The dream is over!
Personal reflections on the death of Rio Reiser (Ton Steine Scherben) - * 9 January 1950; † 20 August 1996
I wrote this article in September 1996, shortly after the death of Rio Reiser, for the German nonviolent anarchist magazine ‘Graswurzelrevolution’. It was published in issue 212, October 1996 (http://www.graswurzel.net/212/scherben.shtml). In March 2017 I added – first in the Spanish translation – a personal update.
I dreamt, the winter was over You were here and we were free And the morning sun shined There was no fear and nothing to lose There was peace with the humans and among the animals. That was paradise (1)
The dream is over. Rio Reiser is dead. When I read the news in the paper, I first just took notice. Only in the days that followed I realised how important the music and the lyrics of Rio Reiser and the “Scherben” have been to me.
I discovered Ton Steine Scherben quite late, in the early 1980s, while I was doing my apprenticeship in a big chemical multinational. The great times of the Scherben already were gone, but nevertheless especially the lyrics of the early Scherben did touch my nerve as no other band.
Good morning! When I then pick myself up Good morning! And go off to work Good morning! And already from far away Good morning! I can see the factory this friendly box made of clinker brick then I say to myself: what the fuck another fine day (2)
This feeling when your alarm interrupts your sleep early in the morning and you need to go to work, to a work you don’t care about – I never heard it expressed as convincing as by Ton Steine Scherben. Songs like this one, but also "Feierabend" (Finishing time), "Wir müssen hier raus, das ist die Hölle…" (We have to get out of here, this is hell...) exactly matched what I felt in the early 1980s, similar to what many others felt in the 1970s. These songs touched the nerve of a youth working in large industries and betrayed of any self-determination, and which could not see any future worth living in this.
But the Scherben were more than just a means to let go of frustrations. With songs such as "Schritt für Schritt ins Paradies" (Step by step to paradise), or even more with "Der Traum ist aus" (The dream is over) they invite you to dream, they give you the power and courage for the struggle for change. No surprise then that especially in the early 1970s the Scherben were almost the “cult band” of the apprentice and more broadly the youth centre movement. More than once after a concert of the Scherben people occupied disused buildings and proclaimed a self-organized youth centre.
The dream is over The dream is – over But I’ll give everything for it to become a reality But I’ll give everything for it to become a reality Is there a country on the earth, where the dream is a reality? I don’t really know it I know just one thing and I’m sure about it This country isn’t it This country isn’t it This country isn’t it This country isn’t it The dream is over at this time But not for much longer – get ready For the battle for paradise We have nothing to lose except our fear It is our future, our country Give me your love, give me your hand (3)
Even though this song even today at least for me is almost an anthem, an anthem of utopia, of a nonviolent society without hierarchies (even though the Scherben certainly were not nonviolent), it is not possible to reduce the Scherben to their early songs (which unfortunately happens a lot). With the decrease of youth protests at the mid of the 1970s also the lyrics of Ton Steine Scherben lost their revolutionary impatience. As much as they could sing "Keine Macht für Niemand" (No power for nobody - http://lyricstranslate.com/en/keine-macht-f%C3%BCr-niemand-no-power-noone.html) or "Macht kaputt was euch kaputt macht!" (Destroy what is destroying you), the revolution did not happen, and with resignation and defiance the Scherben sang on against it:
And we will go up to the end of this path and I know we will see the sun When the night is at its darkest the day is most close (4)
But the “Left” disappeared – on the one hand into the dogmatic communist groups, which while trying to chat-up the “proletarian masses” could not do with the undogmatic songs of the Scherben, but on the other hand there grew something new: alternative projects, the ecological movement, the women’s movement, and more. And this did also impress on the Scherben, and they moved from the left “metropolis” Berlin to the countryside, onto a farm in Fresenhagen, where they created their alternative project.
These different Scherben reflected a change in the “Left”, which no longer saw people reduced to revolutionary struggle and everything else was just a “secondary contradiction”. Now, personal disappointments, hopes, disorientation and despair formed an integral part of the songs of the Scherben, along the “political” themes, in line with the understanding that especially the “private” is also and above all political. Some of the old leftist fighters condemned this as depolitisation. Of course, you could no longer turn the songs of the “new” Scherben into slogans, but nevertheless I also liked these Scherben.
And all the lies finish you off: Hold on to your love. When the November wind blows away your hope, And you are so tired because you don't know anymore how this will go on When your cold bed won't let you sleep: Hold on to your love (5)
With songs such as "Der Turm stürzt ein" (The tower collapses) the Scherben appeared a few years later a bit more optimistic, even though no longer positively utopian as in "Schritt für Schritt ins Paradies" (Step by step to paradise). Only the hope for a collapse of capitalism, "shining by eaten away by rust" is expressed, but nothing takes its place. In other songs one can find much more melancholy and doubts:
Why wake up human weaknesses Why hide good and bad in bed Why was I thrown onto this world Why am I told all the time only this one thing Future matters Your condition doesn’t count Everything is correct Everything is normal (6)
And so the Scherben never represented musically the new peace movement, that was better done by the “Bots” (who nobody knows nowadays) or by others who, in line with the lack of depth of this movement provided the “peace, love and happiness” music requested. And the Scherben could not provide this, especially not then, and their songs were well to thoughtful and did not relate to the daily politics of this peace movement.
Nevertheless did the Scherben also during these times play for the social movements: concert for Nicaragua, the human chain of the peace movement between Ulm and Stuttgart (more than 100km), and more. But requested were here above all the “old” Scherben.
But there were also some other Scherben, neither resigned nor caught in their “old” slogan, and I do not know how often some of my diverse flatshares had to endure this song. With "Laß uns'n Wunder sein" (Let us be a wonder) the Scherben presented a different love song, not full of kitsch and praising the luck of coupledom, but trying to express a different way of living love and relationship in text and music:
I do not want That you belong to me That you serve me and adore me That you think of me all the time Hang on to me such as a piece of jewellery Catch the mice for me And endows me all of your life Let us be a wonder A wonderful wonder Not just you and me alone Couldn’t that be nice Couldn’t that be wonderful (7)
After “Rio I”, the first solo album of Rio Reiser, I slowly lost sight of him, but just because of that Rio’s music and lyrics did not become any less important. And even though between "Der Traum ist aus" (The dream is over) and "König von Deutschland" (The king of Germany) there are worlds, even on "Rio I" one can find songs and lyrics that remind you clearly of the old Ton Steine Scherben.
Oh the moon shines, slowly and golden Above the clouds looks down on trees, on sleeping flowers Deers and bunnies Mountains and valleys, lawns and forrests Oh, it’s a beautiful country At night At night – When the sun on the other side of the earth downs its rays into the streets and huts of Rio and Sao Paulo At night – When the sun far far away in the east in Bombay and Calcutta and New Delhi burns into the eyes of the children At night And not even then because the deepest wounds even at night are glaringly illuminated At night And not even then because at night the more than aware eyes see ten times sharper Not even then (8)
This reminded me of the fences of Wackersdorf (where at the time a nuclear reprocessing plant was under construction – later abandoned), or other mega projects of the time such as the census or the new identity cards. "Bei Nacht" (At night) or auch "Junimond" (June moon), both more quiet and melancholic songs, which do not represent a break from the "Scherben" but rather continuity. Rio no longer was the youthful rebel who convincingly could sing "Keine Macht für Niemand" (No power for nobody), but he was nevertheless more political and profound than all of the so-called polit-rockers of the time, from Herbert Grönemeyer to Wolf Mahn.
And again and against when listening to some of the old albums I discovered new songs which in my situation at the movement made sense and were important, which touched me and expressed well how I felt at the time:
And I imagine my work or earlier, at school mondays these normal pals polishing their potency*) Oh my god, they are so liberal they slag just in passing again about these faggots I smile at them and say quite cool: you know, I’m gay myself (9)
*) in German, this can also mean to masturbate
Rio is dead. To me he was at different times of quite different importance: as rebel, anarchist, proud gay man (even though the gay coming out only later appeared in the songs). Rio is dead. The dream is over. Now it is up to us: -
But I’ll give everything for it to become a reality
Update, march 2017
20 years after I wrote these reflections on the death of Rio Reiser I still listen to his music, and during the last weeks more than usual. His music again expresses well how I feel right now. Because of falling in love during the last week I first listened again a lot to “Laß uns 'n Wunder sein” (Let us be a wonder), and now – because it is a love unresponded – I listen to some other songs, which sometimes make me cry:
Clouds move west to east I lie in bed and think of you And how things used to be Magic land has burnt down, And still burning somewhere Magic land has burnt down, And still burning like a pyre (10)
Of course, I don’t imagine how it was in the past, as I only lived the illusion of love. Nevertheless, magic land has burnt down, and I still feel far far away from what this song expresses:
The world looks up to my window with tired eyes, all dusty and shy. I am up here on my cloud. I see you come, but you go past. But it doesn't hurt anymore, no it doesn't hurt anymore. And everything stays silent and no storm comes up when I see you. It's over, bye, bye. June moon. It's over, it's over, bye, bye. (11)
And in the meantime, I hold on to my love.
(...) When your cold bed won't let you sleep: Hold on to your love. (12)
|(1) Der Traum ist aus; album Keine Macht für Niemand, 1972, http://www.riolyrics.de/song/id:44
(3) Der Traum ist aus
|(6) Alles ist richtig; album Ton Steine Scherben IV, 1981, http://www.riolyrics.de/song/id:10
(12) Halt dich an deiner Liebe fest