"Haider is worth a statement to me, but not a song!"
Hubert von Goisern in BISZ interview about his just finished tour, the criticism from the Haider camp - sympathisers and those from the circle of folk musicians. Hannes Heide spoke with Hubert von Goisern.
The big spring tour from Hubert von Goisern and his Alpinkatzen recently came to an end. 20,000 excited visitors at the festival in St. Gallen, Switzerland, 60,000 at the concerts in Germany, about the same number in Austria. That is one side. The man who was brought into the charts by folk music from the Salzkammergut personally takes stock in this interview, which he gave the BISZ shortly before his departure to Cologne for album recordings.
HvG: For the first time, I had a substantial amount to do with an industry on the tour. Not with the record industry, but with the event industry. I had learned from experience that a lot inefficiently expires on this level, that is handled with careless energy - with people power and money. The personal stress, to which everyone involved is exposed, is badly paid in comparison to what is converted. And if you look at it with regards to the money, it was more efficient to play in front of 1000 people in Graz than in front of 5000 in Goisern, apart from the empirical value of playing in front of so many people.
Last year you all played in full halls. What was different on this tour from last year?
The stress has grown. In the end the routine became broken in. But nevertheless I believe that we were especially successful despite the stress. Mind you, I don't want to repeat particular things. For example, I won't play in any sports or tennis halls. I also don't want anything more to do with certain organisers.
How different were the experiences in Austria and Germany?
Germany is not such a victim of Hiatamadl. The people who came were, in the face of what was offered, much more open than in Austria, where some people came - I reckon around 20 per cent - who imagined something very different, something Musikantenstadl-like, something for the beer tent. We persuaded half, they liked it. The other half of the 20 per cent just didn't. Next time they won't come. Instead, others will come who stayed at home this time because they had expected beer tent music. But on the whole, you can't moan about a sold out tour.
What were the highlights of this tour?
In Austria, certainly Kufstein and Vienna. Kufstein because it was a wonderful result. Well played, the audience pleasant. It rained the whole day, the Hohtraxlecker played the rain away. Heast as net merged into a firework display that was let off for 800 years of Kufstein. Everyone went home with shining eyes. I felt very honoured that they invited us of all people to this celebration.
The Viennese Stadthalle was also something special, because the people went with it so. It was satisfying that they liked it, although it had nothing to do with them. It is a gratification when you are accepted somewhere else. It is also a component which played with Kufstein. That is simply another cultural area!
The same in St. Gallen in Switzerland in front of 20,000 people. It fills you with great pride when you are judged by the organiser and media as the best act of a festival, among names like Jethro Tull or Lucio Dalla, you have also felt the reaction of the people which takes place. The sun comes out for you of all people, after it rained the whole day and 20,000 hands reach out to you...
In Germany, the big festivals were an experience: Regensburg, Tollwood in Munich was sold out with 4000 people. Reichenhall or Hamburg: what stress it was to play there. Nevertheless it was great. Ian Anderson said to me: "For them you must be like somebody from Mars!" When somebody like that says that to you, looks at you and your music, then that gives you a great deal...
Goisern was something special, but not the best experience!
Your statements about Jörg Haider seem to go down well at the concerts. Outside them, the number of those who criticise you for it seems to grow. What is your impression?
I find that during the concerts, there are only positive reactions. It's clear to me that some do not identify with it. It is understandable that they do not advertise themselves when they know themselves to be in the striking minority.
You are a conversational artist and as such, you have not dealt with politics in your concerts - an opinion which was also to be heard!
I don't know whether my main task is the entertainment of people. People who only want to be entertained stay in front of the television and watch Musikantenstadl. I believe that the media and also many artists underestimate the intelligence of the audience. The politicians demand, the schools can demand, free time must demand. What is with art? I don't see that Jörg can speak to Thomas Bernhard and say: "Away with the villain out of Vienna". Something I would never say about Jörg. Incidentally, that's a quotation from Karl Kraus. Or Haider thinks: "Redskins and blacks belong in reservations!"; says to Vranitsky and Busek: "Pack them up and throw them in the garbage"; says of political opponents: "leeches, anarchists, smarty-pants!" Someone for whom all demonstrators are "mobs" and scientists "academic vermin", should not wonder when he is also criticised.
If only more politicians could judge politicians, where would we be then? "Holding your mouth" is always a request for censorship. And censorship is always accompanied by dictatorship.
Culture without politics is like politics without culture. Other musicians also allow themselves be carried away to clear political statements and criticism of politicians. Why do you think people especially resent the politicising with you?
Fate? The more popular you are, the more people concern themselves with you, the more you become a rubbing tree. That doesn't upset me. It is satisfying when I get a reaction. When people talk about it in the pub, it shows that they are having a look, beginning to think about it. There is only criticism of my Haider speech "at home" in Goisern. You can't forget that Jörg has great support here. Most Goiserers are certainly not Haider fans. But many are nevertheless proud because he is someone who has come from their midst. I am not proud ...
Don't you think that people simply have less experience with the cultural business and therefore such statements, which belong to culture, which are common at a concert, appear strange to the people here?
People are very well informed about the cultural business via the media, they know exactly what is happening. Only everything that is said is very far away. Now someone comes along, who is from there and criticises something that is there. And that is unpleasant to think about for some people. Many repeat the message, because for them Jörg is "one of us, even if we didn't vote for him".
But you are also "one of us"!
For the Haider supporters, I am a denigrator of my own country. Now remains the question, who denigrates it more, Haider or me. It's also funny that the Haider sympathisers push at something they see as a virtue: "He says what he thinks!" It's interesting when Haider fans of all people demand the clarity from the artist that is far from Haider. His fans demand a language their idol is not capable of.
How should Jörg hold back?
Haider plays a not unimportant role in Austrian political life, he polarises. For that reason, I would never say "away with Haider", but rather he should treat his power more carefully. He should not play with fire. That is an affair, with danger of fire when you look to Germany. A quotation from historian Ernst Hanisch occurs to me: "Whoever radicalises language must know that he thereby also radicalises thinking and acting!" Therefore I would require of him: "Haider as clever!"
Do you know Jörg Haider personally? Would you shake hands with him if you met? Can you and do you want to do without the Haider fans as concert visitors or record buyers?
I have not yet had anything to do with him personally, I would shake hands with him. I don't want to do without Haider fans, but I also don't want to chum up to them!
Why must you distance yourself from Jörg Haider? Aren't your music and lyrics enough in that regard?
It already comes out for those who follow the programme attentively! Why should I always limit everything I say to songs? Haider is worth a statement to me, but not a song!
But Waldheim was worth a song!
Yes, but at that time that was a really interesting story. But I make the Haider statement because I am really ashamed. Where you are, you will remember that Haider is from Goisern too.
I meet people who ask whether there are really loud Nazis in the Salzkammergut, whether Goisern is a brown nest. That annoys me, because I know that it is not so. I want to correct the picture.
"If folk music didn't change, then it would be dead music!"
Hannes Heide spoke with Hubert von Goisern. In the second (and last) part of the BISZ interview, it covers his understanding of folk music and his relationship with those folk musicians, from whom criticism of his music was recently to be heard.
Today he is whiling away the time in a studio in Cologne, in order to finish the recordings for his new record. Before his departure, he makes himself available for the questions from the BISZ. In the second part of the interview, Hubert von Goisern answers to the criticism of the circle of folk musicians and explains his understanding of folk music. And the high suicide rate in his homeland area also comes into the conversation: but many think he should omit references to it in his concerts.
To what extent does criticism annoy you?
It depends on your daily state of mind, when you read the criticism. Criticism then hurts when somebody misunderstands or does not understand you. My statements are not so cryptic either that it would not be understandable, which position I take as far as my musical side and also my social engagement is concerned. Whoever doesn't get what it's about, suggests ignorance to me first of all.
What does the criticism mean with regard to your opinion about Haider?
Critical statements to the Haider statement make me conscious of how it comes across. It is important that it arrives exactly there - with Haider voters. I want to find a language, where I can criticise without antagonising. Criticism is very important.
Does that also go for the critics from the ranks of folk musicians, who, as a countermove, you call fundamentalists - is that a fair comparison?
Bad criticism is better than none at all. It does not annoy me when someone says that what I do is not folk music. That is a view of folk music which is not in accord with mine. That is a concept which each person interprets differently. For me, folk music is not old and venerable, but rather what people make their own music. Take Heast as net: at the moment, that is much more folk music than Von der hohen Alm auf die nieder Alm. The attitude of "what I say is right!" annoys me. That is fundamentalism, which excludes any renewal, each change. If life were not so versatile, then Earth would be a dead planet. And if folk music did not change, then it would be dead music!
What can folk musicians learn from you, what can you learn from them?
I don't know what they can learn from me. I can learn from the others. I learn song material from the folk musicians, which would otherwise be missing, intangible. I have never said, "do it like me, then everything will be better". Perhaps you can learn general stories from me. When you want to do something, when you have a vision, therein you can also realise them. As I began with your project, lots of people said, "it's all rather too late with folk music". You should not let yourself be diverted from your path by know-it-alls.
You have played music with musicians from Goisern twice for TV programmes, once for the ORF and once for Bayerischer Rundfunk. There is the reproach that you would have only surrounded yourself with folk musicians in order to legitimise your music as folk music.
I knew back then how controversial the story would look. But it was an express wish from the ORF studio. The thing with the Bayerischer Rundfunk: it was important to me to document where I took my inspiration from. You must not forget that it is about one individual man who has a problem with what I do. There is a big portion of envy. Some people have a very hard time accepting that I have created a generation access to folk music, an access to the music of the Goiserer Viergesang too. For many it is so hard that in contrast, they merge into attack. Despite criticism from Lois Neuper, despite the fact that he can't get anywhere with my music, I still really like the music from the Goiserer Viergesang, I still really like his singing, his bass and guitar playing!
It is said that a folk musician said that if you were to sing Kuahmelcher, he would shoot you dead. Now Kuahmelcher is in the programme.
If Fritz Toifl, who is a great role model, but who also has a jokiness, says that, then I take it seriously when I do the Kuahmelcher. I approach the Kuahmelcher accordingly. When Neuper told me that "we never sing Kuahmelcher the same, it's always different," then you can imagine how different it is when other groups sing it. I would like to use one of these many possibilities. And I'm not saying that mine is the official one, the only true one.
I promise Toifl that in the Kuahmelcher, as we sing it live, as it will be on the new record, is all my musicality, my heart and my understanding. People should then judge how they like it. If I take the message from "shooter" seriously, then I put myself at the same level as the letter writer who has a good look at whether or not how to tie a knot for suicide is really being taught in the second class of elementary school.
Is the subject of suicide not oversimplified in the form in which you handle it?
I received a personal criticism, I should stop telling everyone that so many people in Goisern are hanging themselves. The subject if suicide may be taboo. But if it is not spoken about, then nothing changes. I was 14 years old when I saw someone had hanged themselves in front of our house. A female friend in Vienna threw herself from the sixth floor. A normal person thinks about it, I think aloud.
When I speak about suicide at a concert, the message is very clear anyway. I believe in a certain earth radiation that there is in Goisern, in a power field, which runs very strangely in many people. You also feel it in the folk music. That goes amazingly deep. You have a crazy feeling of happiness, on the other hand a terrible blues.
In Canada, I was confronted with suicidal feelings myself. I stood up on a multi-storey building and wanted to dash myself down. There you are totally alone and nothing makes sense any more. When you try to think about it, you see it is a dead end. When nothing makes sense anymore, calculated suicide of all things does not have to be the only meaningful thing!
In a reader's letter in the BISZ, you are labelled as a "comrade". Where do you feel you belong politically?
I feel politically undenominational. I readily confess that I voted Green in the last election. But I am also not shy of saying that I see capable people in all parties: Lacina, Vranitsky, Mock, Schlüssel I count among them, but Petrovic, Wabl and Pilz too.
There is nobody from the Freedom Party there!
The Freedom Party is a collection of very individual people, cue Mölzer, cue Rumpold, who once said: "You're all hounds, you artists!" As a party in their current form, the FPÖ is not the one I can get something positive from. I also think that there are people in the FPÖ who are capable. Only you don't hear anything from them.
In Germany, you play concerts for Renate Schmidt, the top candidate from the SPD for the regional elections.
Renate Schmidt was likeable to me from the start. In Bavaria, the SPD is a crass outsider. Renate Schmidt is someone I trust. I have no reservations about the SPD, the CDU or the FDP. It's not about or pushing one party or the other for me, but personalities I hold to have integrity. Otherwise, only party servants, the busybodies would get a look in from now on. Those who have a thick skin. Insensitive people who are not affected by the huge problems of our time and are also incapable of coping with these current problems...
Anarchist in the hayloft
An older woman in a red dirndl dress is thrilled, the children are excited, the father too, on whose shoulders sit the three and four year olds and shout "Hubert, Hubert". Hubert, Hubert stamps across the stage, pushes the accordion together. Yodels and rock with open mountain boots and braces. A year ago he was still a nobody, today he is one of Austria's most popular rock folk musicians. Double platinum for rock music with Upper Carniola groove, lederhosen and rap. Hayloft songs from amplifiers with thousands of watts, dry ice clouds and colour organs.
Behind the stage waits a young lad with hand towels on his arm for Austria's Alpine Zappa, the man from Bad Goisern, a 40 year old lone wolf. He needed ten years for the breakthrough, for ten years he appeared in small nightclubs, unknown. "Not once did they ignore me!" he says.
The formerly ignored man is exhausted after the two hour open air in front of thousands of fans and walks silently across a closed off square into a guesthouse. They are already waiting for him there, the introverted alpine rebel. A five year old boy wants an autograph on his jeans, the mother, a woman in her mid-thirties, also wants an autograph on her trouser leg. "And your name too?" asks Hubert and moves the pen deliberately across her thigh. At midnight he then finally sits with mountain boots and Indian trousers, with the yodelling girl and Alpinkatzen, in the special room of a Carinthian guesthouse and tells the landlord, who decorates the menu with "Hubert von Goisern": "I would like to have a good wine."
You recently said that it would be hard to cope with success. How are you coping with it now?
At the moment, I think I'm still pretty much on the ground. I am simply really proud that I have kept everything up. I first began to make music professionally when I was 30, and then there were lots of hard times and lots of people who all shook their heads. We recently played in front of 5,000 people and I tried to imagine that the people had all come on account of me. I didn't manage it.
A few years ago, you were still playing music on Kärntner Straße, today you are talked about as Austria's most successful rock musician. A meteoric rise.
I was just as happy when I earned only 15,000 Schillings in a year.
How do you survive with 15,000 Schillings?
Everything works out. I often only ate rice for months at a time, often nothing at all. I lived with friends, otherwise I would not have got through. For the rise: there is the expression: at the right place at the right time with the right message.
What message? If you refrain one time from the fact that you like, or rather, do not like the legs of the "Hiatamadl" (shepherdess)?
I express myself above all with music and music is wordless. For years I wanted to sing no words at all. You get a spoon-fed interpretation, while with pure music, you can fall into it. If there are lyrics, then I am rather for coded lyrics with a certain surrealism.
The surrealism is limited in Hiatamadl.
But there is a big shot of sarcasm in it.
The sarcasm is less to thank for the success than the accordion and the rocky hullabaloo.
It could be that the people do not see the sarcasm that way. Thomas Spitzer said: "A hit is always a misunderstanding."
Your colleagues from the Attwenger duo once made a clear diagnosis of the praise from native critics. At home in Austria, they said, only idiocy rules.
You think that Hiatamadl is idiocy too?
No, the findings are from your colleagues.
I can't say anything to that ... but I believe that stupidity is a widespread epidemic across the whole world.
You moved through the world for years, went from the little Bad Goisern into the apartheid system of South Africa. Far away from folk music and lederhosen. Did you leave?
No, and I also learnt that a black person is a second class person from the little Bad Goisern. We once had a Negro in Goisern, a missionary. When he went into the church, the people were convinced that the church had been desecrated. After four years in South Africa, I also cleared out overnight. There had been only two possibilities: I would become like the whites, or I would become an anarchist.
You say you would combine tradition and anarchy in your music.
Yes, I don't swim against against the tide, but not with it either.
You are trying for a compromise.
It is not an attempt. That is the connection between tradition and anarchy. I really feel both in me. Whatever I don't like, I tear down, everything else, I take on.
What don't you like?
Separatism, boundaries, the idea of a nation.
Jörg Haider also comes from Bad Goisern. Do you know him?
No, not personally, only his father. I once argued with him because he once said at a birthday party for my grandfather that the history of National Socialism will be agreed with. But my girlfriend then kicked me in the shin the whole time to stop me ruining the birthday party. My father still honours the old Haider a great deal and he is a very nice person. Only with National Socialism does it go click.
You say that in the time of National Socialism, folk music would have been "totally whorish". What do you see yourself as then: as innovator of folk music, as adversary to yodeller Joe, as profiteer of the current ethno boom in the pop business?
On the side of folk music, I see myself as anarchist and innovator, for some I am a heretic.
Do you like traditional folk music?
Very much. It touches me unbelievably deeply.
Some people see folk rebels in you and the Attwenger duo, a counterbalance to Karl Moik. What do you think of him?
And apart from nothing? He always has great success.
Yes, but he is a spineless entertainer.
H. C. Artmann says that Karl Moik would be for folk music what acid rain is for the forest.
So what are you for folk music?
A storm after years of drought.