Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #15

We reach the halfway mark in our guide to those songs others want you to hear with an impressive piece from someone who linked to the wrong post in talking up this feature the other day but we still like his work a lot, Shane from The Torture Garden:

Sunset Rubdown - We Got Broken Eyes

I guess I should apologise. This post isn't very indie, it's isn't funny, and it's probably not a simple read. But it is true, and real, and important. And I would have been lying if I picked a different song, even if it would have made nicer reading.

In 1950 the ruling Socialist Unity Party in the Democratic Republic of Germany demolished what remained of the war-torn Berlin Stadtschloss - the palace of the old monarchy. In its place they built a colossal amalgamation of glass and metal, a construction designed to legitimise themselves in the city which for so long had been the base of German Empire, of one kind or another. The Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) was more than just a house of parliament, it was a statement designed to say: "We have arrived."

It appeared on the East German currency, showing its position at the end of the city's main street, and visible from the walled-off Brandenburg Gate. It towered next to the Berliner Cathedral, reminding churchgoers that they were as near to the State as to God.

Forty years later, around the time of German reunification, the building was found to be riddled with asbestos and closed for the health of the general public. It rotted for the next sixteen years, a once impressive symbol of history like the shell of a great dead insect, finally expired after living off the people for so long. When I arrived in Berlin last year, it seemed to me the perfect symbol of all that had gone wrong with German history - a great monument to fucking up right in the centre of a beautiful city. Sometimes art exhibitions were held in the cleaned areas inside the ruined and trashed building - the reflective glass broken and tarnished, the great hammer and compass symbol removed or stolen. There was a wild feeling of victory walking in that building, turned inside out, an entire oppressive state put behind glass for a museum.

This song is the song to demolish buildings to. This song is for breaking windows, for fixing things with righteousness and force. The brutal crunch chords at its opening are designed to tell you that whatever it makes you feel, it is in the moment. Its lyrics are what to shout as you topple a government that considered you lacking, wrong in whatever you way you were made.

In many ways, I don't know what to say about this song. Part of me doesn't want to tell you anything about it. You might consider that for all this joyful violence it entails, it ends quite gently. To which I say that in Berlin now, as in much of the former GDR, nostalgia for the East German state is a surprisingly powerful force. The Palast is being removed from sight - not violently, but slowly and carefully, being dismantled in the reverse order of the way it was built. In its place the State has decided to rebuild the old Stadtschloss, with private money, and remove the powerful symbol of what East Berliners did in 1989 - and instead pretend that nothing ever happened.

So I guess, when the song is over, just play it again. And see how melancholy the entire winding-down of the song is, how gently it yields, and grows up. Maybe this entire analogy is meaningless to everyone else, but I just can't separate the Palast from the song. This whole romantic tragedy is summed up my the fact that, like the building itself, this song is simultaneously huge, awful and beautiful. It's a weird coincidence that these things can connect like that, but the feeling produced is undeniably wonderful. So I figured I should share it while I can, because the Palast will be gone in six months.

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