Graded on a Curve: Feeling B,
Hea Hoa Hoa Hea Hea Hoa

Feeling B was an ideal representative of rock’s potential in a repressive regime. They emerged in 1983 from East Berlin in the repressive German Democratic Republic, where the Stasi–East Germany’s equivalent of the Gestapo–was the country’s single largest employer. One in every 30 residents was a Stasi agent. Another half million were informants.

My ex-wife was born and lived in East Germany until the age of eleven, and her memories are of a uniform and inescapable drabness. The sky was grey. The buildings were grey. The potato fields at the outskirts of her village were grey. The colored balloons were grey. The watermelons were grey, not that East Germans saw many watermelons. A shipment would arrive once yearly at my ex-wife’s small town some half hour from Rostock on the Baltic Coast, and one year she dropped her family’s on the way home. So much for watermelon that year.

The German Democratic Republic discouraged both independent thinking and private initiative—both of which made rock musicians potentially dangerous class traitors. Rock music wasn’t complexly quashed out of hand—certain bands were deemed acceptable, so long as the music they produced was toothless and toed the company line. State-sanctioned groups like the Puhdays possessed “Auftrittserlaubnis” cards that afforded them certain liberties, including playing the occasional gig in the West. And not risking arrest, naturally.

But the country’s “underground” bands—which hardly lived up to that status given the Stasi were well aware of their existence—weren’t afforded the dubious liberties granted to bands like the Puhdays. Rather, they were given just enough rope to hang themselves, and it’s to their credit that they produced some truly innovative, original, and indeed challenging music.

And Feeling B was the best of them. Although their music was issued by the East German official record label Amiga, Feeling B walked a perpetual tightrope before the eyes and eyes of East German’s state security apparatus. Remember Frank Zappa’s fight with the Parent Music Resource Center? He was the spokesperson for musicians whose worst nightmare was record cover warning labels. Bands like Feeling B risked de facto trials and prison.

And it was in the face of these draconian conditions that Feeling B produced their remarkable 1989 debut LP, Hea Hoa Hoa Hea Hea Hoa. Not only does the LP largely steer clear of German hidebound Volkisch touches and odd forays into Teutonic jazz shlock that make most German rock music so foreign to American and English ears, it’s a veritable cutting-edge noise fest, complete with ferocious guitar and off-key vocals. And when Feeling B does incorporate more traditional German musical elements, they do so in a way that adds a gleefully twisted element that is more sardonic than it is a nod to the country’s musical status quo.

The chaotic “Artig” begins with some manic punk sing-along and ferocious guitar, then tosses in some merry whistling and trumpet that bring to mind a troop of Young Pioneers marching in drunken formation across the Berlin Alexanderplatz with wood saws to topple the East German television tower the Fernsehturm. On “Kim Wild” Feeling B raises guitar mayhem while going keyboard crazy and taking horn lessons from the late Sun Ra. On “Mix mer eine drink” they sound down in the mouth because they want a drink, this despite the fact they’re at an Oktoberfest and every three-year-old in sight is waving a bottle of schnapps. This culminates in their going berserk and knocking over the stand where (no kidding) the old folks line up for horse sausage, because it reminds them of the golden years when food was scarce because Soviet artillery was raining shells on down on their heads.

“Am harizont” is a miraculous shambles; the singer sounds like Jello Biafra telling Nazi punks to fuck off, and the keyboards (and dissonance) could have been borrowed from Pere Ubu. “Fruisti, mache gut” is all fuzz bomb and rinky-dink keyboards; “Geh zurück in dein buch” opens with a couple of guys chatting on a (probably bugged) telephone before shifting to a barrage of drum pummel that would have frightened the wits out of even the hardened troops at the Battle of Stalingrad. Feeling B also throws in some unidentifiable noise that sounds to me like the sound of Nazi general and all-around bigwig Alfred Jodl practicing Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” on the fluegelhorn issuing from an air duct from Hitler’s bunker.

And so it goes with the remaining songs on the album. With their anarchic spirit, electric guitar din, and deliberately sloppy vocals, Feeling B produced some of the most fascinating—and best—music coming out of Germany at the time. More was happening there than Neu!, Can, Faust, Amon Duul II and all of their famous known compatriots, but Feeling B (or so I think) suffered from a prejudice against the music coming the opposite side of the Berlin Wall. How, after all, could they be any good? They were goddamn Commies!

To pick on Frank Zappa again, Feeling B produced the music he might have made had it not been for the fact that he was a persnickety perfectionist and tight ass. Odd that such bedlam could have emerged from one of the most repressive and regimented nations on the planet—it makes you wonder if beneath the stern and stony exterior of German Democratic Republic head honcho Erich Honecker there lurked a musical bomb-thrower whose goal it was—with the assistance of Feeling B—to dynamite the Berlin Wall by means of sheer punk rock.

Hea Hoa Hoa Hea Hea Hoa isn’t an oddity or interesting Cold artifact. It’s a brilliant album by a brilliant band of musicians working in an anti-democratic regime where making music was dangerous and even the clowns were grey. Or maybe the GDR banned clowns altogether. Sometimes even countries like East Germany get it right.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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