When he looks in the mirror today, he should really be looking at a man at the height of his powers, yes, right at the top. Today, as he’d imagined it back then, when he was 55 people would look at him and see the success of his hard work down the years – the unbroken series of successful albums and the permanence of his social privileges. Thomas, an admired superstar. When he looks in the mirror today, there should be the poignant touch of shimmering limelight gleaming in his eyes and not that dull shine reminiscent of his lino floor. The lino floor is now, the success was then. In those days, he’d had parquet floors, and some years ago even had them sanded down and retreated, but his albums weren’t selling and he’d had to sell the house. And his albums haven’t been selling for twenty years. Just as Martin, his best friend, had predicted. Twenty years ago. Just as today, they were sitting in the pub, for the first time quite legally again. In those days, their eyes shone with the joy of the borders opening. For Martin, it was gratifying, for Thomas a gesture of social decency. Over night, the passepartout of an entire world-view disappeared. And Martin said at the time, you should sing a song about it, but Thomas dismissed the idea. His last successful album had been released just six months before – his very last successful album. When he wanted to make another one twelve months later, he no longer had a producer. And hardly any fans. And it was too late for a song about that notable night. On the phone, Martin told him that if he wanted to make it back to the top, he needed a new identity, a new name and new music. Nobody gave a damn about him anymore.
He’d always had Thomas’ best interests at heart, even if he’d never really been able to understand him. Martin still thought that he’d had what it took to have a great career, but he’d been caught in a trap baited with special privileges. He was allowed to do and did lots of things others never could. One of the chosen, a little king among the ordinary people. And that’s how his talent atrophied. In return, he delivered the sound track he had to, sang that entertainment stuff and was totally busy making the most of his authorized privileges. It was such a shame, Martin thought, since he’d started off with completely new ideas. Even as a child, Thomas had an outstanding voice. They’d gone to school together. Martin didn’t really have any talent, although he’d tried his hand at everything. But later he didn’t want to cooperate and turned his back on it all. Thomas didn’t judge him for it, even though officially he had to condemn Martin for leaving the country, and he wrote and was even once caught on camera saying Martin had simply had too little talent for it. Too little talent. Martin had other talents: he studied law and sang on the side, and many of his friends thought he had quite a bit of talent for a budding lawyer. Yes, and as a lawyer he’d had real talent. He entered politics, is now on several executive and supervisory boards, and feels like a king. And acts like it. In those days, twenty years ago, he said to his colleagues, he’d seen it coming, and then immediately rang up Thomas and asked him to join for a celebratory drink in the old pub where they’d met twice before in the years gone by, though secretly of course. At that time, Thomas was still successful and privileged and Martin was a poor student who made music. At that time, Thomas had this shining aura and bought the drinks for Martin. He even gave him money. At that time, Martin was even grateful to him for it and Thomas gave it whole-heartedly.
Then, twenty years ago, they met as equals. Thomas still felt successful and Martin was a young ambitious lawyer. They could now meet quite officially, both free, both with money. And at that time, Martin said to Thomas that the era of his privileges was over and he’d have to build new possibilities for himself. That he had the money and should invest in a whole new project, but Thomas didn’t get it. In those days, he couldn’t see how his privileges and his success were connected. Music is just music and politics is politics, he replied. Even twenty years ago his words seemed out of touch with reality.
Thomas – Martin.
It was not that Thomas was corrupt, he’d never denounced anyone, no, he’d simply enjoyed so many freedoms. He joined in, he didn’t rock the boat, he allowed himself to be “managed” and sold. Thomas never even forgot who his friends were, even if they were “inappropriate”. He’d risked something, back then, when he met Martin in the pub and slipped him some money. Quite a bit, actually. Thomas shook his head and asked him what he thought he looked like. Those were hard times for Martin. Studying law cost a lot of money, his parents couldn’t support him financially. He got pennies for playing his “music” on the street, but still felt good. And with Thomas’ injection of cash, Martin bought new clothes.
When they met again twenty years ago to celebrate the new freedom and the years they’d been friends, they both wore cool jeans and white shirts. And trainers. Yes, they resembled one another, they sensed the meaning of the word equality in the rustle of the cotton and drank it in with the many beers they had. Right into their guts. At the end of the evening, pissed out of their skulls, leaning on the bar, their speech slurred, they said, we’re back together. Together.
Today, Thomas’ shirt and trousers don’t go together. Neither the material, nor the colour. A shirt, twenty years old, worn twice since it was last cleaned, and hung out of the window to air. Brown leather. The trousers, 25 years old, patched in the crotch, jeans, stonewashed and uncool. In the pub toilet, his four-day beard looks older. His once-idolised Cupid’s bow mouth now shows the curves of loss. Thomas is bankrupt. His house was auctioned off, his mortgage swallowed by two failed albums. He is divorced, eaten up by paying maintenance for the kids. He needs to cadge money off Martin, he needs advice. He needs a new identity, a new sound, a new name. He drags his eyes away from the mirror, leaves the pub toilet with a sigh on his lips and sees Martin already sitting there. A man at the height of his powers, his eyes lit by the gleam of success. And the knowledge that people can see it just by looking at him. Yes, it was easy to see it all, everything he’d worked hard for over the years. Thomas watches him unseen, no, not envious – relieved. He knows Martin can help him. After all, he knows he gave him money once. Of course he knows his friend. He goes over to him at the table, calling out “Hey, Martin!” as he goes. “What do you think you look like?” Martin asks. And Thomas looks at him shy and upright.
Original © Emma Braslavsky, from
XVI. Rohkunstbau. Atlantis I. Hidden Histories – New Identities
Verlag Hans Schiler, Berlin, 2009
All rights reserved
Translation © Andrew Boreham