When longtime Rocking Stone writer David Sargent told us he wanted to write a piece on the elusive East Berliner phenomenon known as Siegfried Sternstaub, we balked. Over the last thirty years, dozens of reporters have chased this story—and failed. David insisted, and though the story he sent us is unorthodox, he may have penetrated deeper into the mystery than his predecessors. We present his story as submitted, without modification, and leave it to you to decide how successful he was.
by David Sargent
There are the rumors, of course, which we should (partially) enumerate.
- David Bowie based his character Ziggy Stardust on Siegfried.
- Siegfried and Bowie cowrote Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, utilizing a vast secret society of Cold War music lovers that shamed the CIA, the KGB, MI6, and the Stasi, transporting tapes in and out of East Berlin. A corollary hypothesis has it that Bowie and/or Siegfried were agents for some or all of these agencies.
- Alien intelligences “beamed” the entirety of the iconic opus simultaneously into both artists’ heads.
- Siegfried murdered Bowie and took his place in the glam rock pantheon.
- Bowie and/or Siegfried were mind-controlled by the CIA and/or KGB (or space aliens) using experimental fungal agents. Or they were swapped out with impostors, pod-person replicants, identical yet subtly different.
- And of course, the most believable, but least interesting: Bowie stole Ziggy flat out, and/or Siegfried stole it from Bowie.
There are always rumors. Conspiracy theories that circulate in obscure underground publications and the weirder reaches of the Internet.
Given what is known of Siegfried Sternstaub, none of these seems likely. Given what is not known, all of these are possible.
1) Siegfried played guitar. This much is undisputed. He may or may not have also played mandolin, accordion, bassoon, or krummhorn, and/or sung. Reports conflict.
2) Siegfried lived and performed exclusively in East Berlin.
3) Siegfried Sternstaub was a stage name. There are many conflicting claimants to that name; it is almost certain that none of them is the real Siegfried Sternstaub.
4) There are no official recordings of Siegfried’s work. There are literally thousands of Siegfried bootlegs (in the former East Berlin; none exist elsewhere), and new tapes are “discovered” every year. There is a small possibility that some of them may actually be genuine. Fans treat them all as canonical.
5) Siegfried’s first known public performance was 9 November 1969, to an audience of twelve people gathered in a small coffeehouse. His final known performance was exactly twenty years later, on 9 November 1989. The day the Berlin Wall fell.
* * *
Who, then, is Siegfried?
Determined to discover the truth behind the myth, I traveled to Berlin. I had no agenda, and no itinerary. I didn’t want to be burdened by preconceived notions or external pressures, so I arrived in Berlin with no plan, only an old copy of Ferrari Guides’ Closets Behind the Curtain: Eastern Bloc Tours I’d picked up on eBay. (It was, my editors suggested, almost as if I was running away from something, and grabbed at the first excuse I could find. My carefully crafted response ensured I would have plenty of time to pursue this story.)
It really should not have been a surprise that none of the nightclubs and discos listed in the guidebook still existed. It had been a long time since it was published—thirty years—and the streets I walked were a world away from those that Siegfried haunted. Still, it was a disappointment.
I had to depend on the fans.
I found one on the bus as I followed the guidebook map toward a location that Ferrari Guides writers called Dresden am Go-Go. His name was, predictably, Hans, and he claimed to be Siegfried’s biggest fan.
“I am Siegfried’s biggest fan!” he said, patting his prodigious belly. He wore an aqua-colored fishnet shirt under a ratty denim jacket, and brown corduroy bell bottoms. He smelled like bacon gone slightly rancid.
He waxed eloquent about Siegfried’s inimitable picking technique, which he attributed to Siegfried having two thumbs on each hand.
“Two picks the Siegfried is using,” he said. “Listen carefully. You will hear.”
My stop neared. I told Hans of my destination, and he laughed, and wished me luck. He scratched his address on one of the pages of the guide with a leaky ballpoint pen.
“Later,” he said, “you want to learn of the Siegfried, you come. I teach you.”
I got off the bus and walked the three blocks to Dresden am Go-Go. It wasn’t there, of course, but I thought I might glean something by talking to the people who had taken over the building.
There was no building there that could ever have been a discotheque. Just a police station that had stood there since the fifties. I asked some people on the street about the disco, but they all shrugged their shoulders. They had never heard of it. Neither had the police. A policewoman saw the guidebook under my arm. She shook her head and pursed her lips.
“This propaganda,” she said, with a curt wag of her finger. “Nicht gut. Dangerous.”
Ferrari Guides publishes queer-friendly travel guides, with a reputation for dependability. I was beginning to get the feeling that in this case, they hadn’t actually gotten a writer across the Iron Curtain before going to press and had just pulled the whole thing out of their ass. Which seemed unlikely. The other alternative seemed even less likely: the book was a fake created specifically to misguide people looking into Siegfried Sternstaub.
After visiting three other locations that day with similar results, I determined that whatever the cause, the guide was worse than useless, and went back to my hotel.
* * *
Subject #1: Hans V.
German male, age 57.
Hans V. is a vaguely employed Spanferkelmeister and, as stated previously, Siegfried’s self-proclaimed biggest fan. He maintains a collection of over one thousand alleged bootleg recordings.
I had no surname or phone number, only the address scribbled in my guidebook, which led me to a massive apartment block, uniformly gray and oppressive in the manner of seventies-era communist architecture. Compared to the United States, Germany is clean and pristine. There are always exceptions.
I found the apartment without trouble, but the buzzer didn’t work—the panel was broken open and all the copper wiring stripped out. The lock on the front door was also broken, as was the lift, so I walked up seven flights of stairs and rapped on the door.
Hans answered in his underwear.
“Ah, Herr Reporter!” he cried, engulfing me in his massive arms like I was a long-lost friend. Or a puppy. “I did not expect you until tomorrow. Ist gut my package arrive also early, ja?”
He ushered me into his apartment, an efficiency with a minimal kitchen and a stained mattress on the floor. Seventies-era shag carpeting matched the avocado-green refrigerator. He used cardboard boxes stacked five high and three wide as his wardrobe.
Hans’s stereo system stood in stark contrast to the shabbiness of his apartment. Sound Lab panel speakers and a REL subwoofer, driven by a Leben tube amp. A wall of LP records. Crates of cassettes.
Hans picked an opened package off his bed and handed it to me, reverently. “My newest treasure,” he said. “We will listen to it together for the first time.”
Inside was a cassette tape, a TDK SM-X, well used. This is the pinnacle of high-fidelity cassettes, beloved of recording musicians around the world, and normally would bode well. But something had been written on it, and then covered with Wite-Out. “Fleetwood Mac—Rumours” was written atop that, and then scribbled out with purple ink. A small sticker of a winged unicorn—a pegahorn, one of my ex-girlfriends called them—graced one corner.
I was, understandably, disappointed. Still, I had come this far.
Hans patted the pillow on his mattress. “Lie here,” he ordered. “Is the best place for the Siegfried to be listening.”
With all the formality and gravitas of a religious ceremony, Hans tightened up the spools with a pen and inserted the tape into the cassette deck (a Nakamichi Dragon). He pressed play and settled into the bed next to me.
“What—” I started to ask something.
He shushed me like a seasoned librarian.
There was the faintest hiss, and then the music began.
Howard Jones, “No One Is to Blame.”
Not only was it distinctly not Siegfried Sternstaub, it was a hideous recording, full of hiss and distortion. Whatever machine had been used to make the recording had done an incomplete job of erasing the earlier contents, and I could hear Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News” ghosting behind Jones’s new wave crooning. And there were other, earlier sounds, guitars heavy with distortion, and something that sounded like a harpsichord.
Hans had his eyes closed, beatific smile on his face. His foot tapped out of time with the music. He grasped my hand, thick fingers twined with mine; his other hand danced like an orchestra conductor’s.
When the tape was done, and Hans finally released me, I escaped the bed with as much grace as I could manage.
“Himmlisch,” Hans sighed. “Sublime. Ah, I wish there was more time to share with you the other side, but I must go for a pig to slaughter.”
I thanked Hans for his time, and fled.
* * *
Perhaps I started this story in the wrong place. It may have nothing to do with Siegfried Sternstaub, after all. Perhaps the story begins on 9 November 1969, when a young David Sargent crawls howling into the world. Or 9 November 1989, when a hardly less young David Sargent, oblivious to the momentous events taking place in Berlin, stands at a Las Vegas altar before an Elvis-impersonating minister and solemnly swears eternity to the love of his life.
Or maybe the beginning comes later, when a perverse court system chooses 9 November 2012 to finalize the divorce, and young David realizes that at the wizened age of forty-three, his crowning achievement is writing reviews of bad pop albums, buried in the advertisements cluttering the back of a once-relevant music magazine.
How does one separate the writer from the written? The written from the written-about? This is the game journalists play. After all, what does my divorce have to do with Siegfried Sternstaub? In what way is our last, brutal argument relevant to East German glam rock?
Or should we, like Hunter S. Thompson, throw away the distinction between the story and the storyteller? Become part of the history we describe? Another kind of game. A gamble. A Spiel.
I was forty-three. It was time to make a name for myself. What better way than to tilt quixotic against the unwritable story?
But why this particular unwritable story? Why Siegfried Sternstaub?
We shared a birthday.
* * *
In Berlin, all the synchronicities disappeared. The fans were even less reliable than the guidebook. For the first time I began to worry. Coming here really was a gamble. I had taken a leave of absence to pursue this story, possibly a permanent one. The only way my noninsignificant expenses—airfare, Gasthaus, meals—could be recouped was if I could produce a salable story. I was beginning to suspect that not only was there no salable story here, there was no story at all.
Was it possible that the entire concept of Siegfried Sternstaub was an elaborate hoax? That Siegfried did not and had never existed? That he was the product of a depressed, postcommunist economy searching for something—anything—to hold up as uniquely their own? And the West’s fascination with the myth little more than neo-romantic nostalgia for a less complicated age?
In homage to the hedonistic extremism of the seventies, I decided to become thoroughly, extravagantly drunk. I started at the hotel bar with a martini. Then I moved to the bar across the street for a chocolatey stout. I’m not entirely sure where I went from there, or how many stops there were. I only know that at some point I staggered into the most dilapidated disco I’d ever seen. Bee Gees blared from a scratchy sound system, and under a tarnished disco ball, a handful of pudgy, middle-aged people did their best Saturday Night Fever moves.
I staggered to the bar and ordered something. I have no idea what. I remember three glasses simultaneously poured in front of me, and I missed the first time I tried to grab one of them.
There was a woman there, watching me. She was about my age, which is to say, somewhat beyond our mutual primes. One moment she was at the far end of the bar. The next, she was sitting on the stool next to me, cool hand on mine, preventing me from lifting the glass now that I had finally found it.
“If you drink that,” she said, “you will pass out.”
* * *
Subject #2: Jutte H.
German female, age 40.
Jutte H. is evasive about her career, saying only that if it was discovered that she was a Siegfried fan, it would adversely affect her employment. She claims that she was in the audience at Siegfried’s farewell concert.
“It was my first time,” she said, smiling like she’d had a backstage pass.
I have no way to verify this claim, nor can I do more than postulate what she meant.
I did not know, when we first met, that she was familiar with Siegfried Sternstaub. I simply wanted to get (more) drunk, and she had interposed herself.
“That’s the goal,” I said. Or tried to say. Later, she told me I’d said spiel instead of ziel. That’s the game. Or perhaps, that’s the gamble.
Apropos, if unintentional.
“I have something to keep you awake,” she said. She took my hand. “Come with me.”
We ended up, first, in the ladies’ WC, snorting lines of cocaine off her compact mirror. Later, I found myself repeating the ritual off her bare belly, on her living room floor. Somewhere in between that, I have vague memories of dancing (I am not a dancer) and frantic, clumsy kisses in the back of a taxi.
I remember that the sky was starting to go gray when the taxi let us off. She shushed me in the foyer, pulling at my clothes before we had even gotten the door closed. There was more cocaine, and I remember watching her curves as she crawled across the hardwood floor to get something off a table.
She came back with an iPod, and dual earphones. She handed me a pair and fiddled with the device.
“My favorite musician,” she said, and pressed play.
The strains of Debussy’s La Mer came through the earphones, washing over the staccato growl of the Clash’s “London Calling.” Underlying all that was a subtle cacophony of sounds—hints of accordion polkas, fragments of Coltrane. Someone screaming in Japanese.
“Siegfried Sternstaub,” I said.
“Oh, you know him!” she said, climbing onto my lap and pushing me prone. “Isn’t he wonderful?”
I’m not entirely positive, but I don’t think we actually had sex. I remember her body moving in time to a music that I did not hear, her breath on my throat, her teeth on my nipple. I remember a large pair of feet on either side of my head, blue striped pajamas rising up to a pair of muscled and tattooed arms crossed over a massive chest, occluding the man’s face.
I scrabbled at the earphones in our ears. Jutte looked up at the man, then sat up, frowning.
“The children will be awake soon,” he said.
I was not killed. Neither was I permitted to leave. Jutte brought out sheets and a pillow and settled me on the couch, and then followed her husband to bed. Before she did, she slipped the earbuds back in my ears and set the iPod on repeat.
“Listen to Siegfried,” she said, her breath hot on my lips, her fingernails raising flesh in long, red stripes across my chest, “and think of me.”
* * *
When I was in college I could have weathered a night like that with only one lost day; at my age, it took two days to stop wanting to die, and another to start feeling vaguely human.
Jutte seemed slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, but I caught her smiling when she saw the marks she’d left on my body.
I was too hung over to take pleasure in that.
We talked—painfully—of Siegfried. She did not seem surprised to find out that I was working on a story. She was surprised when I told her that my first impression of what was being touted as Siegfried’s music was that it was simply someone mashing a bunch of different existing music together on a tape.
“What do you mean? That was Siegfried’s most famous concert, recorded at Raumschiff Steigen in 1972.” Spaceship Rising. Another club that had never existed, except in the imaginations of renegade guidebook writers and conspiracy nuts.
She hummed a bit of a tune. It sounded familiar, though I didn’t remember hearing it on the recording. She sang a few bars.
Begleitet von dem Glanz der Sterne
die Zukunft winkt in weiter Ferne
Yes. Yes, I knew that. I’d heard it, somewhere.
I scribbled down the lines, and the next line as well, which I felt I knew. Und leise folgen wir. “And quietly we follow.” Jutte glanced at the paper and nodded.
“Yes,” she said, “you are starting to understand.”
Two days later, when I could stand the glare of a computer screen, I searched for those lines on the Internet. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Dogpile: none of them found any hits.
Maybe I had heard it only in my dreams.
* * *
The other thing that I was unable to find was evidence of any publication by Ferrari Guides of a guidebook of communist East Europe. Google provided no hits, and eBay didn’t even have a record of my own purchase. A Library of Congress search on the ISBN pointed to an out-of-print book about garden gnome collecting.
I managed to get someone from Ferrari Guides on the phone. He flatly denied that they had ever produced such a book, and warned that I shouldn’t trust anything I read in it. The best thing, he said, was to throw it away, or better yet, forward it to their legal department.
The book was a clue, I felt, or a collection of clues. A codex, perhaps. If I could discover the key to interpreting it, the mystery of Siegfried Sternstaub would open before me like a certain German Fraulein—or Frau, as it turns out.
Jutte was the key, I felt. I needed to find her, and seduce her into taking me further into her mysteries.
But first, if I was to seduce anything out of anyone, I needed to bathe.
I found myself whistling cheerfully in the shower, smiling as I realized that it was a Siegfried song. I closed my eyes and remembered Jutte’s body, moving in time with the music. . . .
But that was wrong. It was a different time signature. A different rhythm. The song in my head matched another movement entirely: Hans’s conductor-hand, waving in the air.
* * *
It is interesting to note that the rumors linking David Bowie and Siegfried Sternstaub exist only in what had until 1989 been called “the Western World,” where no factual knowledge of Siegfried exists. In the section of the city that had been known as East Berlin, such concepts are dismissed.
Jutte had said as much, the afternoon after our aborted tryst. “I don’t see how anyone could think such a thing,” she said. “They sound nothing alike.”
I had wanted to follow up on this, now that I was no longer hung over, but her husband answered the door. He stared at me while I summoned up the nerve to ask for Jutte. Just as I opened my mouth to speak, he held up his hand.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage?” he asked.
I would need to find a different source.
* * *
Subject #3: Karl D.
German male, age 25.
Karl D. works illegally as a prostitute. Prostitution is legal in Germany, and is heavily regulated. Karl, an anarchist, refuses to acknowledge the government’s authority over his use of his body, or over anything else. I found him, late at night, scrawling massive genitals in red and purple Edding markers on the iconic figures in the stained glass windows of the church that stands where the ersatz guidebook claimed a counterculture music hall stood.
It was growing increasingly likely that the Siegfried story was unwritable. Perhaps, I thought, I could salvage the trip by doing a piece on Berliner graffiti artists. Perhaps I was witnessing the budding art of a fledgling Banksy.
He completed one particularly prodigious member, stretching from the baby in the middle of the central panel to the edge, then circumnavigating the frame before jumping to other panels, and finally running completely off the edge of the window. Finished, the artist descended toward the street.
I needed to talk to this man, so I ran from the shadows of the building I’d been watching from, across the street, hoping I’d get there in time to prevent him from running off.
He surprised me by dropping the last few meters. He turned as he straightened and flicked a lighter in my face, blinding me.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Polizei?” I suggested.
“Ah, you’re the American.” The flame disappeared, and I was blinded again in the sudden darkness. “You like my work?”
I didn’t lie.
“It’s not supposed to be art,” he said. “I merely repair faulty religious imagery.”
“If God is perfect and infinite—and I’m not saying He exists, but if He does, He’s perfect and infinite—then all of His attributes must be perfect and infinite. Jesus’s penis is . . . must be. . . .” He gestured, shrugged. “Big enough to impregnate the whole world. My name is Karl.”
Lights flashed. A siren wailed.
“We should go,” Karl suggested.
We ran. I could not reproduce the maze of alleys and courtyards we traversed, the walls and fences we scaled. He outpaced me easily.
I was gasping when I caught up to him. He had the door of an antiquated car open, and gestured me inside. It took a few tries to get it started, and when it did, it puttered spastically, like a lawnmower on speed. He patted the dashboard affectionately, and then we were off, a mad dash through narrow streets, ignoring streetlights and jumping curbs without warning.
He drove like no German I have ever seen. I said as much.
“Drove a taxi in Manhattan for two years,” he said, “when I was going to NYU. I studied political philosophy for four years, but all my real learning came behind the wheel. Everything you need to know about power relations plays out every day on every street, if you know how to see. Now that I’m a whore it’s easier—all the power relations are negotiated up front.”
As we drove, he told me all about the car, a 1958 Trabant P50, gesticulating dramatically with both hands. “This is the best car ever built,” he said. “No rust, ever. You know why? Built out of paper.” He had quite a few things to say about Henry Ford. None of them good. I just nodded and tried not to imagine what would happen to a paper chassis if it ran head-on into a Mercedes. Or even a bicycle.
Eventually, the car bumped up onto the sidewalk and screeched to a halt. Karl led me up the fire escape of an abandoned industrial building and into an apartment nestled discretely within.
We settled into a well-stocked, if haphazard, library. Shelves covered all four walls, leaving space only for the doors and a fireplace. Most of the books were in German, of course, but also English, French, Latin, and Greek. Some Cyrillic texts, as well. I recognized Marx, Foucault, and Ballard. Lenin, Heinlein, and Dworkin shared a shelf with Derrida and VanderMeer. I was unable to discern any sort of system.
Karl tossed me a warm beer and flopped onto one of the threadbare overstuffed chairs.
“The most important thing you need to understand,” he said, “is that Siegfried’s music is about fucking. Not the lyrics, of course. He sings about drugs and sound experiments and alternate realities and space aliens and intelligent mushrooms and . . . well, you know all that, of course. But you can only go so far in your understanding through intellectual analysis. To understand the phenomenon that is Siegfried Sternstaub ultimately requires giving one’s body to the endeavor.”
The beer was horrible. It probably predated the car. Instinctually, I spat it out.
“Don’t drink that,” Karl said. “It’s probably poison. Come, I want to show you something.”
The next room Karl took me to was the monstrous bargain-basement alternative to Hans’s magnificent sound system. Where Hans had optimized for purity of sound, Karl had gone for power. There were amplifiers stacked around the room, dozens of them. Stereo amps with speakers, guitar amps, bass amps, PA systems—anything that made sound. All tied together with a fabulously unsafe tangle of cables.
“So, this is the room of Siegfried?” I said. “Blast the music loud enough and everything becomes clear? It’s that simple?”
“No. I told you, Siegfried’s music is about fucking.”
“I see. But I’m not gay.”
Karl shrugged. “Neither am I. I only have sex with men for money.”
It was a particularly stupid position to find oneself in. I had dedicated quite a bit of time and effort, had gambled everything, to discover that which was Siegfried Sternstaub. So far I had nothing worth writing about. Or at least, nothing worthy of getting paid for.
I had a distinct feeling that there was some sort of Siegfried fan network, that everything I had done so far had been communicated through the network, and what I did now determined what sort of access I would have in the future.
If I balked now, all the doors would shut, and I might as well book the next flight home.
“Fine,” I said. “Okay.”
* * *
So what can I tell you about sex with Karl? What am I willing to tell?
Well, first off, it was not quite so straightforward as simply saying yes. There was the fee to negotiate.
“I told you,” Karl said. “Sex is labor, and labor must be valued.”
The exact amount, on the other hand, was variable. Karl produced nine dice and asked me to pick three. He would roll six dice to determine the cost of services, and I would roll my three to determine my discount. Whatever the result, that’s how many hundreds of euros it would cost me.
“That makes no sense,” I said. “Depending on the roll, you could end up paying your customer.”
“Yes. It plays games with the power relations when that happens, in very interesting ways.”
This was not one of those times.
Karl laid me on my back and put a pillow under my hips. He lifted my legs to his shoulders, and then got to work.
What do I want to say about this? It was painful, and vaguely unpleasant. I made the mistake of looking at Karl’s face once. He looked very determined. After that, I closed my eyes, or looked at the ceiling, or the walls.
It was also quite loud. Karl gave me earplugs. The noise was so intense that even with the protection, it was painful. More like being in the middle of a blacksmithing competition than listening to music; the vibration set everything moving. Even the rug on the floor danced in time.
It went on forever.
The sensation had gone from vaguely unpleasant to mildly pleasurable, and then back to pain. I closed my eyes and hoped it would be over soon.
The revelation hit me then: this had been a mistake. All of it. Karl. The trip. Quitting my job. Quitting my marriage.
A shadow passed over me. A woman, wearing loose cotton pants and no shirt. She was not German, ethnically—brown skin and long, dark hair. She had a pierced belly button.
I didn’t try to say anything; there was no way to be heard over the noise, even without the earplugs.
She studied my face intently as Karl labored. Then she opened a sketch pad and drew. Fast. Just a few lines of charcoal, some shading. Then she turned the page, observed, and drew again.
* * *
I have become convinced that all the Bowie speculation is a purely Western phenomenon (or a “Western Episteme-Colonial meme,” as Karl suggests), and outside of the mimetic cultural constructs, no (f)actual link between the two artists exists.
* * *
Subject #4: Nisa F.
Turkish female, age 29.
Nisa F. is an artist who makes her living restoring defaced religious artworks. Her own work, she says, is personal, and transitory.
I found her in the library after I finished my shower. She had gotten a fire going in the fireplace. It crackled cheerfully. Nisa was dressed as she was earlier. I was wearing Karl’s robe, still drying my hair with a towel.
She sat on the floor by the fire, flipping through her sketch pad. When she saw me, she set it aside and patted the floor next to her.
“Karl has gone to bed,” she said. “He said he didn’t think you’d mind.”
I shook my head. At that moment, I wasn’t sure I wanted to ever see Karl again. I felt like I had been used, and had paid a thousand euros for the privilege. The thought of it filled me with shame, and this woman had witnessed my humiliation.
“Do you like the fire?” Nisa asked. “Shh, don’t answer yet. Look at it. Observe, but without thinking.”
We watched the fire. Nisa leaned her head against my shoulder.
It was nice.
“The fire is the tree letting go,” Nisa said. “It was a seed. It grew. It fell. But through it all, it remembered that it was a tree. But the fire? The fire is the dance the tree makes when it realizes it no longer needs to be a tree.”
“It’s being destroyed.”
Nisa picked up her sketch pad, opened it in her lap. It was a drawing of me, jaw clenched, lips pressed tight, eyes slitted. She had captured all this, all my hurt and confusion and despair, in maybe a dozen lines. It was all there—the divorce, my career, my desperation. It was, in its own way, perfect. It hurt just to look at it.
“This is you, holding everything in. Static. Unchanging.”
She ripped the page out of the book and threw it into the fire. It fluttered, curled, burst into flames.
“That is one moment in time. Now it is gone.”
The next drawing was of my face, watching her work. Watching the concentration wrinkling her brow. I could feel the battering that Karl and the Siegfried noise were subjecting my body to fade—not in intensity, but in importance.
“This is you starting to let go of your pain. It is a different person looking into my eyes. He makes me want to smile.”
As the second drawing danced in the flames, I remembered that smile. It had touched me in a way all of Karl’s ministrations had failed, and the next drawing showed as much, my mouth open in surprise, neck arched and tense, eyes fluttered shut.
“This is you letting go of your fear,” Nisa said.
The drawing went into the fire.
The next drawing was, again, my face, lines smooth, relaxed.
“This is you, letting go.”
The fire took that one, too, and Nisa and I spoke more intimately in the warmth of its passing, long into the night.
* * *
Subject #5: David S.
American male, age 43.
David S. is a freelance journalist on temporary assignment in Berlin. He has spent the last several weeks ferreting out the secrets of an obscure local music icon, and is still not sure if he has a salable story.
But just in case I do, I’ve spent the last week holed up in a library in an abandoned factory, trying to get my notes consolidated into something that vaguely resembles a narrative. I couldn’t afford to stay at the hotel after Karl fucked me out of a thousand euros. I miss the bar, but the fire here is warm.
And Karl was at least gentleman enough to steal a printer so I could print up what I’d written. I haven’t had Internet access since moving into the library.
The last bit of this article is handwritten, because I wasn’t sure how it was going to end. I understood in theory: Siegfried’s music is about alternates and alternatives. Worlds that exist like sheets of paper in a book, or a sketch pad. As much as one might feel compelled to hang on to one page, one version of things, the only way to get beyond it is to let it go.
All things are possible, but only one at a time.
Or perhaps, only one per perspective.
This, today, now: this is the test.
I’m sitting on a bench outside a police station—the very station where I started my quest. I can see two doors, superimposed. One, a dour, gray door that leads to a series of dour rooms full of dour police officers filling out endless paperwork. The other, gold and glass and chrome, under a marquee of flashing lights.
There’s a mailbox across the street. Once I sign off, this packet will go flying across the globe to a very different city, also full of dour, unimaginative offices and once-relevant music magazines. I will not be following it.
Behind one door, the susurrus of shuffling papers. Behind the other, I hear the opening strains of Siegfried Sternstaub’s iconic opus.
Siegfried played guitar, and he’s playing now. I can hear the distinctive double-pick technique. It’s unmistakable.
It’s my choice. All I need to do is let go.
Accompanied by the glory of the stars
the future beckons in the distance
and quietly we follow.
P.S. Just in case, please wire payment to my account.
Bernie Mojzes resides in a drab suburban neighborhood outside of Philadelphia with an improbable menagerie of creatures, some of which are neither human nor glass. He’s responsible for a number of stories in such venues as Daily Science Fiction, Dead Souls, Crossed Genres, and Whispers in Darkness, and has a short, illustrated book entitled The Evil Gazebo. In his copious free time, he publishes and coedits Unlikely Story. In the truly stupendous amounts of free time remaining, he reads, studies swordfighting, and tries to occasionally fit in a bit of sleep. To learn more (and/or register a complaint) visit http://www.kappamaki.com.