Even within the diverse field that the term Punk Rock encompasses, there is no one quite like Nina Hagen. Born to parents working within the arts and entertainment community, Hagen received formal artisitic training at a young age, studying ballet at four years old and being declared an operatic prodigy by nine. Her artistic studies continued, as did work as an actress, until her graduation from The Central Studio for Light Music in East Berlin at eighteen, at which time she formed the band Automobil.
While Autombil was garnering attention for Hagen’s talents, her step father, a singer and political activist, was denied re-entry into their homeland of East Germany, following a concert in West Germany. Clearly disgusted by such circumstances, Hagen threatened to become an agitator herself, and requested permission to leave the country, which she was quickly granted.
Now in Hamburg, Hagen signed a record deal and traveled to London, arriving just as the Punk Rock movement was exploding. The trip was to change both her sound and look dramatically. Her theatricality rose to the forefront as her style became even more outrageous. Her first two albums, each contained a cover of performers within the larger scope of Punk, The Tubes, White Punks On Dope, became TV Glotzer (with different lyrics), and Hagen’s friend, Lene Lovich, provided the source for Lucky Number. Both songs were dramatic, almost over the top, and perfectly suited for Hagen’s developing range and direction.
For me, it was not until her third LP, 1982’s, NunSexMonkRock, that all of these converging influences coalesced into a perfectly defined Nina Hagen statement. in 1980, Hagen moved to California, then briefly back to Germany, only to return to LA in 1982, recording the album in New York with a varied cast of musicians. The album features Paul Roessler, known for playing in such influential Punk groups as, The Screamers, 45 Grave, Nervous Gender, and Geza X, veteran British session musician, Chris Spedding, and Paul Schaffer, who was just beginning his career as bandleader for The Late Show With David Letterman. The resultant album displays her Operatic vocal talents, and awesomely creepy low register growling, in a Punk/Funk/Reggae/Goth/New Wave/Hip-Hop/Disco amalgam. It’s just that kind of diverse stylistic confluence that contributed to making Nina Hagen, a true original, or as she stated on Merv Griffin, her “individual God identity”.
I love this interview with David Letterman. He seems to be entirely enamored of her, despite his obvious, total confusion as to what makes her tick. Paul must have given Dave some interesting stories of recording with her. One of those moments where Dave expresses some genuine affection.
All that I need say is that Nina, Don and Merv harmonize. Nina is Nina, Don is Don, and Merv, the consumate host.
Nina on spirituality and LSD
A trailer for Cha Cha, a film starring Nina, Lene Lovich and Herman Brood