Rarely has popular music celebrated a more eccentric personality than flying-saucer-
obsessed German punk songstress Nina Hagen. Though her flamboyant, shrieking,
operatic performances have influenced post-punk performance artists such as
Diamanda Galas, Hagen has never been a big commercial success outside of Germany.
Hagen was born Katherina Hagen 44 years ago today in East Berlin. Her parents
divorced when she was young, and Hagen was raised by her actress mother and her
stepfather, dissident poet/songwriter Wold Biermann.
In 1964, Hagen joined the Thalmann-Pioneers, a Communist youth organization. She
was also a member of the organization Freie Deutsche Jugend, which kicked her
out for demonstrating against the East German militia's participation in the 1968 Soviet
invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Hagen tried to enter the Berlin-Schönweide drama school, but failed its
entrance exam. She ended up singing blues and soul numbers in a Polish band before
beginning a successful stint in the Studio Für Unterhaltungsmusik (Studio
For Popular Music).
Hagen then toured East Germany, singing with the Alfons Wonneberg Orchestra. Soon
she was fronting the band Automobil (whose shows combined rock concerts and dance-
club music before it was chic); she later joined the Fritzens Dampferband (Fred's
Steamboat Band). When her stepfather was kicked out of Soviet territory, Hagen
followed him to West Germany in 1976. She got a recording contract in that country, but,
excited by the originality of England's burgeoning punk-rock scene, she subsequently
moved to London.
In England, Hagen began working with Ari Up of the notorious punk band the Slits. She
then returned to Germany and formed the Nina Hagen Band, which issued an
eponymous LP in 1978. 'African Reggae,' released in 1979, became a club hit and
generated a cult following, particularly in Australia. The following year, the band
released Unbehagen. Hagen's first U.S. album was an EP comprising four songs
from her two German albums, including her takes on Lene Lovich's 'Lucky Number' and
the Tubes' 'White Punks on Dope.'
Hagen relocated to New York City, where she recorded her first English-language
album, Nunsexmonkrock (1982). The LP, featuring Paul Shaffer and Chris
Spedding, appeared on the Billboard 200 albums chart for a short time and was
followed by Fearless, a 1983 album produced by the then-red-hot team of Giorgio
Moroder and Keith Forsey. The LP's songs reflected her belief in a UFO she said she
had seen in Malibu, California. Fearless featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers on
'What It Is,' and also included Hagen's biggest U.S. record, the top-10 dance hit
Following 1985's Nina Hagen in Ekstasy, which contained covers of Frank
Sinatra's hit 'My Way' and Norman Greenbaum's 'Spirit in the Sky,' Hagen parted ways
with CBS Records. She married a teen-age fan a few years later and marked the
occasion with the Canadian EP Punk Wedding. Cuts on that album included takes
on 'Viva Las Vegas,' 'Ave Maria,' and the Janis Joplin hit 'Move Over.'
In the ensuing years, Hagen released a number of albums on various labels, none of
which increased her popularity any further outside Germany, where she remains a star.
In 1996, Columbia Records released Fourteen Friendly Abductions: The Best of Nina
Other birthdays: Flaco Jimenez (Texas Tornados), 60; Ric Rothwell (Mindbenders), 55;
Mark Stein (Vanilla Fudge), 52; George Kooymans (Golden Earring), 51; Bobby
McFerrin, 49; Mike Percy (Dead or Alive), 38; Bruce Watson (Big Country), 38; and Lisa