JEANNE D’ARC OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
„Mamma mia let me go!”
In memoriam Freddie Mercury
Once upon a time on a tour of Európa Kiadó in Poland, the band’s technician and driver voiced his desperate protest when, at a rest stop, guitarist János Gasner attempted to use his knife to spread bacon on the bonnet of the technician’s brand new, light blue Dacia car. GAS stabbed a bite on the point of a knife, and shaking his head, said just that:
– You have no idea what rock’n’roll is!
We passed the time with anecdotes like these, building the True Hero brand at the “brand-building” parties that accompanied Jenő Menyhárt’s commutes, most recently standing on the balcony in the freezing cold for the benefit of the chain-smoking crowd.
– And do you remember when you threw me out of your place on Rudas László street, the first time we met? – Jenő’s voice struck me like a Stuka bomber in the middle of the pathetic idyll of the farewell.
– You’re leaving… back to New York! – I staggered backwards, giggling, but still shuddering with some vague premonition. – ‘But, but’ countered Jenő, deepening the dramatic tension with a macho-like drag. – ‘You were even threatening to call the police’ he added, squinting at the shooting starlight on the cross of the nearby basilica. I waited numbly for the sequel: the tumultuous pace of the past decades and the flood of events had swept from my mind the details that were deemed unnecessary for survival. – And…? – I urged him, now reluctantly, that come what must come, since the past could not be erased for good. – That’s all. We were off – the attending Humphrey Bogart blew smoke mischievously into the eyes of the current Lauren Bacall; but the chain-smokers paid no particular attention to our interaction. While angels flew over the Kiskörút, Jenő patted me reassuringly on the shoulder:
– Relax, cops make the best outlaws! – I was speechless with amazement. – Of course, nothing is too dear for a bystander – I muttered to myself – and a man from far away can say whatever he likes… – and while responses ran in my head, the ghosts groaned in the lush Pest night.
I retreated to the bathroom without attracting any attention, bolted the door, and carefully fished out the razor blade from the pocket of my short, light blue trench coat. – What am I doing here, or anywhere else? – I asked the one who I had been. From outside, Nina Hagen was grunting encouragingly, the silent sun shining on the blade. I stood frozen, leaning over the moment of all-the-same: my heartbeat throbbed back from the heated flexible metal in my palm. Had I been given a reprieve – or had I given myself one? Feeling deeply the transgression of the hubris, I cut my hair with the fury of a fallen angel: the role, prolonged for two decades, had played out. While I the hymn of Damenklo under the hot water rushing over my head. I wrapped a turban around my puppy-dog-wrinkled forehead and, avoiding the gaze of my reflection, considered all the shit I was wallowing in. My chaos, beggarly pennies for nothing, I threw into the grip of the present time. Stroking my prickly, still half-wet fur, I addressed my freshly cut self, or I would rather have, but that upbeat “Hello baby” was yet to come.
Before slamming the door behind me, I determinedly looked her over and, with an encouraging glance, I sent the Joan of Arc of rock’n’roll on her way. Lass mich nicht sterben – said someone harshly, soldierly from another time, but the voice was drowned out by the Indian roar with which I threw myself among the others. In the kitchen, full of smoke and racket, the words were trapped, the breath was broken. – Little polished stone, please come out, come out… or something like that
I snapped awake that the era of the beginning had fallen upon me, which I had been huddled around in the middle of the night, trying to conjure up the pre-rock’n’roll atmosphere of Hungary from books. Writers, put words in my mouth! Terrified, I jumped out of bed to catch by her non-existent hair the 22-year-old girl I had become by the summer of ’78, who, six months later, was raving to Lena Lovich’s song in the most spacious and empty room of her newest sublet, the absent landlords’ room, as she never imagined she would ever rave in her life. So, I raved, to everyone’s amazement and delight, swirling a tornado of molecules around us with wild gallop. The everyone was Laci Kistamás and Csaba Hajnóczy, two friends, two companions from the choir of the whirlwind sowers, from the centre of entirety in Csengery Street, where we condensed the incomparable moment into formless, magnificent motions on the yet-ridge of field of the existence. Lena Lovich was Nina Hagen’s girl, and Nina Hagen was David Bowie’s, or maybe Hagen was Bowie’s daughter, who was then rescued by Bowie himself from the GDR, from the yoke of undignified operetta prima donness! In Csengery Street and in many other flats in the city, in a housing estate near Örs vezér tér, in a villa in Tétényi út, in a room and kitchen flat in Szövetség Street, many photographs were taken of the girl I was, in the strangest situations. I look out from the shower, from a doorless cupboard, from mountains of cardboard boxes, from under the table, from beyond many masks into the future, gently, as only sacrificial lambs and motherfuckers can do. With that ‘My name is Agnes. Agnus Dei’ look, the one which future fans will be inclined to confuse with the predatory gaze of a professional femme fatale, but, but, but…
The apartment in Csengeri Street, or rather the servants’ room which became my refuge at the beg acquired for me by our friend – as he was mentioned recently in an SZDSZ mourning email – Gábor Demszky in 1978 to have me a place to lay my head. It was a nice little room with a gallery, and later I lived in a similar room in Rudas László (now Podmaniczky) Street, which had got for few of us by another friend, so that we would never be alone and live differently from the way we had lived before. It was in this primitive commune, in circumstances that are still unclear, that I had my ominous, cult-destroying meeting with Jenő Menyhárt and his friend Demi, who years later became the frontman of Balkan FuTourist, one of the successor bands of Kontroll.
Whatever had happened in Rudas László Street, for years after our ill-fated encounter, we would still scowl at each other with distrustful disapproval when we bumped into Jenő at sleazy parties, in the dim light of rickety, storm-ravaged flats. In the heyday of URH’s popularity, the phenomenal emergence of Kontroll Csoport was just fuel for the fire that flared up between us from time to time. On New Year’s Eve of 1980, pushing towards the Pest night from András Wahorn’s house in Pomaz, we wished each other a Happy New Year at the Margit-Híd stop of the HÉV, shouting “We’ll see which of our bands will be the real one!”
Not long after, despite his successes in intellectual circles, Péter Müller turned the Hungarian underground comet Ultra Rock Hírügynökség into a shooting star by choosing the outlaw-looking Kontroll Csoport, along with Andy Warhol’s ars poetica “you’ve got five minutes to go out of fashion”.
At the dawn of the eighties, when our friends became our new family instead of our families, our fathers and mothers would sometimes seek out our unknown addresses and drop in unexpectedly on our huge, unfurnished rented flats, populated by a constant stream of strangers. They wandered among us, uninvited, in hats and coats, gazing despondently at our beautiful new world from an old one, where they themselves had once been revolutionaries, believing that their fight would be the final one.
As I had ruffled my hair during the post-teenager pain tsunami, I turned on myself again with similar determination in the love crisis that preceded the formation of Kontroll Csoport. Locking yet another bathroom and pulling yet another blade from yet another pocket, I inflicted wounds on my arm in the bathtub of my then lover, later husband’s apartment in the suburbs. I thought not of passing, but of death – pathetic doorman! – while Lou Reed’s Warsaw blared, and Patti Smith and Ian Dury, and Bowie again: No love, you’re not alone!
In the summer of ’80, at the memorial service, performed together with János Szirtes and János Vető, following the tragic death of Tibor Hajas, the edge of my blade slipped: ten years later, the Kontroll concert at the Nap-Nap Festival burned 8 stitches of my stigma into the collective memory as an icon of absolute desperation.
Totem and taboo and fetish, but I touch it nevertheless… The first pre-historical meme may have started its journey from that bathtub thirty years ago, and from my head, to finally develop virological activity in culture as the song of Peter Müller.
And while the blood, oozing in thin streaks, painted the floating around my body pink, the other singer of the future kicked the door and pulled the handle madly. I crawled out of my state of perfection reluctantly: I didn’t want to die, I wanted to be reborn, again and again, passionately!
From the summer of ’79 to New Year’s Eve of the notable year ’80, my life changed enormously: the gaping void in the entire space of everything took me back like a sweet mother’s womb. My new mask, that of a punk singer, was still lying abandoned in a dark corner of the Tétényi Street apartment, I had no words, but only motions to the world. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, I didn’t care what was waiting for me. The question that remains forever the unanswered question of rock’n’roll – “what is it that is only one step away?” – has haunted me ever since, just as we, former rebels, are haunting here, as one of the Cassandras predicted before the regime change.
In the summer of the turning point that would determine my distant future, Csaba Hajnóczy’s parents went away for a month or two weeks, and we, the fugitives of time, took ourselves to all four rooms to increase the entropy with music, partying, and conversations that would last all night. Csaba had just returned from his hitchhiking trip to England, and we stay-at-home folk wove plans of anarchist action around the intoxicating promise of our possible freedom in the ever-bustling, ever-noisy, ever-smoking kitchen. Laci Kistamás “volunteered” to serve two years as a soldier, to become our secret agent in the army. The howling of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones torn down the walls around the deviants: that summer our friend Gábor Demszky brought a Stranglers record from England as a present.
The explosive changes were based on encounters in Poland. During one of my high school summers, after a month of working three shifts at the Goldberger factory, my girlfriend and I travelled to Wroclaw for an international theatre meeting. Before that, as a detour, our first flight in a tractor-powered LOT plane took us to Krakow, to the table of an unknown family, to a never-ending night where the sour mushroom mountains, towering like islands in a vodka sea, were our last hold on the material world.
The Polish fervour for Hungarians has intertwined destinies at high-speed train speed: the ‘pachong pospeshnikh’ has been the unforgettable vision of my life since I said goodbye to my Polish boyfriend – who was never really my boyfriend – at Wroclaw station 30 years ago. Time, flowing at a Slavic pace, have stretched endlessly for a week to finally show up who I could be. And, although Grzegorz Klimczewski’s story seems to have ended with the theatre festival, in our dreams we are together forever: the hippie boy raised by oppositionist parents and Wenninger, who grew up as a child of cadres.
In my last high school year, when I was elected secretary of the cultural basic organization of KISZ, which was seeking a vertical renewal, I set off with three boys from my cell of five for the dune-rich coast of Gdansk. Hitchhike. Waving addresses of strangers, we knocked on unknown doors in unknown towns and found, along enthusiastic ovations, accommodation, friends and the idea of resistance. Andrzej Rogowski and Wojtek Mazurek have since disappeared, but in the summer of &’79 they visited Hungary to march into history with some unforgettable adventures and the idea of Polak Wenger Dwa Bratanki, that later inspired Kontrol Csoport. Their march-in, in the physical space, began on Árpád Bridge: we marched through the city, scrabbling our feet on the asphalt in the August heat, with dirty, bare feet proclaiming the inexorable flood of hippie culture from Poland.
Later, the threads of Parcae woven by my cradle led me to Prague, where we listened to Vysocki’s songs, absolving ourselves of the sins of our fathers: in particular, the betrayal of ’68. With Bida Bokova and Jarda Goldman – whose parents were indexed for having anarchist children – we drove to the outskirts of Prague to deliver a message from one of the signatories of the Charter 77 to Guszti Hámos, a socio-photographer who was glorified as a hero in the mythology of my life, in a ramshackle pub.
At that time, I was enduring my chosen homelessness in László Rajk jr’s empty apartment, a two-room flat in a housing estate of Óbuda. Sometimes four or five of us slept on the floor, on the carpet, in a half-size room where Soma, the first singer of the future URH, took me in for a few nights with my then lover, Péter Müller, a graduate student of the drama college. Peter was the messenger, the carrier of the message: a link between the free thinkers, destined for disappearance and forced into emigration, and the uninaugurated, the newcomers. While he made us listen to Gergely Molnár’s songs, and remember Péter Halász’s apartment theatre with stubborn persistence, only those who did not want to did not fall in love with the resistance!
I met the future URH’s singer Soma in the amateur theatre movement in the Mosolygó group of the Óbuda Culture Center, as well as with Laci Kistamás, and Csaba Hajnóczy, my former high school classmate, who also “attended there”. There we became aware of our instinctive rebellion: we met the rebellious heresy in this historical space of the space-time matrix, in Krúdy’s narrower neighbourhood. It was at this time that Miska Víg, spitting on the vanities of the world from on high, walked into my life, with her waist-length blond hair and ankle-length black overcoat, with her friend, the photographer Guszti Hámos. The latter, with waist-length black hair, also in an ankle-length black coat, went around town with a camera, and was the bogy of the police at the March 15 demonstrations. The 23-year-old purveyor of RAF history – who later emigrated to Berlin, never to return – was feared by that regime as the prototype of Public Enemy No. 1. It was no coincidence that his mere appearance brought the relationship between my family and I to a breaking point: the sight of Guszti gave my good mother a sense of foreboding, which then provoked unsubstantiated anger from my father. When I was given a choice – Public Enemy or family! – I thought it better to go for the promised big nothing, surrendering to the rapture of the depth of Take a walk on the wild side!
As for the question of what the last thirty years have been like, where we’ve been, where no bird goes – I have no answer. So much has happened, as much as to others in centuries, if it happens at all! Summing up is still to be done, as the information is still uncoded. The children of the world beyond the Iron Curtain are slowly acclimatising to the pace of peaceful everyday life.
Our individual trajectories have started for each of us and all of us in a different place, and yet: from the same place independently of each other. I recall that in 1961, when Godard was filming the movie ‘A Woman Is a Woman’, the kindergarten was my first strictly controlled train. The experience of being controlled has been with me from my earliest consciousness: since the unfolding of my early institutionalised relationships, the Orwellian vision has become the reality of my everyday life. The Omega and Alpha of our socialisation were the soul-snatching mode, the perverse practice of ubiquitous stalking, the eradication of privacy within and outside the family, the abusive harassment of a totalitarian regime, the twelve points of Pioneers, the large factory for forging into character the unsportingness embarrassed in the straitjacket of conformity.
I have been to Berlin twice in my life. The first time was in East Germany, in 1977, for an hour, again with a message from Guszti Hámos in my pocket.
As if it were only today, I see us, face to face, two hitchhiking girls, arriving at a department store in Alexander Platz on our way to Poland, to camp out, dirty, exhausted, with our huge backpacks, for a pee. When the ring of the local order-mongers closed around them, we could not yet identify the fear in the eyes of the socialist type of people: a few years later, Orwell would explain this message too. We then wrote this rant backhandedly at the expense of the ‘Prussian school’ and abandoned the divided people of Hölderlin and Fassbinder without a goodbye.
Almost thirty years later, in the autumn of 2007, I was standing on the Alex again with my feet firmly planted in the ground, hypnotised by my memories: ice cream melting in my hands. Nothing had changed, while so much had. The city rumbled around me, and with my tears, memories burst forth, with songs on their rainbow that once, in an occupied country, had been the escape route for a few occupied people. Plan B as an alternative to the unacceptable.
(Translated by Andor Molnár)
“The Kontroll Csoport first appeared in public in this house on December 31, 1980,” reads the plaque unveiled ten years later at the entrance to András Wahorn’s house in Pomáz at the time.