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Random thoughts, settings, characters, situations, perhaps leading somewhere

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Snapsongs: “Saved by Zero” by The Fixx

Thursday 2 May 2013 - Filed under Snapsongs

Sometimes a song doesn’t have to necessarily evoke a particular, specific reaction in its playing or construction. It doesn’t have to speak to the situation in its words or style. It just has to be at the right place and the right time, and enhance what is already there. The album Reach the Beach by The Fixx, and specifically the song “Saved by Zero”, was that enhancement to my first trip abroad.

Not that there’s anything out-of-character in that selection; there’s a driving bassline with added gingerbread, there’s spacey synth patches and interesting sonic filigree, there’s jangly 80s guitar with plenty of reverb, and there are quasi-cryptic lyrics based on a sci-fi storyline. It’s a cool song, a mid-tempo song, almost a groove song. It’s a good song to listen to while you’re staring out the window of a Bundesbahn train traveling from Frankfurt to Cologne in June of 1990.

The year before, in my senior year of high school, my German class had hosted a group of kids from a Gymnasium (a German high school for students on a professional, as opposed to a vocational, track) in Hamburg. Along with the crew from Hamburg came a teacher from Käserin Augusta Schüle in Cologne, Elke Daun-Barusch, and her son Michael. I’d volunteered to host a student, and Michael was that student. For three weeks he set up camp in my bedroom while I slept on the floor in my younger brother’s room. And we got along famously. Michael really didn’t know any of the kids from Hamburg, and he happened to be almost exactly between my brother and myself in age. He slotted into our family like a middle brother with a weird accent, and he slotted into my circle of friends like he belonged there. It was an amazingly fun three weeks, and at the end of it he and his mother told me that I was welcome to come to Germany at any time.

At the time I thanked them and figured, “Sure, that’d be great, maybe someday.” I got a job at a bookstore and went off to college, and as the year went along I found I was saving a decent amount of money by working and not being too crazy with the spending. By February I checked my balance and decided why the hell not? Germany it was. I got my passport, got traveler’s cheques in Deutschmarks, got plenty of film for my camera. And soon enough I was in Houston catching a Pan Am Clipper to jump over The Pond.

I took plenty of music with me, and various other songs stick out in my mind and may be covered in other essays. But I knew and loved Reach the Beach already, and as the trip progressed it became a slice of home to nibble on while I needed to decompress. It was my first trip out of the United States, and although my German was serviceable it was still hard to keep up sometimes, and there was a bit of culture shock as well. As a calming chunk of English, it worked far better than my chosen reading material: I had decided to investigate what a friend of mine called “the best book in the world”, and had purchased a copy of Atlas Shrugged to start on the plane. Even at the tender young age of 18 it only took about 150 pages for me to figure out the writing was poor, the characters cardboard, the logic laughable, and the concepts derisable. I finished it, but the ending made me positively furious. I was, evidently, not an Objectivist. In a cool, dark room, snuggled in a fluffy futon mattress with a real feather blanket, I rolled my eyes at Dagny Taggart while The Fixx played. That guest room became something of a sanctum sanctorum for the trip, a place I could hole up and process. Listening to a comfortable, favorite album was part of that processing.

“Saved by Zero” was a favorite probably because it does deal, obliquely, with ideas of suspense, alienation, separation, confusion, and perseverance. I’d had all of those experiences in pocket form when I landed in Frankfurt. Customs was a weird mix of excitement and trepidation. I was in Germany! Whee! Waiting in line to purchase a train ticket to Cologne, I struck up a conversation with an American in Germany on business. When he asked, I told him how to ask for a ticket in German, and actually heard him use the phrases I taught him when it was his turn at the window. Score! Leaving the station, I somehow got on the wrong train and ended up in a suburb of Frankfurt lost and confused. Fail! I managed to correct my vector and get on the right train, but only after I annoyed a Bundesbahn clerk by being American and her me for being German. Argh! On the correct train, a kindly older conductor listened to my broken explanation and gently assured me I was going where I needed to go and didn’t need to pay anything else. Whew! Finally, jet lagged and dead tired, I arrived in Cologne and called Michael to come pick me up. I took a turn outside the station to get my bearings, then settled in an alcove in the waiting area with my luggage to wait for him. At this point, a woman came up to me and asked, in some thick Eastern dialect, which way would she find the Cathedral. Since I had just admired the Kölner Dom in my brief foray outside, I simply pointed to the door and said, “Da drüben, ” which means “Right over there.” She complied, and as I watched her paroxysms of joy, I realized I had just given directions, in German, to a German who was as new to the city as myself. She had, to stretch the phrase, been saved by zero. If the expression had been coined at that time, I would have thought ZOMGWTFBBQ.

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2013-05-02  »  Edward Semblance