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Exist Yesterday.

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1929: Claire Waldoff


This week I'm thinking about a 1929 recording by German kabarett performer Claire Waldoff.

Remembered for her obstreperous satirical performances, in which she wore rumpled men's clothing and snarled feminist critiques of Weimar-era politics in working-class Berlinisch slang, Waldoff had been a kabarett star since 1907, and was one of Berlin's preeminent gay icons, living in an openly lesbian relationship with her life partner Olga von Roeder. She wrote relatively little of her material, working closely with several composers and satirical lyricists (many of whom were, naturally, Jewish), but some of her most popular work was with light, uncontroversial operettist Walter Kollo and later, his son. This song, "Dear Hurdy-Gurdy Man," is pure pre-War nostalgia, the lyrics a reverie about hearing an street musician play pseudo-Viennese music actually composed in Berlin, while the striving, pushy world of 1929 Berlin forces the singer out of her Berlin home.

Willi Kollo's music is appropriately pseudo-Viennese in the light, dreamy vein popular around the turn of the century (and which his father had very much imitated), and Waldoff's performance is sweeter and even more vulnerable than usual (for comparison, listen to 1926's more characteristically boisterous "Raus mit den Männern ausm der Reichstag", in which she calls for women to bum-rush men out of politics). It's a rare instance of outright sentimentalism in her discography; perhaps a prefiguring of what was to come, as she was one of the few kabarett performers not to be hounded out of the country by the Nazi regime (though as a cross-dresser and a lesbian she was hardly celebrated either, and was intermittently banned from stages), and in fact her last public performances were for German troops during World War II.

Whether or not German kabarett truly qualifies as Vernacular Pop as I've been constructing the term over the past weeks — it's certainly not a music that sprang from colonial contact or non-European origins — it's difficult to overlook the urban Jewish influences baked into it, and while it was always a commercial theatrical tradition rather than originating pseudo-spontaneously in docks and streets, the tools which the state used to control or excise kabarett performances are not unlike those that colonial or settler-colonial authorities used to attempt to quash music like jazz, tango, samba, chaabi, and more. This is a work in progress; I'd be interested to hear anyone else's thoughts on the subject.