Born in East Berlin as Catharina Hagen, Nina Hagen was a lost soul. Her grandparents died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and her parents divorced when she was just two. Her entry into the arts began at age four as a child prodigy in ballet. After spending her youth fuming against the policies of her native Germany she rebelled in the way most kids do: she joined a rock band. Then, in 1977, she formed her own band and started releasing records in her native language. Nunsexmonkrock was the first one she did in English, and it was peculiar.
To say Hagen is cynical is an understatement. This album put everything on notice. In “Antiworld” it’s organized religion. In this track she narrates more than she sings. I can tell you, having attended one of her live shows, she is the prettiest ugly person I’ve ever seen.
In “Smack Jack” she goes on about the life of a junkie and is hardly sympathetic. You can feel the anxiety in her voice. At times it is soft and graceful like that of an opera singer, while at other times it’s more like Patti Smith meets Rancid. Some of the layering of her vocals has her singing five different tracks at a time. It’s pretty inventive but makes for complicated and sometimes busy arrangements.
Eastern religions are ridiculed in “Taitschi-Tarot,” which comes complete with Hagen singing in a pseudo-Chinese accent. The best track, “Future Is Now,” convinced me 25 years ago that Hagen may not be from our planet.
Despite the fact that she dabbled in disco (like everybody else), I consider Hagen one of the true performance artists of my generation. She still works, and dubbed the voice of Sally in the German release of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. (Dennis Donahue)
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