INTRO: The Beat Goes On

The German Autobahn has its own particular rhythm.

There is no speed limit on this “highway from hell”, this masterpiece of infrastructure that was invented and intended to export the 3rd Reich ideologies to an ethnically cleansed Europe of the future. Although most of it has now been covered in tarmac, there are still parts of it where its original construction of concrete slats laid out perpendicular to the driving direction, as a giant pavement, are still visible and more importantly, audible.

On a good night you can drive the 800 km trip from Amsterdam to Copenhagen in 8hrs flat, including our – typically long – breaks. I rarely drive that fast. I got my driver’s license at the tender age of 35 when I was pregnant again, and although I uttered an exclamatory “Oh shit!” as I was instructed to take the miniscule Peugeot on to the Amsterdam Ring-way, my examiner let me pass.

In fact, I am afraid of speed in a similar way others are afraid of height, except when I forget about it.

So, I would usually drive the slow part through the Netherlands and Denmark, and occasionally when I would let my inhibitions slide and the needle would climb to around 140 km/h, my husband would put his hand on my thigh and say “Sweetie, you’re speeding!” and his eyes would light up, like I was wearing racy underwear…

When we’d get to the German border we would swap and I would be in the passenger seat, manning the stereo. You listen to a lot of music on a trip like that. As you drive deeper and deeper into the dark, with the kids asleep in the back seat and the local traffic checking in for the night, the road will gradually empty and you will have long stretches of road where you can average 160 km/h, occasionally climbing to 180 or even 200, 220. 240 is the fastest you can go in an old Volvo.

As this usually sets of a mild panic attack in me, I just close my eyes and try to go to sleep. In this half state the rhythm of the road hypnotically takes over: the pulse of the regular intervals of the cracks between the cement slabs, the swoosh of the cars overtaking each other, the low humming of the road markings as you pass between lanes or the delayed echo of a stretch of sound proofed wall as you drive past the vicinities of country side villages – this is the Euro beat.

It’s monotonous drone is captured beautifully in Kraftwerk’s minimalist masterpiece Autobahn from 1974, but in my opinion doesn’t really gather momentum until a year later with the single Love to Love you Baby, produced by Giorgio Morodor, co-written by Pete Belotte and of course Donna Summer, who also did the vocals.

I know this is probably not how it happened, but I imagine them driving late at night on the Autobahn near Munich, where Donna Summer had found herself after touring Germany as part of the American cast for the musical HAIR.

So, they are driving at night, and Giorgio is humming this new drum beat he is thinking of, and Donna starts cooing, orgasmically: “Oooooooooh, love to love you baby”.

She later said of her performance:

 

     One of the most important aspects of my singing that Giorgio encouraged me      to expand was my approach to a song. To this day I will approach a song as      an actressapproaches a script. I do not sing; I act. When I sing, I sing        with the voice of the character in the song.[1]

In this thesis, I sing with the voice of my fictional protagonist Queen Leeba.

During my thesis work, there has been some talk back and forth about who and what Queen Leeba is; is she a character, is she a persona, or is she an alter ego?

I have come to the conclusion that she is an imaginary friend, -because you need friends to get by in the art world. Also I would say that she works by subtraction rather than addition.

So, in that sense all her words are mine, I just needed to find the right voice, set the right tone.[2]

Queen Leeba sings in the form of letters, to her dear Dear.

Just like Leeba has a resemblance to me, Dear has a resemblance to my own daughter. But also sometimes to my son and sometimes to my sister or my mother and sometimes to you, my reader.

Leeba sings of Motherhood and of Feminism and of Disco, and of the Art World, amongst others, because these are a few of my favorite things.

Her song is sometimes a political parole and sometimes a secular chant.

It is sometimes a battle cry and sometimes a lullaby.

The song is called Mothernism:

[1] Summer, Donna with Mark Elliot: Ordinary Girl, the Journey, Random House Publishing New York 2003

[2] As Susan Griffin notes in Feminism and Motherhoodin 1974:

I don’t have a feminist theory on motherhood. I only have these notes, these paragraphs, some insights. Curiously, they take the form of another woman’s writing about motherhood. We are part of a resistance. For necessity does not stop long enough for us to analyze. We have only brief illuminations, which we must record between interruptions, set down side by side, hoping to make sense of it all some day later.

From The Mother Reader, Essential Writings on Motherhood Edited by Moira Davey, Seven Stories Press, New York 2003