Herr Jack Heads For The Deutsche Ecke In The Sky

February 25, 2009

As freshman in high school, my friends and I had a choice between a language to study – German or Spanish. Several of us opted for the former for the sole reason that we knew the Spanish club made an almost annual trek south of the border.

We had our sights set trans-Atlantic (although the German club had only made that trip once). We placed our hopes in the hands of Herr Jack (as he was known to us).

Herr Jack’s surname was German and it translated into “bow maker,” a fact of which we were reminded daily. It might have struck us as oddly compulsive, but it did not strike us as foreshadowing.

His obsession with Latin might have provided another hint at his impending collapse. Entering class, Herr Jack would soon be delivering an impassioned speech on the value of learning Latin; his example would always be “caido” – to kill. He would ask for English derivations and we would offer the obvious ones such as homicide and suicide.

After witnessing regular performances of this skit, I prepared for the next occurrence, compiling a list and dazzling him with vulpicide and other words decidedly difficult to make use of in casual conversation.

He was impressed.

We just thought he was a frustrated Latin teacher.

Soon, it was the buzzing of the clock in the classroom that had Herr Jack’s attention. The noise was outside the hearing range of my classmates and I (as well as most canines), but it drove him to distraction, resulting in entire classes lost while Herr Jack bellowed – his eyes bulging and perspiration beading on his balding pate – about the non-existent irritant.

His antics grew increasingly puzzling. He would decide that a lovely winter’s day would be the perfect time to have class outside in an area he had dubbed the Deutsche Ecke (or, German Corner).

We managed to convince him that, perhaps, we should watch a Deutschland Spiegel filmstrip indoors rather than conjugate verbs in the sub-zero weather outdoors.

The madness behind Herr Jack’s methods became apparent one day in gym class. In the locker room, several of us were admiring the towel that Wayne, our school’s star wrestler, had wrapped around his waist – a simple white towel marked as the property of the state mental institute.

“I got it from my old man,” he replied. “He came back with a dozen from the last time he was in.”

We all nodded with admiration and interest. At fifteen, this was new and uncharted ground for us. It was like those kids finding the dead body in the movie Stand By Me.

“Hey, you know what?” Wayne asked, addressing us. “Did you know that my old man did time there with Mr. Bogenhersteller about ten years ago? They used to play checkers and bet on baseball games on the television.”

It wasn’t long after this revelation that we entered German class one afternoon to find that Herr Jack had been replaced by a portly woman named Edna. We would all drop German the following year.

For me, Germany would have to wait for another fifteen years.

I learned that Herr Jack passed away last week.

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Jack. I hope that you’ve found a Deutsche Ecke which is warmer than ours was that February day.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
I’ve posted this one before, but couldn’t it be argued that it is the most widely-known German pop song ever? Also, we were Herr Jack’s students in the autumn of 1983 when we began hearing Nena on 97X. We managed to get him to devote an entire class to listening to it (the German version, of course as radio quickly latched on to the English version).

Scorpions – No One Like You
I think that I long ago reached a saturation point on Rock You Like A Hurricane. Besides, my friend Brad had turned me on to the Scorpions with their previous record, Blackout, during the summer of 1982.

Actually, No One Like You got a fair amount of airplay in our part of the world – on radio and blaring out of the older kids Camaros and Trans Ams that summer.

Fury In The Slaughterhouse – Every Generation Got Its Own Disease
I received a copy of Fury In The Slaughterhouse’s album Mono in 1993 and did find this song to be interesting enough to hold on to it. It’s hypnotic and a bit menacing.

Aside from the fact that they were German, I knew (know) nothing about them, but, on their All-Music Guide entry, they are described as Germany’s U2 and have allegedly sold more records than any other band in that country (recently, passing the Scorpions).

Far Corporation- Stairway To Heaven
Far Corporation was a collection of German session musicians put together by producer Frank Farian (who would later work with Milli Vanilli). Rounding out the group was drummer Simon Phillips and several members of Toto including guitarist Steve Lukather. I believe Robin McAuley (who was in the group McAuley Schenker with guitarist Michael Schenker – who was a founding member of the Scorpions) handles the vocals.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven got a lot of airplay on our local album rock station for about two weeks in the autumn of 1985 (I imagine the public outcry was deafening). This version must be a single edit as the version I remember kicked into a thumping, bass-heavy instrumental section that reminded me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax where this one fades out.