Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

la! NEU? - Gold Regen

la! NEU?
Gold Regen

Released 1998 on Captain Trip
Reviewed by phallus dei, 11/06/2015ce

I’d be lying if I told you Gold Regen is a “great” album. It’s an off-the-cuff affair that was (mostly) recorded in one day. The playing is intentionally “amateur” and the songs are poorly sequenced. Objectively speaking, there are only two good tracks on it, the factually titled “Dinger Brothers mit Remmi + Wicki,” and “Klaus + Wicki.” Nevertheless, within the trajectory of Klaus Dinger’s career, Gold Regen stands as a unique release. There is an unabashed level of warmth to the songs. Imagine if the intimate nature of John & Yoko’s Two Virgins had been expanded to include a family, but instead of rudimentary tape experiments, the field of play was with acoustic instruments. Gold Regen is Dinger and his “family” – his mom, his brother Thomas, Viktoria Wehrmeister, and Rembrandt Lensink - at their most exposed & personal.

Approached on its own terms, and with the tracks properly arranged, Gold Regen is an enjoyable and emotionally satisfying listen. My suggested reordering of most of the tracks is listed below. I have also added Renate Dinger’s “Zeeland” to my mix, since it is stylistically similar and gives the work thematic cohesion. When listened to in the following sequence, Gold Regen tells a story:

Zeeland (off the “Zeeland” album”) / Rembrandt + Viktoria / Shakesbeer / Dinger Brothers mit Remmi + Wicki / How Could I Not Be / Slowly ‘Moved’ But Not Sad / Where is the Geiger / Light Blue Intermezzo / Strathomaso / Zeeland Wunderbar / Klaus + Wicki

One day in the late 1990s, the parents of a small apartment complex in Zeeland leave their children with the community granny while they go to work. Granny shows the children how to play on the piano, and then she goes to bake cookies. A nerdy boy with glasses starts to tinker with the keys, a “good” girl (who secretly longs to be “bad”) starts to sing, a known-troublemaker turns over an empty bucket and begins to play drums, and the troublemaker’s younger brother, who wants to follow his older brother’s example but can’t find any instrument to play, decides to open and close a heavy door in accompaniment with the music, producing a strange “metallic” sound from the rusty hinges. As the day progresses, the girl feels upset that the troublemaker doesn’t notice her (actually he does, but he’s just too “cool” to admit it), and the nerdy boy feels slighted for being unappreciated. Then Granny comes back with cookies and they all play together one more time before going home. Twenty years later, the girl and the troublemaker reunite late at night in the same location, their unresolved sexual tension from childhood still intact. Naturally, they make love.

Before describing the album in more detail, I would like to briefly mention the cover, which was drawn by Viktoria (who also designed the Zeeland and Cha Cha 2000 sleeves). Personally, I’ve never been able to tell if it’s a tiger, clouds, random squiggles, or what. But I do know that the lines, colors, and use of negative space perfectly capture the feelings of childhood wonder and latent desire that are ever-so-present on Gold Regen.

The opening track, “Zeeland,” is a solo piano piece sung by Dinger’s mom. It’s a lament to the Zeeland of her past, from the early post-war era or maybe even earlier, perhaps from when she was just a girl. “Zeeland, my Zeeland,” she sings in German, “forever lost / the dream in the sand / a fairy-tale so green.” Despite being close to 80, Renate’s voice possesses a considerable amount of sensual charm. When she was young, she must have been stunning. The regret in the song, coupled with the regret every older person feels for the passing of their youth, serves as a poignant contrast with the “childish” experiments that follow.

Having shown what can be done with a piano, Granny leaves and the children play unsupervised. They first approach the piano with hesitation. The nerdy boy taps a few cautious scales, while the younger brother stands back and inadvertently bumps into a heavy door that creaks open. It all seems quite tentative, as if the children don’t know if they are really allowed to make music or not. Then the troublemaker says “fuck it” (or whatever children say) and starts banging on his buckets with enough conviction to give the others courage to play. For the next 30 minutes, Gold Regen alternates between group efforts, solo piano pieces, and tracks featuring piano and vocal.

The “star” of the album (in terms of play time) is Rembrandt Lensink, whose minimal approach is probably due more to lack of ability than mastery of technique. But despite sounding like something you could play after 1 or 2 lessons with the piano teacher down the street, it’s effective, and fits in well with the “children-at-play” vibe. The real star, however, is Viktoria Wehrmeister, who has an evocative presence that makes you recall every female classmate you ever liked in school. As for the Dinger brothers, they mostly take a back seat on the session, showing up with drums and squeaky door (actually it’s a squeaky violin, but who's keeping track?) for only a few minutes at a time before getting distracted by whatever else is in the room.

The whole thing is arranged haphazardly, with jagged tape edits coming at unforeseen times. There’s a feeling that the best bits might not even be on the record, but on the sections that were cut. But rather than being a source of frustration, the imbalance contributes to the “homemade” feel. Listening to Gold Regen is like listening to an unknown family’s reel-to-reel tape that you bought on a whim at an auction – there is an intimacy and an authenticity to the recordings that go beyond traditional judgments of quality and talent. While listening, you can’t help but wonder who these people are.

As the album progresses, it becomes clear that the nerdy boy likes the girl. But even though he plays the piano so carefully for her songs, the girl’s eyes are fixated on the troublemaker. Her heart flutters every time he stops whatever he is doing to pound on his drums, and she sings with more conviction in those moments to get him to notice her. The nerdy boy - hyper-aware of what’s going down - plods on the piano a bit more sullenly, in hopes that the girl will feel guilty and come to her senses. Meanwhile, the younger brother observes the scene from a distance and smiles – “That’s my older brother,” he thinks, “and one day I will be just like him.”

Then Granny returns with the cookies she’s baked, and she’s brought along a set of sleigh bells she found packed away, too. Before eating they play one more song, during which time the frustration some felt just moments ago starts to fade. It’s fun to have friends and make music together, and it’s even better when you get to eat cookies afterwards. Even Granny feels happy. Again she sings about Zeeland, but this time her tone is celebratory, praising the convenience of the autobahn which links the province to Düsseldorf. Rather than lament the gone-forever past, Granny now sees hope imbedded in the future (perhaps due to the presence of the children around her) and she accepts as inevitable the passing of life’s vitality to the next generation.

And then the children have all grown up, via a flash-forward of 20 years. The troublemaker and the girl (who were always secretly attracted to each other but never dared express it) have returned to the same location of the former session so many years ago. Only to change things up a bit this time the girl takes up the drums and the troublemaker plays the harmonium. And as the girl and the troublemaker slowly circle each other both of them wonder – how far will this go? And if the other pushes it further, should I just go along?

During sex the girl briefly recalls her childhood, and that day she spent in Granny’s apartment playing music with the troublemaker, his younger brother, and that nerdy boy with glasses (whose name she has forgotten).

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