Books

The Savior

Diane Leach

We see humanity at its highest—making art—coexisting with our most barbaric impulses.


The Savior

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1416543309
Author: Eugene Drucker
Price: $14.00
Length: 224
Formats: Paperback
First date: 2007
US publication date: 2007-08
Amazon

Drucker, a violinist with the Emerson String Quartet, set his debut novel in Nazi Germany. The war will soon be lost, but this doesn’t stop the Wehrmacht from sending violinist Gottfried Keller to perform for the wounded in various hospitals.

The task is a miserable one, his audiences indifferent at best, hostile at worst. Nonetheless, Keller, who missed conscription due to a weak heart, dutifully plays wherever he is dispatched. He asks no questions.

Like much of the remaining Gentile citizenry, Keller lives in fear. His worries that his diary, locked in a desk drawer, might be discovered. His sullen downstairs neighbor might report him to the SS for practicing degenerate music. Worst of all, past relationships might brand him a Jew-lover.

One chilly morning an SS jeep pulls up. Keller is driven 15 kilometers outside the city, to the “labor camp” everyone tries to ignore. The camp, never named, is comprised of shoddy wooden barracks, a train track, and an odd, windowless building topped by a smokestack emitting a vile smell.

Keller is taken to the Kommandant, who explains the building is a rubber plant—hence the inescapable smell and ash. But the plant’s operations will cease during Keller’s visit, so he may better carry out the Kommandant’s wishes.

Drucker weaves Keller’s prewar life through the novel, a life of health, happiness, and music that inexorably shrinks as Hitler rises to power. Initially, Keller does his best to convince himself and others that the Nazis and their hateful rhetoric will vanish, that “good” Germans like himself will outnumber the maniacs. Though continually confronted by the very opposite, Keller keeps quiet.

When his friend Ernst Schneider is forbidden to perform, Keller is horrified yet inert; Ernst’s teacher intervenes, insisting the young man be permitted to appear. Ernst is granted permission to play one movement of Brahms, which is scathingly reviewed in the Nazi newspaper. Ernst, enraged, threatens to write the paper a letter. Keller, fearing trouble, nervously begs him not to. The men argue. Soon afterward Ernst flees to England, where he writes Keller:

You tried to stop me from writing that letter...it made me think less of you. You were so worried I’d embarrass you in front of the strangers sitting across from us..But what bothered me most was your insistence that since the Nazis don’t have universal support, things will get better. How? How is that possible when they have Germany in a stranglehold?

Ernst closes the letter by ending their friendship. Keller is feels badly, yet simultaneously castigates himself for forgetting to check whether the letter had been opened by authorities.

Then there is Marietta, his fiancée. A Jewish pianist, she carefully plots their escape to Palestine, where the two can marry and work for an orchestra. But when the decisive moment arrives, Keller shirks miserably, missing their rendezvous without a word of explanation.

In Keller, Drucker has created a man in an impossible situation. As a Gentile in Germany, he has a reasonable chance of survival, but only by avoiding any opportunities to help friends and lovers. His behavior, which he carefully avoids examining, make him complicit, yet to act is to risk his life.

While it is easy to condemn this likable, passive man, few of us confront such moral choices in our lifetimes, and can only hope we would act courageously. But many of us would not—we would, like Keller, do whatever necessary to survive. Perhaps we, too, would find ourselves falling silent, retreating to the shadows, as the Keller does. And, we, like Keller, would eventually pay the terrible price of knowing ourselves cowards.

At the camp the Kommandant lays out his plans. He has selected a few Jews for “better” treatment. They are given a bit more food, lighter work detail, separated from the other prisoners. Keller is to play for these living dead, to provide beauty in an effort to reanimate them. The Kommandant, bored with the ease of killing, has turned his interest to reawakening hope in the hopeless. What effect, if any, will music have on these poor souls? Keller is revolted, but must acquiesce or risk arrest himself.

Drucker’s economical prose evokes the horror of German wartime, direct and detailed. Peering into a warehouse, Keller sees “...a thick layer of shoes carpeting the floor—hundreds, no, thousands of them. Leather shoes."

hen writing about music, Drucker’s spare prose glows. Playing the “degenerate” Hindemith:

It felt wonderful now to forget...and dig into the bold, sharply accented opening movement, to let himself be propelled by its strong rhythmic currents..the thematic material spans two octaves, with outlined triads and fourths vying for supremacy in the atonal fabric.

Over the next four days Keller is shaken from his passivity. His first “concert” goes badly: shocked by his gray, hollow-eyed, emaciated audience, he plays poorly. Initially unresponsive, yet the prisoners soon react strongly to the music, returning to a sort of “life”, Keller, in turn, plays magnificently. We see humanity at its highest—making art—coexisting with our most barbaric impulses. In the novel’s bloody, wrenching climax, all is lost.

While well wrought, the final 30-pages feel rushed, culminating in an anti-climatic ending. We never learn of Marietta’s fate, or even what becomes of Keller, who now understands himself as morally complicit.

It could be argued that the ending, refusing as it does to tie matters up, is successful in suggesting a nation that has lost its humanity and must face the consequences, both on a personal and worldwide scale. But it is also indicative of a flaw in the novel, one that brought Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to mind.

In this fine, funny novel about writing, Lamott describes working on a manuscript. She’d been sending it to her publisher in portions, and had spent most of her advance, only to receive a letter from her editor saying “I had in effect created a banquet but never invited the reader to sit down and eat.”

While Drucker hasn’t gone quite that far, there could be a great deal more about Gottfried Keller’s complex character as a man, musician, and lover of a Jewish woman he abandons. The camp scenes, particularly the exchanges with music-loving SS guard Rudi, could be expanded. Drucker’s story is a compelling one, and it is a compliment to his abilities that I wished this harrowing book were longer.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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