Just You and Me My Darling – A fan guide to ‘Let’s do it a Dada’

Part 3 – ‘Let’s do it a Dada’

Notes: the tabulated sections are the lyrics of Let’s do it a Dada – in the original German to the left, and in the English language (as provided on the band’s official website, http://www.neubauten.org), on the right.

Each section of lyrics is dealt with in the order they appear in the song, with further discussion of other song elements after. Much of the material here is explained in Part 2 and if you’ve skipped ahead, you may want to print Part 2 out and use it as a reference for the names, places and terms used here.

Being able to read neither German, nor the mind of Blixa Bargeld, I willingly note areas where I could not find answers (and if you can point me to any sources on these mysteries, please do – my e-mail, again, is telegramsam17 at gmail.com)

Ba-ummpff!

Ba-oommpff!

The initial exclamation is plucked directly from Hugo Ball’s sound poem Karawane (1917)– specifically, the final three lines – ‘tumba ba-umf / kusagauma / ba-umf’’

Bei Herzfeldes hab ich mal gefrühstückt

in Steglitz oder Wilmersdorf
mit Wieland hab ich mich gestritten
mit Wieland, nicht mit John
Ich reichte ihm die Schere
Ich kochte ihm den Leim

At Herzfeld’s I once had breakfast

in Steglitz or Wilmersdorf
with Wieland I had an argument
with Wieland, not with John
I passed him the scissors
I cooked him the glue

This is a reference to the brothers of Berlin Dada, Wieland Herzefelde and his brother ‘John Heartfield’.

Steglitz is an area in the south-west of Berlin, and Wilmersdorf, inner-city. These names did not crop up in my studies, though one may easily infer that these were areas habituated by the brothers, if not the whole of Club Dada.

The unspecified ‘I’ telling this story has an argument with the elder but not the younger, over breakfast. This clearly points to some specific incident, but despite the extensive documentation of Huelsenbeck’s feuds with Schwitters and Tzara, I have found no accounts that shed light on this reference.

Scissors and glue are a more obvious reference – as I stated in the previous section, the Berlin Dadaists made extensive use of photomontage in their publications, posters and flyers. John Heartfield, in particular, used this technique, including in his later anti-nazi and Communist posters and propaganda.

As for why the glue was cooked – given the shortages following the first World War, it is highly likely that the group made their own glues and pastes with whatever was available. Home-made paste is usually made from flour, cornstarch or gelatin.

In keinem Diktionär
hat es den Eintrag je gegeben

In no dictionary
has there ever been this entry

As stated in the Part 2 entry ‘Dada, the Word’, the origin of the word Dada is somewhat unclear. The story provided by Richard Huelsenbeck was of finding it by chance in a French-German dictionary, but a far more likely candidate were the numerous advertisements for a ‘Dada’ brand shampoo that were present in Zurich during the time Dada was formed.

nur du und ich my Darling
wir wissen was es wirklich heisst

Let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it a Dada!

just you and me my darling
we know what it really means

Let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it a Dada!

This song has two unnamed characters in it, a speaker in the first-person and an audience, this ‘darling,’ to whom he (or she?) addresses.

There are a few ‘couples’ amongst Dadaism – primarily Hugo Ball and his wife Emmy Hennings, then later the shorter-lived relationship between Raul Hausmann and Hannah Höch, as well as married couple Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber.

While this song primarily deals with Dadaism in Germany, my feelings (and I stress this is just feelings so by all means disagree) on the matter go with the Zurich couple – Ball and Hennings were both instrumental in the creation of Cabaret Voltaire and the original formation of Dadaism, even before it had a name. Ball’s early departure with Dadaism was also prompted by a growing dissatisfaction with direction their collaborators were taking.

To this first Dada couple, Dadaism was foremost an attempt at reclaiming a language and the collective spiritual integrity of the German people, which he felt had been degraded over centuries of abuse (the concurrent war being the final insult, of course). In the hands of others, Dadaism never entirely lost this aspect, but it took on far more Earthly matters in addition – political, cultural, philosophical.

As to the repeated invitation, ‘Let’s do it a Dada’ – given that everything else in this song has some specific meaning or reference, I am loathe to brush it off as trivial but I can think of nothing specific here, other than the speaker inviting the addressee to join him (or her) in Dada.

Ich spielte Schach mit Lenin
Zürich, Spiegelgasse

I played chess with Lenin
Zurich, Spiegelgasse

Cabaret Voltaire was located at the address of Spiegelgasse 1 in Zurich, Switzerland from its founding on the 5th of February, 1916, hosting the earliest Dada events until the owner demanded they leave the following year.

Further down the street at Spiegelgasse 14 during the same period lived the famous Russian Marxist, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. There are no documented interactions between the Dadaists and Lenin, but given the sort of noisy activities the former engaged in, it’s unlikely they totally escaped the revolutionary’s notice.

Ich kannte Jolifanto höchstpersönlich
hab mit dem Urtext selbst einmal gebadet
Ich spielte mit Anna
Ich spielte mit Hannah

Ich weiss wo der Kirchturm steht
Ich reichte ihr das Küchenmesser
Ich kochte ihr den Leim

I knew Jolifanto in the flesh
I even once bathed with the urtext
I played with Anna
I played with Hannah

I know where the church tower stands
I passed her the kitchen knife
I cooked her the glue

The ‘Jolifanto’ referred to here, was not a person but rather part of the opening line of Hugo Ball’s Karawane (again): ‘jolifanto bambla o falli bambla’. ‘Urtext’ is a classical music term usually as ‘urtext edition’ – referring to a written score meant to reflect the composer’s original intent as closely as possible without any later editing, additions or interpretations – sometimes the original, signed score as written by the composer himself or an assistant. Both of these lines would seem to support my hypothesis that the speaker of this song is possibly Hugo Ball, the ‘original’ Dadaist.

(The numerous references to the Berlin Dadaists argues against this, but only if one takes a very literal, linear view of it – the lyrics are in the past tense, after all, so perhaps it’s the spirit of Hugo Ball or even more generally, the spirit of Dada personified in Hugo Ball, viewing history from ‘the beyond’ – if you are thinking at this point that I’ve lost my mind completely, you’re probably right).

The ‘Anna’ here is probably a reference to Kurt Schwitters’ famous poem (so loathed by Huelsenbeck and the other Berlin Dadaists), An Anna Blume. As far as is known, Anna Blume is a fictitious personage, though the poem, despite its inherent sarcasm, unconventional language and imagery, is basically a love poem and may well have been written with a real person in mind, who knows?

The line about the church tower, I believe is also referenced from Kurt Schwitters’ An Anna Blume – ‘Laß sie sagen, sie wissen nicht, wie der Kirchturm steht’ (‘Let them say, they don’t know, how the church tower stands’).

Hannah, on the other hand, is almost certainly Hannah Höch, as also referenced by the ‘kitchen knife’ – probably from her collage ‘Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands’ which translates to ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany’ (refer to the image associated with her entry above).

Hawonnnti!

Hawonnnti!

Not an actual lyric, this is the title of another ‘sound poem’ – this is the point where band member N.U. Unruh’s performance of an original sound poem occurs, composed by Blixa Bargeld (as stated in the podcast available on their website here: http://www.neubauten.org/lets-do-it-dada – this podcast is a 22-minute explanation of the song from Blixa himself, including many of the references expanded upon here. I highly recommend a listen).

Hülsendada
Propagandada
Monteurdada
Zentrodada
Das Oberdada

Hülsendada
Propagandada
Monteurdada
Zentrodada
Das Oberdada

A roll-call of German Dadaists, more or less. The Berliners had a habit of taking up nicknames of this sort –

Hülsendada – Richard Hülsenbeck (also: Weltdada)
Propagandada – George Grosz (see also: Boff, Dadamarshal)
Monteurdada – John Heartfield (aka Helmut Herzfelde)
Zentrodada – Johannes Theodor Baargeld (aka Alfred Grünwald)
Das Oberdada – Johannes Baader
Dadasoph – Raoul Hausmann
Progressdada – Wieland Herzfelde
Financedada – Otto Burchard (not an active participant, but provided financial support)
Dadamax – Max Ernst

Ein grosses Ja ein kleines Nein
Ich trank ne Menge
trank mit George
war trotzdem nicht zur Stelle
an der Kellertreppe
morgens am Savignyplatz

A big yes and a small no
I drank large amounts
drank with George
but was still not at hand
on the cellar steps
that morning in Savignyplatz

George Grosz is the central figure of this section. ‘Ein grosses Ja und ein kleines Nein’ (A Little Yes and a Big No) is the title of his autobiography, published in 1946.

The following lines are all reference to his life-long drinking habit in general as well as the unfortunate circumstances of his death as described in detail in the entry for Grosz in Part 2.

Ich half Kurt beim Bauen seiner Häuser
No. 1, 2 und 3
Ich reichte ihm die Säge
Ich kochte ihm den Leim

I helped Kurt build his houses
Nos. 1, 2 and 3
I passed him the saw
I cooked him the glue

This entire passage is about Kurt Schwitters’ 3 Merzbau – the original in his home in Hanover, the one he built in exile in a house in Oslo, Norway, and the final, unfinished Merzbau built in a barn in Ambleside, England. In this case, of course, a saw and glue would be used to construct the wooden structures.

Aaah! Signore Marinetti!
Back from Abyssinia?

Aaah! Signore Marinetti
Back from Abyssinia?

Marinetti is, of course, the Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, author of the 1909 Futurist Manifesto and an early innovator in sound poetry and noise music. Marinetti’s contemporary, Luigi Russolo was a composer and performer of noise music and also mentioned in the song, although this not noted in the official lyric sheet.

My first thought on this is that it is a reference to the incident mentioned in the ‘Dada Ends… or does it?entry in Part 2, wherein the remainder of the Dadaists heckled and jeered at one of Marinetti’s concerts before being thrown out of the venue (which constituted the last documented cohesive act between Dadaists).

Chronologically this is a problem – Marinetti, who later associated himself with Italian Fascism, volunteered for active service in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, which occurred over the winter of 1935-6, putting it well past 1922.

(of course if you are a nutcase like me and willing to assume this song does not entirely take place within the realm of ordinary, linear time…)

A few final thoughts:

If you have seen this song performed on stage (lucky you) or perhaps a few Youtube video recordings, you may recall the costume briefly donned by Unruh during his performance of the ‘Hawonnnti’ sound poem, consisting of a tall hat and cape made out of a sort of white vinyl-like material. This costume is not wholly dissimilar to Hugo Ball’s ‘Magical Bishop’ costume, as seen in the photograph in his entry in Part 2.

The vinyl record played with a drill, nail and cup, the looped Dixieland clarinet recording (as stated by Blixa Bargeld in the aforementioned webcast) and various other bangs, clangs and noises in this song (not to mention just about everything else Einstürzende Neubauten have ever done) might be considered something of a musical collage technique in addition to ‘noise music,’ and the materials used to make them perhaps owe something to Kurt Schwitter’s Merz recycling habits as well…

8 comments

  1. You do not give yourself enough credit as a researcher or as a writer. Your article is great! You explain a great deal in one place, much information, that you collected from many, many sources. Your interest is never in question, even as you question your own sanity. How many journalists do you suppose have been in your position? Getting the entire story together and out to the readers is not always easy, but the outcome is, hopefully, worth the effort. Posterity is a long, unknowable beast that one can only hope will be kind. We already know that the internet is an unjudgemental template upon which to throw your work, and it will most likely live on forever and ever whether we want it to or not. We only hope the future eyes and ears and (yes these too!) brains will learn something our generation never did. Then the next will learn more and so on and so on and so forth until there is no more learning.

    And yes, to those reading if you haven’t, listen to the podcast by Blixa while reading.

    Finally, there is a recent first translation into English of Kurt Schwitter’s ‘Lucky Hans and other Merz Fairy Tales’ with a fine introduction about DADA and his ommission from the movement, and how his subsequent life was. The stories are another dimension of his lost art that is painful, sad, funny and just plain weird. And wonderful. Like life.

    Thank you for doing all this work! It is amazing. Good luck to you and your beautiful brain and heart.

    Chris

    1. *blushes* Thank you for the kind words, it’s rare to get any sort of feedback on this sort of thing.

      Speaking of Lucky Hans, I got a copy of that book a little while after doing this post. The stories are odd and (in my opinion) mostly very clever and sometimes rather heartbreaking. Certainly there was a lot of misfortune around Schwitters’ life and he was not well appreciated in his time, though I think certain circles are beginning to take more notice. (And as you can probably tell from the post, he is one of my favorite artists/writers/human beings).

      1. They are starting to notice Schwitters. There was an exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum of his collage work including a recreation of his first Merzbau. There were a number of great write ups locally (I live in San Francisco). And a friend of mine, after attending, wrote an essay for a class of hers based on his collage work called, “The Radadist” for which she gained highly favorable marks and comments.

        Schwitters’ work has a cohesive width and breadth to it even as it mystifies and provokes. I, too am fascinated. Much of DADA seemed to have the provocation down pat, but sometimes the depth is left wanting. I know for some that is part of the point, but I think in the long run, many of us human beasts crave depth in spite of society’s insistence otherwise.

        Interesting how the other DADAists resisted and rejected him. And so, MERZ. Perfect.

        All of DADA fascinates though. It is like the Punk Rock of its day. Every era needs that to keep the art honest. And every type of Punk revolution always breeds several generations of offspring ready to challenge and resist the flow of the Biebers, Osmonds, and Bushes.

        Yours is the work I would use as a guidepost to those curious about DADA. It really sums it up better and more concisely than any other essay I have read. Really. No need to blush.

        Be Well,

        Chris

    2. Oh yeah, plus, I just love the title of the essay. I feel like that all the time. Just a select few understand or even want to. Fantastic!

    3. Thank you for the great comments, Chris. I wholeheartedly agree that our guest contributor Sam did a wonderful job. This post is consistently among our ‘most visited’.

      As far as the podcast goes, I don’t know if it still exists online so I uploaded my copy. Here is Let’s Do It A Da Da podcast, English version, from 2007:
      http://wp.me/axMB7-3z7

  2. fantastic work! the level of detail is perfect, having known not much about the movement and EN’s long connection to various tenets of dada, i feel much better informed 😉 THANK YOU!

  3. Wow. What a ride. That is absolutely fantastic. I started reading and couldn’t stop till the end. It’s brilliantly written, informative, entertaining… congratulations. *bows*

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