German Chancellor's apology illustrates that politicians and popstars often don't mix
She has won three elections and seen her popularity soar by rarely putting a foot wrong and learning from her mistakes when she does. Yet German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be just as fallible as other politicians when it comes to annoying one of the smallest but loudest segments of the electorate: musicians.
Campino—real name Andreas Frege—has revealed that Merkel made a personal apology to him after television cameras caught her and her colleagues thoroughly mangling a tune by his band Die Toten Hosen (the literal translation is “the dead pants”; the phrase also means “deadly dull”). This karaoke-style crime against music (the song is “Tage wie diese”, days like these; lead vocals by Volker Kauder, chairman of Merkel’s CDU parliamentary party) wasn’t the issue. Campino minded seeing—and hearing—his punk-y, spiky, counter-cultural music co-opted by a political party.
Disharmonies often resonate between the political classes and the music industry. A campaign adopts an anthemic track or a politician confesses in an interview to loving a particular band only for the musicians to repudiate vigorously any connection to the party or politician. In 1984 Bruce Springsteen complained to Rolling Stone magazine about Ronald Reagan appearing on the stump to the strains of “Born in the USA”: “I think there’s a large group of people in this country whose dreams don’t mean that much to [Ronald Reagan], that just get indiscriminately swept aside.” In 2012 Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, also turned to Rolling Stone to throw some rocks at a leading GOP figure, in this case then Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.” Ryan finally hit back this year. Rage “never were my favorite band,” he said.
And so it goes in the U.S. and Europe. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, schooled at the impeccably posh private school Eton College, once declared that the Jam’s “Eton Rifles”, a biting critique of the privilege represented by Eton, was his favorite track. “Which part of it didn’t he get?” asked the Jam’s former front man, Paul Weller.
That Merkel fell into the trap for a second time is more of a surprise. Her 2005 brush with the Rolling Stones might have been expected to alert to the dangers of relying on rock for an electoral boost. Back then, during her first campaign for the Chancellery, TIME wondered if Stones knew that their 1973 hit “Angie” had become Merkel’s de facto theme tune. They did not. “The Rolling Stones are startled to hear that the track from their album Goats Head Soup has been pressed into service,” we reported. “’We didn’t grant permission,’ a spokesman for the musicians told TIME. ‘We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been requested, we would have said no.’”
A CDU spokesman insisted the party had cleared usage of excerpts from the song with the German music-distribution rights regulator, GEMA, but that of course was not the point. TIME had highlighted that the Stones weren’t on her side, setting off a crescendo of dissonant headlines. Die Toten Hosen raised their own noisy protest when the CDU first started using their music in the run-up to Germany’s 2013 election. The band members issued a statement on their website to ask that the CDU stop playing “Tage wie diese” at campaign events: “The danger that people might get the idea that there is a connection between the band and the content promoted at these events makes us furious,” said the statement.
Merkel may finally have learned that bands and bandwagons are a dangerous combination. A new book about Die Toten Hosen, excerpted in the German news weekly Der Spiegel, reveals Merkel’s sheepish phone call to Campino a few days after the election night singalong. “Mr Campino, I’m ringing because last Sunday we trampled all over your song,” the Chancellor said. She offered praise and a reassurance as well as an apology. She found his song “very lovely” but promised “it would not become the next CDU hymn.”
Campino describes his response as “a mixture of surprise and alarm. Alarm that she didn’t have anything else to do except call me. But also touched that she explained all that in such a relaxed and humorous way.”