Wednesday, May 6, 2020

RIP Florian Schneider: 26 Days Of Silence?

Florian’s Beetle fahren auf der 3d Autobahn

Strolling a narrow Düsseldorf street close to the Altstadt district adjacent the Berliner Allee you may have stumbled upon a cultural and metaphorical Easter egg parked on the street. The more astute among any Kraftwerk fans would’ve felt a frisson as I did, a tingling sense of discovery and wonder that someone you’ve spent your entire life idolizing might be close at hand. Such were the thoughts that overwhelmed me upon encountering this particular grey on grey split window Volkswagen Beetle humbly awaiting its owner late one night a couple years ago.

Glorious Grey!

And upon further nearby investigation, confirmation. Briefly I felt like the human incarnation of the Television Personalities song I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives.

Sometimes I feel like Columbo.

And that was that. I didn’t ring the bell because I’m not an asshole and I didn’t meet him and never will and frankly would’ve made a mess of it if I had. There’s an old aphorism about not meeting your heroes and I’m generally a believer. I’m not naming names but I’ve crossed paths with a few artists I admire only to later find myself selling their albums on Discogs and I’m okay with preserving Florian’s dignity in this regard. Yes, I can recount a life-affirming encounter with Florian’s bandmate Wolfgang Flür (see the interview here on Medium), I once had crepes with Philip Glass and his son Zach and discussed Daniel Johnston with Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan & Georgia Hubley but then there’s the time that I stood outside Elizabeth Fraser’s hotel door and realized it would be madness to knock. There’s a time and a place. Elizabeth: you’re welcome.

Wolfgang, my amazing wife Jennifer and Electri_City author Rudi Esch

But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because Florian is now relegated to history and you’re grieving. He meant the world to you, you own all the Kraftwerk albums and posted in usenet groups back in the day lamenting the dearth of new material. 2008 found you grieving in a different way when Florian said Auf Wiedersehen to Kraftwerk, adjusted his jaunty wool alpine hat and departed to his favorite Westphalian Altbier pub forever leaving behind the band he’d founded 39 years previously. That’s who you are, we are one and the same, you and I. Therefore I won’t regale you with facts lifted from his Wiki and I won’t rehash the monumental significance of his achievements. You know them. 

That said, I must weigh in on the discrepancy of time between when the world felt a disturbance in the Force and today when news broke of Florian Schneider’s departure. In a statement, Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hütter confirms “the very sad news that his friend and companion over many decades Florian Schneider has passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday.” As I write this it’s May 6th 2020. Florian’s birthday is April 7th and so “a few days” generally means three, so we’ll assume we lost him April 10th.

What, exactly transpired in those 26 days? Can Ralf Hütter perhaps, set me straight on this? What about you Sony Berlin? Hello “one of his musical collaborators, who said Schneider had died a week ago and had a private burial”, what do you know about this Manhattan Project level of secrecy that has surrounded the death of one of the most influential musicians who has ever existed?

Had the same level of secrecy existed around Prince’s death Minneapolis would have burned. Had David Bowie’s transition to the aether been similarly smothered? Riots I assure you. Did Laurie Anderson sit on the news that her beloved husband Lou Reed no longer was waiting for the man? No. 

Unlike those examples, Florian never had a dreadful Christian phase like Prince and never stooped to working with hacks like Gwen Stefani or Sheryl Crow. Florian never birthed anything as bad as the Glass Spider tour and never bought songs from other artists to rebrand as his own. He never contractually phoned one in like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. In fact Florian never composed so much as a mediocre song. There’s literally nothing be apologetic about, legendarily inspiring countless electronic bands from Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark to Daft Punk. Apologies to fans of Prince, David Bowie and Lou Reed, I’m a fan too but I’m just belaboring the point that Florian had a perfect, unspoiled record of awesomeness. And yet, unlike those artists I just dunked on, twenty six days elapsed before we knew the supernova that was Florian shines no more.

I understand that there’s decorum and protocol regarding our fallen heroes and I’m glad that I could pay my homage to Falco at Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof cemetery. Similarly I once spent an hour with William S. Burroughs at St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery and remember the cold, grey day well. These were public figures and in death they still contribute to their fans. So then, what does the future hold for Florian? A memorial? A statue on the beautiful Königsallee? I ask out of fear that the memorial will have to exist in our hearts and minds. I ask for all the fans.

I'm NOT equating Falco to Florian but his glass obelisk memorial is truly astonishing!

Would someone please give us a clue? Throw the smallest bone? I'm the antenna, catching vibrations here and feeling very receptive.

David Sanborn is a rabid fan of Kraftwerk who once went to the DMV and changed his name to Kraftwerk. Feeling that wasn’t sufficient, he then proposed to his fellow Kraftwerk fan girlfriend that they get married as Kraftwerk. Since then they’ve had a blast and made some great friends.