Nina Catharina Hagen is one of the big personalities in modern music, and her popularity sprung out of the punk rock movement, but with far more talent and intelligence than a lot of other artists at the time. Maybe that is why she's still relevant.
Personally I discovered Nina Hagen through a radio program in 1979. As if that isn't enough, my mother then went out and bought Unbehagen for me. That was a real shock, since I didn't think that my parents understood anything about punk. To be perfectly honest I still don't think they do, but then again, they see things in Benny Goodman I don't.
Nina was born March 11, 1955 in East Berlin to Hans and Eva Maria Hagen. Hans was a famous script writer and Eva Maria a very popular actress. They split up when Nina was only 2 and Wolf Biermann became her step father.
Following her mother around Nina became a child star and hence could get away with behaviour that wouldn't have been accepted in East Germany otherwise. However, at the age of 12 the youth organisation FDJ had had enough and ousted her in a dishonourable fashion. In 1972 she applied to the State Acting School, but was not admitted.
This prompted her to go touring with a band in Poland for a while, where she performed songs by "decadent" western singers such as Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. When she came back she was admitted to a training course with the Central Bureau of Entertainment Music. When I grew up I was told that she was a trained opera singer, but then again, you're always told a lot of erroneus facts when you're young.
1974 was a big year for Nina. First she won a prize as best new singer of the year in Karl-Marx-Stadt, and got to act in her first movie, ABC der Liebe. The following year that success was followed up with yet another movie, Junge, heute ist Freitag. This propelled Nina to a super star for the German Democratic Republic youth.
In 1977 Nina and her mother moved to West Germany to join Wolf Biermann, who had been deported in November of the previous year. He helped Nina to get a record contract with CBS and she did some experimenting in Reggae and Punk. At the end of 1977 she formed The Nina Hagen Band. They toured Germany and caused an enourmous uproar with their attack on the idyllic sub-urban myth. Nina's outrageous performances and impressive singing voice didn't make them any less notorious. The fame spread throughout Europe where The Nina Hagen Band was considered the hottest band after the Sex Pistols.
In true punk fashion the band split during their first European tour. Contractual obligations meant that they still recorded Unbehagen together. Nina went to Amsterdam where she made a film, Cha Cha, with Herman Brood. Nina's notoriety increased all the time, but very little because of her music. Mostly it was because of her public performances, like simulating masturbation on Austrian television.
Nina's musical journey didn't take off again until she went to the US to work with Benett Glotzer. Here she created a few good albums, but her increasingly outrageous talk of God and UFOs combined with an enourmous brightly coloured mohawk hairdo sent her into obscurity. I would blame the public's eternal desire for the next new thing... Nina, however, continued working with more political issues, like anti-apartheid and against wearing fur.
In 1988 Nina moved from CBS to Polygramm, and took a step back to her roots, at least in a musical sense. She released "Nina Hagen", which is full of her rather raw rock'n'roll. Once the album was released she, and her daughter Cosma Shiva, moved to Paris where she befriended among others Jean-Paul Gaultier, who helped her modify her image.
At this point Nina had a problem getting much attention. Her old fans had left her and she couldn't get enough attention to get new ones. But as a gift from above, Raisa Gorbachova invited her to come to Moscow for a women's festival in the end of 1990. The year after saw her first album in a long time liked by fans and critics alike, Street.
Starting with her following album, Revolution Ballrom, Nina got more into Indian religion and philosophy. From 1993 onwards she's been travelling around India, spending significant amount of time in an Ashram near Tibet, raising money for a hospital by selling her belongings, and in 1999 recording Om Namah Shivay. Not that this has stopped her from participating in other projects. For example, in 1998 she toured through Germany with a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of Berthold Brecht's birth.
The last three years she has spent creating a new album, The Return of the Mother, where she has written, produced and performed. She also recorded the official song for EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Schön ist die Welt. As you can tell she has calmed down a lot in recent years. I would say this is due to three major influences, namely her Indian experience, her daughter Cosma Shiva (1981) and her son Otis (1990).
In 2001one of Nina's close friends and ex-lover, Herman Brood, killed himself in Amsterdam. The irony is that she couldn't come to his funeral because of a previous engagement. Then when a celebration party in his honour was arranged on November 5, 2001 in Paradiso, Amsterdam, her son got an ear infection, and she had to go with him to hospital. Tragic. Anyway, she is coming to Paradiso in December, and I hope I can be there.
Nina Hagen "Best of" Albums:
Appearing on the following compilations