NINA HAGEN - Personal Jesus
30. September 2012 - D-Zweibrücken, Festhalle
According to the British music magazine Melody Maker, Nina Hagen is “Germany’s most important contribution to pop culture since Brecht.“ Certainly here in Germany one can only agree with that sentiment. But Nina Hagen is not content with success stories; she is concerned about the continuous thread, the truth of her life, her inner, spiritual search. That journey led her to God even when she was still living in East Germany, and she experienced an incredible love story with Jesus, a story that has a beginning but will have no end. This religious love story is also behind her new album, Personal Jesus, which offers a perfect musical mix of rock, blues, and gospel.
Nina Hagen´s personality is difficult to pin down. Nina the “punk singer,” Nina the “frivolous vamp,” Nina the “terror of the bourgeoisie.” Only she knows who Nina Hagen truly is. She is, in any case, a survivor and an extraordinary singer, who has far more to offer than the usual mixture of sex, drugs, and rock ´n´ roll. Nina Hagen´s life story reads almost like a wild road movie, beginning in East Berlin and playing in many places around the globe, and it plays on: Hamburg, to which she followed her stepfather and musical dissident, Wolf Biermann; London, where she dived into the punk scene; Amsterdam, where she lived in a squat; and India, where she had demonic experiences in an ashram. Along the way, she stared love, drugs, and death into the eyes and ultimately found her way back to her deepest roots, namely, the Christian religion.
These roots are revealed in moving childhood memories. “Will YOU go away again, like all the others?” she once asked Jesus, in the night when the story began. The response to this question is at once her solace, hope, and the path to true love: “I am always there. I was always there, and I will always be there!” Nina often tells how, in the middle of her atheistic environment, she encountered early on a forbidden but fascinating being named God.
So it´s no wonder that the new album, in keeping with her credo, is called Personal Jesus, and that in her music she declares her faith in Jesus and in his image as the preacher of a message of love. She does so by selecting and interpreting rock songs, gospel music, and traditional tunes. All of it sounds like Nina Hagen, of course: exciting and unreservedly authentic. Personal Jesus testifies to her inner power and personal faith. Love and peace are basic constants and leitmotifs; they are what counts here, and close study of the New Testament reveals that these things have been the roots of Christian belief from the outset.
Personal Jesus is music “to honor God alone.” It is about the only true magic of words and sounds, which following J. S. Bach´s old principle are sung for God alone. That has always been the point of singing gospel music. Nina Hagen understands that. So her singing is unpretentious and direct. It is fresh and free, as is evident in “God´s Radar,” which is infected by cheerful Cajun sounds. In traditional blues numbers such as “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” she seeks the divine essence of the song. But Nina Hagen is famously one of Germany´s best rock vocalists, and so it comes as no surprise that her bluesy, rocking cover version of the Depeche Mode hit “Personal Jesus” was selected as the first single from the album.
Nina Hagen’s husky voice lends the song the very special Hagen touch. Already by the first measures, we sense that Nina Hagen is living and loving this song. Her interpretation of “Personal Jesus” pays tribute to the original in every respect.
Another musical high point is the Hagenesque version of the famous gospel song “Mean Old World.” Scraping guitars and shuffling percussion define the number´s sound, along with Nina Hagen’s voice; the famous gospel song is led to new, grounded musical shores.
Nina Hagen loves honest blues, as she demonstrates in “Sometimes I Ring Up Heaven.” A song could scarcely have more soul. And finally with the politically motivated Woody Guthrie classic “All You Fascists Bound to Lose,” she fires away with her personal convictions against fascists of all stripes. In a turbulent time of many changes, it all seems pleasantly anachronistic and makes the album timeless.
Personal Jesus is an album that oozes honesty from every pore and has no need for cosmetics. It persuades us with the profundity of its subject matter and the bravura of its sound. The producer, Paul Rössler, and mixer, Peter Schmidt (Ich & Ich, Rosenstolz, among others), should be mentioned here. They were ultimately responsible for the album´s direct and well-rounded sound, which is characterized by acoustic instruments.
Nina Hagen was born in East Berlin in 1955. After completing her studies in singing with honors, she experienced her first success in East Germany (“Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen”). In 1976, she followed her stepfather, Wolf Biermann, to the West, where she founded the Nina Hagen Band and, thanks to her unique voice and staggering stage presence, enjoyed great success. Oscillating between punk lady and provocateur, she established herself as the brashest pop star of West Germany and the only female singer from Germany with an international reputation. In addition to her music, she also performs now and again as an excellent actress, for example, as the evil queen in 7 Dwarfs.
More information on Nina Hagen can be found on her home page: www.einfach-nina.de