Dienstag, 25. April 2017

Perry Friedman - Hootenanny mit Perry Friedman (Amiga, 1966)


"Singe-Bewegung" and "Oktoberklub" in East Germany, part 10.

Perry Friedman was a folksinger from western Canada who emigrated to the GDR in the late 1950s and went on to play an important role in the East German cultural scene by introducing the country to a number of folk music traditions – including their own. He began holding “hootenannys” in East Berlin, i.e. sing-along folk music parties. He set out to transplant in the GDR the casual style of singing and performing songs that had become an established tradition in American left-wing circles.

In 2004, Dietz Verlag Berlin published Wenn die Neugier nicht wär’ – Ein Kanadier in der DDR, a book containing Perry’s unfinished memoirs and reminiscences from a number of family, friends and colleagues. This work goes some way to telling Perry’s story, however, unfortunately, the memoir portion covers only up to his departure from the GDR in 1971, leaving much of his story to be told by others. For those who read German though, it’s worth tracking down.

Friedman’s casual, North American approach to music making was difficult for East German authorities and audiences to place initially, but it resonated amongst young people starved for something new and authentic. In 1960, Friedman received permission to host a Hootenanny, a sing-along folk music party format that had become popular in North America, in the newly constructed Sport Hall in the Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee). This was well-received and featured not only Perry but a number of other artists as well including Gisela May (an acclaimed actress and singer) and Lin Jaldati  (East Germany’s foremost interpreter of Yiddish song). The evening was a huge success and sparked an interest in both Friedman and the folk / protest songs he had in his repertoire. Finding himself working and earning a living doing what he loved, the decision to settle in East Berlin was an easy one.
During this period, Perry married a German girl, a West Berlin native who was studying to be a teacher in the East. Sylvia Friedman tells that on the evening that the Berlin Wall was erected (August 13, 1961), Perry and his wife were in West Berlin visiting her family. When they learned that the border had been closed, they were faced with the decision of whether to stay put or return to the uncertainty of the GDR. They chose the latter and within years were parents of three young boys.
In 1962, Perry worked with Heinz Kahlau, a poet and writer and staunch supporter of the East German regime, on a book project entitled Hör zu, Mister Bilbo (Listen, Mr. Bilbo) which contained German translations of American workers’ songs. In 1963, the West German independent label pläne released a 7″ ep I’m On My Way – Amerikanische Negerlieder, marking his first release in Germany. In 1964, Perry’s brother Searle and family move to East Berlin in order for Searle to pursue studies at the ‘Hans Eisler’ Academy of Music.
Until the mid-1960s, Perry was kept busy performing on radio and television, touring the GDR with the Hootenanny format and supporting the singing clubs which had sprouted up in many East German towns and cities. During this time his repertoire expanded to include songs from German folk and working class traditions. For many, this is seen as Perry’s most important contribution to East German culture for in doing this, he helped rehabilitate a part of German heritage which had abused and perverted by the Nazis between the years 1933-1945. The popularity of the Hootenanny shows encouraged the Amiga label to release three compilation albums featuring performances by Perry and other performers in 1966: Hootenanny mit Perry Friedman, Hootenanny mit Perry Friedman 2 and Songs, Chansons und Neue Lieder.
But a change in the cultural politics of the GDR in 1967 had significant consequences for Perry. Interested in keeping the influence of Western, and in particular American, culture at bay, the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED – Sozialistische Einheitspartei) turned over control of the concerts and singing clubs to the Party’s youth wing, the Free German Youth (FDJ – Freie Deutsche Jugend). The foreign term ‘Hootenanny’ was forbidden and replaced with the accurate, if less evocative, term ‘Singing Movement’ (dt. ‘Singbewegung‘). Having worked closely with the FDJ in the past, Perry initially didn’t see these changes as an existential threat and he took on a leadership role in the Berlin-based “Oktoberklub”, the singing club in the East German capital which found a home in the newly built Kino International in the Karl-Marx-Allee.
A short time later, however, Perry found himself blacklisted because of his Canadian/Western background. Banned from performing on radio or tv and with few gigs on offer, Perry’s Canadian passport now proved his salvation. Using this, he was able to pass through the now-closed inner-German border into West Berlin and West Germany where he was at least able to perform and generate some income. Although he was partially ‘rehabilitated’ by Kurt Goldstein, the head of GDR Radio, in 1968 with a new radio program, these were difficult years for Perry.
WIth things showing little sign of improvement, Perry decided to take the family back to Canada in 1971. By 1976, Perry had had enough of Canada and decided to return to East Berlin. For Perry and so many others of his generation, the GDR embodied an alternative to a capitalist world and the promise of a more just, equitable social order. He felt that the limits the regime placed on individuals and their freedom were, while regrettable, necessary.
Back in East Berlin, Perry was taken under the wing of the FDJ by its leader Egon Krenz (who would later go on to succeed, if only briefly, Erich Honecker as the head of after his resignation in October 1989). A revival of the ‘Singing Movement’ coincided with Perry’s return and in the years that followed, Perry toured throughout in the GDR and the Eastern Bloc. In 1979, Perry received the GDR’s National Prize for Art and Music and in 1982 he released a self-titled new album for the GDR’s Amiga label.
In addition to his work in the East, Perry was also active in West Germany. He appeared at many union events, particularly those of the IG Metall. He was also contributed to many of the huge peace protests/concerts which punctuated life in the Federal Republic in the 1980s.
In 1988, while on tour and already suffering from kidney problems and diabetes, Perry suffered a heart attack that forced him off the road. He was just getting back to work when the tumultuous events of the fall of 1989 brought down the East German state in which Perry had invested so much hope. A letter to Jack Winter written in December 1989 gives a sense of his despair at the turn of events: “We find ourselves confronted by a very painful period of our lives. . . . I fear that we are in the process of throwing away an entire chapter of our history, one named ‘Socialism’. . . . The tragedy here is that the people had a onetime chance to develop a new society and they threw it away.”
Like many of his contemporaries, the early years after German unification brought many changes to Perry’s life. He did some freelance work as a radio journalist once again, but it took him several years to find his feet artistically particularly now that the state supports which had made much of his work possible were gone. He did regroup, however, and Perry’s last musical projects brought him back to his roots. A 1992 concert featured a program of American folk and classical music while his final performance in 1994 was made up from his repertoire of Yiddish and German songs.
After a lengthy struggle with illness, Perry died at the age of 59 in Berlin on March 16, 1995.

Thanks a lot for this very informative biography to The GDR Objectified.

Tracklist:
(01) Perry Friedman - Wenn alle Brünnlein fließen
(02) Perry Friedman - Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal
(03) Lin Jaldati - Het Kwezelke
(04) Rolf Zimmermann - Gib' deine Hand
(05) Christel Schulze & Klaus Schneider - Liebeslied
(06) Gerry Wolff - Kling-Klang
(07) Lutz Kirchenwitz - Weltuntergangs-Blues
(08) Lutz Kirchenwitz - Die Oliven gedeih'n
(09) Lin Jaldati - Sing, sing so
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(10) Perry Friedman - Wake up, Jacob
(11) Lin Jaldati - As der Rebbe weijnt
(12) Perry Friedman - Oh, Jerum
(13) Lutz Kirchenwitz - Es fiel ein Reif
(14) Christel Schulze & Klaus Schneider - Singe, Soldat
(15) Rolf Zimmermann - Wenn die Sonn' am Himmel steht
(16) Lin Jaldati - Wenn die Lichter wieder brennen
(17) Jörn Fechner - In den Bäumen ist heute ein Raunen
(18) Christel Schulze & Klaus Schneider - Abendlied
(19) Perry Friedman - My Bonnie

Perry Friedman - Hootenanny mit Perry Friedman (Amiga, 1966)
(320 kbps, cover art included)

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