Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Japandorf - Ai  /  Love

Ai / Love

Released 2013 on Grönland
Reviewed by phallus dei, 12/04/2013ce

Japandorf - 爱 (ai / love) recorded 2007 - 2008
Released as: Klaus Dinger + Japandorf, Grönland, 2013.

Klaus Dinger represents both the potential and the failed-potential. The potential to be great. The failed potential to be even greater. Any entry into KD's discography has to begin with that mindset. It's part of his "appeal", don't you know? It requires the active involvement of the listener to correct things.

Take for example, his newest album, "Klaus Dinger + Japandorf." In typical Dinger fashion, what should be a killer release is self-sabotaged by poor sequencing, poor marketing, and a poor title. Here, then, is Japandorf - "爱" ; not as it is, but as it could be:
Side One: Immermannstraße / Ai / Udon / Kittelbach Symphony / Sketch No. 1_b / Doumo Arigatou / Spacemelo / Andreaskirche / Osenbe (27'47'')
Side Two: Sketch No. 4 / Cha Cha 2008 / Karnival (26'55'')

The chiming of a bell begins our journey. "Immermannstraße." The beat is more leisurely than I expected. Is this really Dinger? Influenced by the video, I begin to feel that the song's beat is perfectly suited to the slow crawl of a tour boat down the river. Let's put Dinger and his "Japandorf" project into historical context. At the same time that much of the alternative music scene was rediscovering the Japanese rock of the 1970s (thanks in large part to Julian Cope), Klaus Dinger was delving head-first into the local Japanese community of Düsseldorf. Or, to put it another way, while the rest of the world was getting off on Japrock, Dinger was getting off in Japandorf. And it's not until the chord changes and the singer proclaims "Yapandorf, Yapandorf", simultaneously harkening back to and slightly revising the cries of "Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf" from the opening track off the first La Düsseldorf album (1976) that you realize that yes, this really is Dinger.

Dinger's trips into Japandorf would be no typical "tourist" excursions into an "exotic" locale, however, but a total immersion into a foreign culture. Hanging out with other newly-arrived "foreigners" (from the German state's perspective) such as Miki Yui, Kazuyuki Onouchi, Satoshi Okamoto, and Mazaki Nakao, Dinger felt inspired to do one last project. The one that would finally bring Dinger the recognition he deserved. The one that would propel both Dinger and his message into the main-stream. And what was that message? "Love." Just like the Beatles said.

The bright neon lines on the cover are Dinger's rendition of the Japanese kanji / Chinese character "ai." You can see another depiction of "ai" in a desk that Mazaki Nakao made in 2005, which was obviously intended to be part of the larger Japandorf project. Here, as the second track of the album, Dinger explains what "ai" means in German.

The next song is "Udon," named after the traditional Japanese noodle soup. Without reading the credits, it would be easy to mistake the vocalist Mazaki Nakao as Klaus Dinger himself, leading this gang of 21st century self-proclaimed artists into a brand-new cross-cultural adventure. In fact, I'd like to designate Mazaki Nakao on this song as the "replacement Dinger." The video and booklet present the lyrics in English translation: "Udon in Zeeland", "Midsummer". The song is about a specific moment, captured for eternity - like a polaroid - and the lyrics are reduced to the sort of descriptive essentials that you would find written on a polaroid, too. 1

It's when "Dinger" / Nakao begins speaking in a sort of cross-cultural "universal-speak" (a mixture of Japanese, German, and English?), giving instructions on how to make Udon at home, that the Japandorf project really begins to gel. The moment when it goes from being "an interesting conceptual enterprise" to having the emotional presence of Great Art. It's when it all begins to make sense. And you realize that the Dinger beat is essentially Dinger's own pulse, propelling him forward. It doesn't matter who's playing it. It just matters that it's beating.

The next song is a step backwards. Or a step to the side. "Kittlebach Symphony" harkens back to other sentimental songs such as "Satellite of Mine" from the la! NEU? period. The general feel is one of melancholy, of slight weariness, nostalgia. The respectable way for an aging krautrocker to behave. It brings forth associations of Michael Rother and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. So much has been written about Dinger's beat, that what often gets lost sight of is Dinger's unique gift of melody. Looking at the pictures in the booklet, you can see Dinger's appreciation of nature, his attention to detail. And then, the song slowly grabs you out of your sub-consciousness and into a more active state of awakening... and you suddenly start to re-remember the beauty that surrounds you, but is lost in this day-to-day routine - and just as you feel that you are on the verge of a Big Realization - the song ends with a few high notes on the piano and then fades into the sounds of a wooded stream -

- and then the sudden tear of understanding. Like tearing off a scab. It comes at you with the sharp recognition of a buried memory, forcing yourself to reflect back upon yourself, asking yourself where X amount of years went. A sense of déjà vu. And then the sudden awareness that yes, this is Dinger! And it's like the return of a legend! The return of a teenage fling! Someone you knew in college, but lost track of, and now have seen again after a decade or so. And they still have it, they still have that same spark that made you love them in the first place. You can't help but feel a sense of pride. And you're sorry that you ever doubted. That's what "Sketch No. 1_b" is like. Here is Dinger, still. Exploring uncharted lands with his guitar while 1950s sci-fi space ships whiz by. And you suddenly realize why Dinger identified so strongly with NEU! ; why, during the summer 2001 reissue campaign, he hastily scribbled, " Media campaign - Quite ridiculous, unbalanced, + falsified... court possible anytime... this is not NEU!" B/C he invested so much of his own life into it. He lived it. He loved it. This beat is His beat. And His beat is so "simple" that it inspires you, too! Like all the great discoveries. It seems so obvious, so easy, so "of course!" It affirms the potential that humanity is capable of. Always propelling one further, slowing down only enough to catch your breath before the next onslaught... before the euphoria that hits you like an orgasm.

You regain your senses amid the interior of a bookstore on Immermannstraße. Further signs of Dinger's immersion into the local Japanese community. "Doumo arigatou" someone says. But Dinger's not here? Was it recorded after Dinger's death? This brief interlude begins a sequence of tracks that present a coming to terms with Dinger's passing.

At first, the next song appears to be the song where you excuse yourself to take a piss. The archetypal "here's a song from the other guy" song. Only in this case the "other guy" is Dinger's girl - Miki Yui. His wife, at the end. 2 She only recorded the lyrics after Dinger died. Until then, it was an instrumental track. There's a sort of candy-ness, a sort of shallowness to its sound, perhaps because of the recording equipment, or is it because of the ultimate superficiality of the song itself? Yet, shallow or not, the historical circumstances surrounding its creation give the song a presence that it otherwise lacks. A sort of lost potential. A sort of "what if?" You listen closer. Another short, galloping beat... "Feel the music in the air", "sing into the thousand stars", "seeking love." The potential of Dinger; the potential of love.

The church bells that follow add to the nostalgia and sadness. Placing "Andreaskirche" at the end of the album is too fucking obvious. Why highlight Dinger's death when you can stage his Return?

And then Dinger comes down like he's being channeled from heaven - post death, in heaven, just him and two others chanting "Osenbe" by the camp fire. Dinger with his friends and a guitar. And it is totally innocent and not self-aware at all. A self-contained universe. Like that shy girl you had to put forth the effort to know.... But once you got to know her, she opened a portal into another world.

Side two is a motherfucker. At least at the start. Riding in from an eternal beat outta nowhere, "Sketch No. 4" opens onto a wide expanse of plain, before diving in low into the wheat fields. It sounds like the guitar has a light sheen, as if the body of the instrument is reflecting the rays of the sun as it plays. Dinger the guitarist. This whole album is testament to that fact. And when he turns on the echo it is so right! It's like you're doing lines of coke in quick succession... and then its like you're ejaculating across a canyon... and then its like you're having sex with the mother goddess herself! No wonder Dinger died of a heart attack!! I feel out of breath just listening to this!! And what about the drummer? What did Kazuyuki Onouchi feel? You can imagine his glee - "Man, this is my chance at stardom! This is really gonna catch on!" Visualizing his own future utopia to propel both him and Dinger to greatness. Riding the beat while Dinger makes it clear that He is in charge. If nothing else, Dinger believed in showmanship. Michael Rother's complaint about Dinger circa 1974 - "he wanted to be in the front of the stage, playing guitar." Yes, Dinger was a Shaman. He knew how to bring his audience to Climax. And here, at some level, it's like he knew that he was going. Dinger: The Final Transmission.

Followed by the stubborn insistence to do yet another version of Cha Cha 2000. His sixth so far. (And I'm sure the Viva remix will have another.) How does "Cha Cha 2008" measure up? Well, its "only" 13 minutes long. I'd put it somewhere in the bottom-half of the "Cha Cha's", better than the one on Neondian (1985) of course but perhaps tied with the version on Die Engel Des Herrn (1992). Worse than the Live in Tokyo 1996 version (the best one), and worse than the original version off Viva (1978). Probably worse than the version off the Live! As Hippie Punks (1995) album, as well. But you put up with it because Dinger has totally awed you with his last song. And you put up with it because you admire his persistence, his commitment. And, perhaps most of all, you put up with it because you want to believe in its optimistic message. Looking at the booklet, there is one photograph that stands out the most. A photo of Dinger alone in his office. The walls and desk are covered with memorabilia. "La! NEU? - Dusseldorf" written in Japanese on streamers. A Die Engle Des Herrn poster that is starting to peal, revealing another Die Engle Des Herrn poster beneath it. A smaller Die Engel Des Herrn poster is on the lower right. Pictures, receipts, documents, contracts litter the desk, all related to a career that no one but Dinger really paid attention to. Is it admirable or tragic? The absolute dedication, the absolute commitment to an Ultimate Goal. But would the Ultimate Goal ever arrive? How many times do you have to record "Cha Cha 2000" before the rest of the world starts to listen? There is something unsettling about Dinger in this photo. His usual confidence, his bravado, seems shaken. You can see it in Dinger's eyes. He looks worried. "Is this gonna be it?" he appears to be asking himself, "Is this gonna be the time I finally make it? Or will this be another missed opportunity like all the rest?" How much assurance, how much confidence, did Dinger have, there at the end? 3

But damn if Dinger's "fell it feel it" doesn't get me every time... I mean, at that moment the mawkish sentimentality of Cha Cha 2000 becomes definitively real... and it touches me as the sincerest expression of the infinite potential of the human race. The cheesiness of the song disappears and I feel it, as it is; I am reacquainted with that feeling, through Dinger, vicariously... And then I imagine how it could be... And when Dinger implores "Do it!", you bet your ass I feel inspired! The trappings of middle age become irrelevant and suddenly I'm like, "Shit, yeah! I can do it, too!"

Cha Cha 2000 is Dinger's life song and it absolutely belongs on this, his final album.

One more song to go. The riches have come at last. Klaus Dinger has been contracted by Carnival Cruise Lines to write a theme song for their new rebranding campaign. Hah, just kidding. Unlike the rest of us, Klaus Dinger never sold out. He stayed committed 'til the very end. Over half of this album consists of songs recorded quickly in early 2008, right before he died. I don't know the order these songs were recorded, but I'd like to think that "Karnival" was his last. A final hail to His City. A final celebration of Life.

"Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, hello"

And then the guitar cuts off.
Goodbye my friend.

1. It is strangely fitting that Dinger died one month after Polaroid announced it would stop making film.

2. Those interested in exploring Miki Yui's solo work should first watch her video for "long before," which was co-produced by Dinger and features manipulations of a photograph taken by him.

3. The final work Dinger published in his life time was a hand-written note on the back of Sub-tle.'s (Kazuyuki Onouchi and Satoshi Okamoto) "pre-mary," which was released on Onpa in 2008. On it, Dinger pleads with Rother for NEU! to reform for live performances.

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