BY Helene Hegemann in Interviews | 05 NOV 13
Featured in
Issue 12

Play Mates

Author Helene Hegemann recalls dancing with Hamburg-based musician Malakoff Kowalski

BY Helene Hegemann in Interviews | 05 NOV 13

Malakoff Kowalski, 2013 (photograph: © Frederike Helwig)

JAN KEDVES Why Malakoff Kowalski?

HELENE HEGEMANN Because he’s a paragon of simultaneous adherence to both total anarchy and total tradition. Kowalski is one of those rare cases where this contradiction works perfectly, and with absolute sincerity – to the point that he passionately shines his boots daily, using two kinds of shoe polish, and folds his kitchen towels – without this, his domestic peace is disturbed. But in the evenings he can be a wild, professional and very elegant raver. In the good hippie sense. I think this blend is both right and unusual.

JK Is it reflected in his music?

HH Of course. Haven’t you heard his latest album?

JK Kill Your Babies – Filmscore for An Unknown Picture from 2012? It’s made to sound like it’s the music from a Paris romance or Spaghetti Western, with loads of ‘quotes’ from these genres.

HH It’s super! Maybe I’m the wrong person to ask, but … Anyway, there’s a great story behind the album title: in a frenzied fit of love Kowalski once booked a next-day flight to visit his fiancée in the US. He has two passports, one of which is from the US …

JK He was born in the US.

HH Right, and he moved with his family to Hamburg in 1979. Anyway, he grabbed his trusty Prince Henry hat – he has one in brown, German oak, black and dark grey – and boarded the plane: blind impulsiveness. It was shortly after the Boston bombings, so he came off slightly suspicious. He was immediately pulled aside at the airport, and asked what he does for a living. When he said ‘music’ and they asked for the name of his album: _‘Kill Your Babies’_… Naturally they detained him for two days in an air-raid basement.

JK Would you talk of an ‘affinity’ between you?

HH Affinity doesn’t quite capture it. ‘Playmate’ might be more fitting. I was delighted when Inga Humpe, the German New Wave icon, used that term (Spielkameraden) to refer to us. She was with Kowalski in the L.A. desert, while I was sitting around in Berlin, minus-thirty outside, writing postcards that were never delivered because they were addressed to ‘Molotov Krawallski.’ And it’s definitely true: we are playmates. The most important thing a playmate provides is unconditional affirmation of one’s stance in life and work.

Helene Hegemann, 2013 (photograph: © Frederike Helwig)

JK Does that mean you send your new chapters to Kowalski, and he plays you his new music?

HH No, not at all. The mutual affirmation comes from a certain way of life. He’s not familiar with my work in the slightest, nor I with his. All I know is that he is doing great after his first krautrock record, and has found his niche in high culture. We can tell each other everything’s fine without resorting to frenetic detailed analyses. For us, it’s about life determining the work’s content rather than simply talking about craftsmanship or skill.

JK How did you meet?

HH It was one and a half years ago after the premiere of a play at theSchauspielhaus Hamburg. Somehow the two of us ended up convincing the poor DJ, who had been hired to entertain the bored theatre audience, to play Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love fifteen times in a row at four in the morning, and we spontaneously did a sort of cheerleader-type performance. Kowalski is a fantastic dancer. It’s insanely fun with him. In fact I’ve got a fabulous dance career under my belt, as West German champion at a Eurodance contest – he’s one of the few who can appreciate this.

JK That’s one of the lesser-known details of your biography …

HH People like to conceal this tidbit, even though I frequently try to show off with it: until I turned thirteen and was forced out of working-class Bochum and into Berlin’s leftist-intellectual cultural milieu, my biggest dream was to become a pop star. I danced hip-hop and to club music and rode around in buses with my squad like a football team, to the European championship in the Czech Republic, for instance. It was really nice, of course, that my big, bizarre dream of being a stage hog was finally picked up by someone like Kowalski. He got it right away. And I instantly understood him too – that this unfiltered pop showiness, this ‘pure ego’ thing made him euphoric.

JK Kowalski’s real first name is Aram. In your new novel, Jage zwei Tiger, there’s a minor character named Aram. A top athlete.

HH Cute, right? But don’t worry, we’ve never lived in a disabled persons’ flat share in Worms. And I don’t think he’s a top athlete.

JK And you weren’t with him at the Venice Biennale either – the way Aram was with Cecile, the book’s main character?

HH No, and we’ve never been spotted dealing cocaine by widows of oligarchs there. Nor have we ever dated. Maybe we’re the embodiment of what all the hippie folklore preaches: overcoming the hetero-matrix standard. It works beautifully! But it’s not one of these cases where we have to ceremoniously prove ‘platonic love’. In fact, we really can act like we have crushes on each other. Which does, inevitably, lead to a kind of crush. Why not? But in a completely uncomplicated way – a way that, luckily, doesn’t need to be defined. Which is why we can serenely discuss our thousands upon thousands of love stories – ha.
Translated by William Wheeler

Helene Hegemann is a writer and filmmaker. She lives in Berlin. Her second novel, Jage zwei Tiger (Hanser Berlin), was published in August.