim is awesome. I Want Out of The Circus is on International, as is the beautifully weird version of Eurotrash Girl (which ended up being sampled by even weirder band Chicks On Speed). Also on Son Of Kraut is When It’s Raining In Texas… Hopefully that will randomly appear on this blog at some point too!

    How did you and FSK come across each other in the first place? Always wondered how that came about.

  3. My girlfriend — Mexican American — is always telling me that certain styles of Mexican music is basically German Polka, re-styled. Is this true?

  4. B1g D1pper Says:

    Always wondered about the FSK – Cracker connection. This is some of the best music I’ve never heard! Funny how I knew I would like the tracks just from reading about them in your blog. Of course I do know Dr. Bernice — I really like this version.

  5. kevinday Says:

    yes, i always wondered about the FSK connection and what ever happened to them? loved the tracks on bobs car but never did get the othe cd’s

  6. Dave, what do you know about sleeping arrangements on an Oscar Type 1? First time I saw Cracker was when you guys played the Naval Academy. We had rode our boat (SSN 640 James K. Polk) up from Norfolk. We were a bunch of enlisted pukes surrounded by all these midshipmen. Good times.

    • Damn special ops submariner. don’t hear that too often. yeah well we’ve never had to “hot rack” on tour. i was a mathematician, I briefly worked for a company that did some work for the Navy.

  7. that’s good times. It was many a times that CBV and Cracker got me through some monotonous underways. luckily they played san diego, and berkely. I can’t thank you guys enough!
    bob james (former QM2/SS USS POLLACK SSN 603 and USS LA JOLLA SSN 701)

  8. my typing skills are very suspect, let me correct CVB. must have been a temporary bout of dislexia.

  9. Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle, facinating, just where this is coming from!remarkable you actualy touching a inside core of European culture alright David, incredible information to learn, where the tree started to grow for your music, FSK, could go a long way today, as translated in today lango,” its your choice”.

  10. Mark STS1 (SS/DV) Says:

    Dave, you sly dog, you know way more about submarines than the average joe blow off the street! Obviously youv’e struck some good chords with Sublant and Subpac. Here’s to you and Johnny, may your songs always be pumping down below and ringing out from the Horse and Cow!

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