Sunday, October 01, 2006

Silly (band)

Silly is a German rock band. Founded in East Germany in 1978, Silly was one of the country's most popular music acts, and was well known for its charismatic lead singer Tamara Danz.

The band was founded in East Berlin in 1978 as Familie Silly (The Silly Family) by guitarist Thomas Fritzsching and bassist Mathias Schramm. They added Familie to the band's name after East German authorities refused to allow Silly by itself, as it was an English expression; the band claimed that Silly was the name of their mascot, a cat.
The early band also consisted of keyboardists Ulrich Mann and Manfred Kusno and drummer Mike Schafmeier. They recruited singer Tamara Danz through an audition. Danz was the daughter of a diplomat who had previously studied linguistics; she had previously worked as a singer in both the Oktoberclub, a politically charged vocal group, and the Horst-Krüger-Band, a popular progressive rock band.
Silly's first notable concert appearances outside East Germany were in Romania, where the band gained a strong following; it helped that Danz could speak Romanian fluently. They participated in several music festivals, and in 1981 won the Lyra in Bratislava, the communist bloc's best-known music prize (akin to the Sanremo Music Festival). The band was also allowed to perform in Norway.
Unusually, the band's first, self-titled album was released first in West Germany in 1981, where it sold moderately well; this was due in part to the enthusiasm of West German record promoters (including photographer Jim Rakete) for the band, in contrast to the East German state record label Amiga's reluctance to produce an album. With the West German album a fait accompli, Amiga was forced to issue the album domestically, where it was immensely popular. At this time, they also dropped the "Familie" from the band name.
At around this time the band made the acquaintance of poet Werner Karma, who would write the lyrics for the band's albums until 1989. His complex and often politically charged lyrics gave the band a strong intellectual appeal, but frequently landed them in trouble with the censors, who demanded changes before allowing a song to be performed.
In 1982, Danz's then-boyfriend Rüdiger "Ritchie" Barton, joined the band, replacing its two keyboardists. His synthesizer playing lent a New Wave edge to the band's subsequent album, Mont Klamott, named for the "rubbish mountain" in Berlin's Friedrichshain district that was built over the debris of a WWII flak tower. The title track, a massive hit in East Germany, is typical of Karma's narrative writing style, with several overtones. It concerns a conversation between two women, one old and one young; the younger one thanks the city fathers for the hill, which for her is only as a place to catch some fresh air; the older replies to her that it was the city mothers — Germany's Trummerfrauen — who had built the hill from the city ruins.
Mont Klamott was voted East Germany's Album of the Year, cementing Silly's massive popularity. At the time, the band toured constantly, spending most of its time on the road.
Silly's censorship problem became more acute in 1985 when their planned album Zwischen unbefahr'nen Gleisen (Between unused railway tracks; presumably those between the two Germanies), which had been pressed, printed, and was ready for release - was ordered crushed by East German officials, who had taken exception to the "subversive" message of several tracks.
It was eventually released as Liebeswalzer (Waltz of Love), containing rewritten lyrics. The offending songs, "Tausend Augen" ("Thousand Eyes"), "Nur ein Lied" ("Only a Song"), and the title track, were re-recorded with new lyrics and arrangements and renamed "Psycho", and "Großer Träumer" ("Big dreamer"), and "Berliner Frühling" ("Berlin spring"). In 1990, as East Germany was in its dying days, Liebeswalzer was re-released with the three songs in their original form. The unaltered album was finally released on compact disc with both versions, in 1994.
Despite the controversy, Liebeswalzer again was voted Album of the Year, and Silly won one argument with the censors over the word Titten (tits) in the song "So 'ne kleine Frau" (Such a little woman), which was left unaltered.
Schafmeier left the band after Liebeswalzer and was replaced by Herbert Junck. Bassist Jäcki Reznicek, formerly of Pankow (band), played fretless bass as a melody instrument on the title track to the next album, Battailon D'amour (Battalion of Love, 1986), which proved to be one of the best-known songs ever to come out of East Germany. The album was released on CBS Records in West Germany, although CBS rejected the East German cover artwork as amateurish and supplied their own. The song "Schlohweißer Tag" (Snow White Day) was later used in Heiner Carow's 1989 film "Coming Out." After the album was released, Schramm left the band, and was replaced by Reznicek.
Following the success of Bataillon d'Amour, Karma announced to the band that he had grown tired of songwriting, fearing he had nothing more to say. He contributed only two songs to Silly's next effort, Februar, released in that month in 1989. Danz sought the assistance of her friend Gerhard Gundermann in writing lyrics, as Gundermann had already drawn notice for his witty wordplay on his 1988 debut album. Recorded in West Berlin, the album was, like its predecessor, state-of-the-art, and Silly fans consider it a highlight of the band's output. Joining the band was guitarist Uwe Hassbecker, Danz's new paramour, formerly of Stern Meißen, whom she had met while singing in the East German supergroup, Die Gitarreros, in 1986. His heavy metal-inspired playing contrasted with Fritsching's more melodic approach, causing Fritching to be marginalized.
Again, it was released on a West German label, this time Ariola, and again the cover artwork was replaced with a more sophisticated version. While not an enormous hit in the west, the track "Verlorene Kinder" (Lost Children) received significant airplay. The track "Ein Gespenst geht um" (A Ghost Haunts), an oblique political commentary which drew on a quotation by Karl Marx about political change in the air, seemed somewhat prescient in light of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November that year.
However, the end of communism did not lead to a breakthrough for Silly. Although Danz had petitioned the East German government for change during 1989, and illegally read out petitions during the band's concerts, interest in East German bands plummeted after November 9, 1989 when East Germans were able to cross into West Germany and finally get their hands on western rock music. Danz performed as a backup singer at a massive free concert featuring the likes of Joe Cocker following the Wall opening. She later expressed skepticism that her involvement with the Neues Forum reform movement had produced any results.
At the same time, however, the band's West German label believed Silly could be turned into a household name across all of Germany. The band were invited to Bavaria to work on a new album. But Danz felt constrained by the Ariola executives, who deemed the band's songs not commercial, and provided them with music and lyrics by outside writers. Silly walked out.
Instead, Silly's next album would be the self-produced Hurensöhne (Sons of Bitches), released in 1992 on DSB, the successor label to the state-run Amiga. Again, the lyrics were penned by Danz and Gundermann, separately and together; as the album's title suggests, they were angry. The song "Neider" (The Enviers) addresses the band's treatment at the hands of Ariola. The album closer, "Traumpaar" (Dream Couple) imagines the two Germanies as a dancing pair, die Schlampe und der Held — the whore and the hero.
Largely ignored in western Germany, Hurensöhne reestablished Silly as an important band in the east, as fans returned in droves amid disillusionment with German reunification. The group's concerts once again sold out. After the album, Danz, Hassbecker, and Barton began building their own recording studio in Berlin, named Danzmusik. Fritching, the remaining founding member whose guitar contributions had become overshadowed by those of Hassbecker, was asked to leave the band.
During the recording for the follow-up, Paradies, in 1995, Danz was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she was operated on immediately, the disease had spread. She died the following July, five months after the album had come out. Shortly before her death, she married Hassbecker, her live-in partner of many years; she said this was in part to avoid taxes on her share of the studio.
Paradies was the first album on which Danz alone had written the lyrics, and several of its song seem to reflect on her impending death, although Danz denied this, saying that the words had been written before her diagnosis. The album was photographed by the band's old friend Jim Rakete. Despite minimal publicity, and the lack, for obvious reasons, of a tour, it sold reasonably well, and its title track became a radio hit.
The band did not break up after Danz's death; the remaining members completed two unfinished tracks for inclusion on a pair of greatest hits albums, the first of which sold well over 100,000 copies, no small achievement for a compilation of an East German band. The remaining members performed Silly's songs on tour on two occasions, the first "borrowing" singer Toni Krahl from the band City for a number of one-off performances, and in 2005 using several well-known singers on a German tour promoted as a tribute to both Danz and Junck, who had died of cancer earlier in the year.
In 1998, singer Joachim Witt had a hit in Germany with a cover version of "Battailon D'amour."