Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mister Meshugge

From George Grosz, An Autobiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 90-91—

It was in a café [in Berlin] that I first heard a jazz band. People called it a noise band. It was not a jazz band in the American sense, but more of a café orchestra gone crazy. Two or three musicians with saws and cow bells would parody the general melody with rhythmic interruptions. The conductor called himself Mister Meshugge [Yiddish for Mister Crazy] and acted like a madman. He would pretend he had lost control, would break his baton to pieces and smash his violin over the head of a musician. At the end he would grab the bass and use it as a weapon in the ensuing battle, finally throwing the splinters into the audience that screamed with delight and threw them back. Throughout the performance waiters kept on serving the musicians more beer and drinks, increasing the general gaiety. Meschugee would grab instruments from the hands of the musicians, and sing and dance. Suddenly he would jump onto the piano, pretend he was a monkey, scratch himself, grab a large glass of beer to toast the audience, but then, quick as a flash, pour it down one of the trumpets. The audience was convulsed with laughter.