"Shadows in your eyes, your smile is painted on,
Your thoughts are not with me anymore
Stroking me mechanically, totally sterile
Ice cold hand, I am dreading you "
Herbert Arthur Wiglev Clamor Grönemeyer was born in 1956 as the third son of a mining engineer in the rather bland little town of Göttingen near the West German border to the GDR. His family moves a couple of years later into the heart of that sprawling industrial megalopolis called Ruhrgebiet, a medium sized town called Bochum. This architectural and infrastructural mixture between steel and mining complexes and sad post war architecture inspired by Le Corbusier has not a lot going for it, but nevertheless gives our little Herbert shelter in which he can live unremarkably through his childhood. Inspired by early piano lessons, he starts composing at an early age and applies before even finishing high school for the job as composer at the local theatre in 1974. The Bochum Theatre Company has always had a reputation for cutting edge contemporary work, but during the mid seventies their director Peter Zadek really turned this monstrosity of a playhouse into a breeding ground for daring and truly revolutionary theatrical performances. Thrown into this creative incubator, Groenemeyer soon gets noticed by Zadek, who starts featuring his music and himself in the productions. Soon Groenemeyer gets his first TV appearances and, in 1981 is getting cast by Wolfgang Petersen in his epic anti - war movie, Das Boot. His portrayal of the naive war-correspondent in the midst of the U-Boot war finally gets him international exposure, and he is able to follow up Das Boot with a couple of leading roles in unfortunately not much noticed flicks.
Although acting cast him into the limelight for the first time, it's his music which finally turns this rather unassuming, balding little man into the biggest selling German artist of all time. Starting with Jazzrock (with the Ocean Orchestra project) in 1978, he releases four albums on the Intercord label, without being noticed by a larger audience, probably due to the fact that his early work pretty much sounds like a caricature of german popular music: politically motivated songs, poured out over a scarce guitar arrangement without a trace of irony. Although his movie career helps him sell more albums than before, his musical efforts are getting not much attention from the wider public and critics continue to sneer. Then, in 1984, his album 4630 Bochum (a 40 minute hymn to his beloved hometown) hits a nerve with the public, making this brillant of collection of stadium sized songs the most popular german album of all time (staying 79 weeks in the german album charts) and catapulting him into superstardom, where he has stayed ever since.
In 1998 Groenemeyer receives a cruel blow, dished out by fate: within two weeks his brother dies of leucaemia and his wife and mother of his two children of breast cancer, sending him into exile in London where he hides for 2 years before he slowly eases back into public life. The two albums made before and after these two events are the darkest and most depressing of his career, nevertheless again selling millions.
After 17 albums and 14 million albums sold (his last album went eight times platinum), the question remains what makes his music (and the man himself) so appealing to his audience?
Although his songs regularly are easy to hum along with melodies and chordprogressions which are truly beautiful and inspired (the flawless production helps as well), it's his lyrics that people probably find most appealing. With his political views firmly rooted left of centre, the guy has a gift to express a plethora of mixed feelings in one simple sentence without sounding too overbearing or arty. Contemporary political problems are being adressed from a humane, liberal corner. This connects him to the broadest audience possible: Even the most cynical, black turtleneck jumper wielding german intellectual (think sprockets) can't help but like his songs (and the guy), with the same phenomenon applying to your binman or the lady doing your hair at the hairdresser's next door. Now living in London, you can often (well, I have plenty of times) see him on Tottenham Court Road, with a coffee in his hand, shopping for gadgets.
A German Superstar?
- Ocean Orchestra (1978; with Ocean Orchestra)
- Grönemeyer (1979)
- Zwo (1980)
- Total egal (1982)
- Gemischte Gefühle (1983)
- 4630 Bochum (1984)
- Sprünge (1986)
- So gut (1986; Sampler)
- Ö (1988)
- What's all this (1989)
- Luxus (1990)
- Chaos (1993)
- Cosmic Chaos (1995; Remixes)
- Live (1995)
- Unplugged (1995)
- Bleibt alles anders (1998)
- Stand der Dinge (2000; DVD)
- Mensch (2002)