Can Laundered

The Magazine of Rock - Classic VantagePage

Can Laundered

February 6, 2008
by Vivien Goldman

Originally published in Sounds, 23 October 1976


“Irmin Schmidt was transporting a washing machine down the stairs, and it fell on top of him.”

Bad karma for Can, as their keyboard player's mishap has put the band hors de combat, or out of action, for a crucial month or so, at precisely the time Can were scheduled to do a 20-date British tour to back up their new hit single, “I Want More.” Hope you're not feeling too pissed off, Holger. (That's Holger Czukay, bass player in the band).

“No, I take it as it comes. I was not even really scared. I feel it's a pity, because I like to go onstage, but... all these things have something good about them. There is nothing happens to me where I don't find something good.”

Admirable sentiments. So what's good about blowing out an important tour?

The Pollyanna of avant-garde rock is undeterred. “If I don't know now, I know it later,” laughing, “I think we can do much better our live performance, to know where the people are sitting in the audience, who they are, whoever comes. You should not be on stage for your own pleasure; your pleasure must be the people's pleasure. Otherwise it's not the right pleasure, it's just esoteric.”

Holger Czukay and myself are patronizing the glorious Relais Basque cake shop on Westbourne Grove, in the belief that Can's first British hit single can best be discussed in an aura of civilized continental charm and nosh.

“Ja, ja,” repeats Holger categorically, “we did make it in a bid for the charts, directly to be a hit.”

He's talking about the success of  I Want More, a frenzied, jitterbugging, electronified, hypnotic disco ditty with a fetching organ break in the middle, and incomprehensible, whispered lyrics.

Nobody could confuse it with the Armada Orchestra; equally, you'd be hard put to realize it's Can (or I would have been anyway).

Holger is an appealing individual with plaintive brown eyes and a confidential, cheery air.

“But, you know, we did it all the years. Each single we produced we made to reach the market, but I think we always failed.”

Disarming modesty, Holger continues, "This time I think we succeeded because we were more simple. I think the other time it was a bit complicated and not really towards the public address. The singles were a little bit for special people instead of common people..."

Herrumph. That sounds like a rather dangerous distinction, doesn't it?

“Perhaps, but that is the experience,” Holger demurs. “There's always been people who like Can—fans—and they're always special people.”

In retrospect, don't you wish that Can had made use of this new-found simplicity at previous stages of their career? After all, hit singles = big potatoes, and nobody objects to them, right?

Holger protests earnestly in between ravaging his Danish pastry. “But I always want to be commercial! That's the reason I joined Can! Otherwise I could have continued making my modern music composership (sic) and whatever belongs to that. And anyway, we had a number one hit in Germany already, although it failed over here.

“But I was always on the commercial side. Because my mother said one day when I was 20 years age old (sic), ‘Now son, you have to earn your own money.’

“And first thing was, what can I do? Because I wanted to go on as I was at the time, a composer. Which means having a profession that doesn't bring in any money.”

Holger's grin envelopes the entire cafe in his eagerness to convey the point.

 “And so, I said I go to Switzerland and find a rich wife, which means I could carry on as before, with a rich woman supporting me instead of my mother!”

Holger displays childish glee at his ingenious idea. His enthusiasm is so infectious that you can't knock him for his unusually upfront desires. "I didn't succeed. I went to Switzerland, but instead of finding a rich wife, I found Michael Karoli, our guitarist...”

Every cloud has a silver lining, as the silk purse said to the sow's ear. Back to the basics. Flow Motion, Can's new Virgin album containing aforesaid hit, struck me as evidencing new heights of humor on Can's part. Adjectives that spring to mind while listening to Flow Motion include bizarre, wacky, zany, and off-the-wall even.

“I think Unlimited Edition has a lot of humour also. You see, with Can it's a very spontaneous thing. Things happen just by luck, and then,” Holger adds modestly, “we can be quite funny. But when we think about it a lot, then...”

He trails off into the middle distance. Continues, “The others, I think, thought of making it light-hearted. For me, I said the thing that I do, I do only once. If it's not good, then I leave it on the record, and then I will learn by it.

“That means when I played bass, I played it once and never again; when I sang, I sang it once and never again. I didn't know what to sing, but I sang something, what was it? Ach ja, ‘laugh till you cry.’ I came to the studio and I made a mike test. I listened to the tape and thought, what shall I do? So I went 'banana, banana,' something like this, and it was alright.”

Nothing if not inventive. Banana, banana, eh? It may not be what they call heavy message, but it does have a certain ring. In fact, it sounds more like avant-garde Art Performance than yer average session.

“Aha! That is because Can are getting more and more disciplined.”

You mean you're doing lots of heavy rehearsals?

"We don't rehearse in the usual sense, not in the old way that we rehearse one piece. It is more to listen to each other." And the result of enhanced listening power? Another single in the pipeline. Does this 45 share a similar set of influence with ‘I Want More?’

“Influences. Do you mean the whole group or me personally? It is hard to speak always in the name of the group, because everybody is influenced by something completely different. But there is one common thing which everybody appreciated from the very first moment, and that is the reggae influence. For me, when it comes to reggae music," says Holger, practically jumping up and down in his wrought iron seat with enthusiasm, “I really can get CRAZY!”


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