Adolescent Stumblings

Adolescent Stumblings

As there lived no youth my age in our neighborhood, and the company of fresh baby brothers, sheep, birds and trees eventually lost some of its fascination, my sister and I enrolled at the riding school in the village across the hill. So on 6 days a week we walked several miles through the woods and across fields to reach the horses.

(from: I Will See You When the Eagles Fly Again)

There I went through several ‘initiations’ at the hands of the local youths, most rather physically unpleasant as I was not too good at fitting in and keeping my mouth shut.

My passion for literature and aversion to popular team sports, such as soccer, did not sit well with the older working-class and farm kids. But once I discovered my talent for smoking, drinking, and anti-authoritarian behavior in general, things started to improve considerably.

The local tribe opened up, and a fair number of its mostly longhaired members actually turned out to be characters of poetic depths and enterprising spirit, knowledgeable in areas that were virgin territory for me. Amongst those I took immediately to riding motorcycles, frequenting the pub, discussing politics, and listening to music fundamentally alien to my family’s record collection.

A lifelong friendship was struck with one of the colorful characters, Harti, a boy with magnificent, long, tightly curled hair, who had his own tiny room, an infinitely tolerant mother, and a most varied and fascinating taste in music.

Whilst until then the height of my avant-garde sound experiences had consisted of Simon&Garfunkel, Elvis and Dvorak’s 9. ‘Aus der Neuen Welt’, now I was introduced to Charley Parker, Gong, Herby Hancock, Undisputed Truth, Ravi Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mother’s Finest…and, and, and.

Almost nightly, through all seasons, I would wait until my parents had fallen asleep, creep into the cellar, and ‘borrow’ a couple of beers or a bottle of wine, take some cigarettes from the drawers, and head off through the woods to sit with my friend until just before dawn. Spinning records – listening to the ecstatic, meditative, weird, melancholic, the screaming, sobbing, virtuosos from all over the world(s). Sometimes we danced like Dervishes, sometimes we discussed passionately, and often we also read – The Beats, History of Philosophy, The Secrets of Ancient Civilizations, Böll, Camus, Sartre, Tom Robbins, Castaneda

On one of those nights a record crackled on the turntable, and when the sound hit the air we entered a different world of artistic human expression. Jim Pepper – ‘Coming and Going’, Jim Pepper, Muscogee/Kaw Indian Jazz Tenor Saxophonist. Jim Pepper, who took tribal rhythms and melodies and exhaled them into the Now – making every drop of Red Blood count and vibrate.

He became the soundtrack of our lives, and wherever we wandered on our increasingly psychedelic explorations of the senses we would always return to songs like

Ya Na Ho, Witchi- Tai –To
(Witchi Tia To Gi MieRah
Whoa Ron-Nee Ka
Whoa Ron-Nee Ka
Hey-Ney Hey-Ney No Wah
Water Spirit Feelings
Springin’ Round My Head
Makes Me Feel Glad
That I’m Not Dead)

… little did I know then that this was a Peyote song, the first to reach into my heart and show it the way of ‘the Other’.

In the following years the temptations of social life became a burden on the educational side of things and my academic career suffered badly. Had it not been for teachers and parents, I would hardly have noticed let alone minded, as I considered street life the far superior environment to learn valuable lessons. But eventually it became impossible to negotiate the two worlds and I was (not too kindly) asked to make an alternative educational choice.

I chose what intuitively seemed obvious – dramatic arts and media. Luckily my improvised rendition of Patrick Süskind‘s one man play, ‘Der Kontrabass’, convinced the eight judges of the prestigious School in Vienna to allow me to join despite the fact that I had not reached either the age or the desired educational background level.

My time there was entertaining and educational but still rather strict and authoritarian so that my innate dislike for discipline and fixed structures continued to revolt by constant argumentation and extended absences. Therefore, despite the stimulating pleasure of being surrounded in classes by scores of most lovely maidens (including aspiring ballet dancers…) I developed the habit of taking long breakfasts and prolonged lunch breaks in Vienna’s first district ‘Literaten Cafes’, which was very educational in its own right as there the custom was to read, read, read and then talk about what one had read (well, there is some drinking, too).

Just as the authorities were about to severely curtail my lifestyle and intellectual explorations, a popular stage director showed up to cast for a series of summer plays he was about to start somewhere in the Weinviertel Region.

There were various roles to be filled, but one in particular required a young male who could ride a horse. So, despite being a complete novice to the profession, I was given the chance to try out. What may have been the work of art to be performed?

I had not asked, but if horses were part of it, there were only so many options: medieval stuff, 3 Musketeers, or … you guessed it: Karl May. And so it came to pass that for two summers I rode around (on Julia, the horse) a beautiful amphitheatre stage set up in a quarry, well-accommodated and paid, alongside accomplished colleagues, playing the especially invented part of a Kiowa Chief’s young son whose arch enemies were … Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.

For three days every week, sometimes twice a day, hundreds of people of all ages watched us as we lived and breathed the Wild West in the ‘Weinviertel’ (‘Wine Region) as imagined by man who had never been there. Lots of action, snappy dialogues with some quirky humour, dramatic moments and emotions, timed so that the final acts were bathed in the gently setting Austrian summer sun, reflecting off the granite quarry walls though which Winnetou’s last words echoed as old and young fought with their tears.

Afterwards, outside the wooden fortress walls in the bowels of the make-believe Wild West village it was hard to get through the crowds of autograph hunting fans, and past the wide eyes of the kids whose devotional demeanour scared me a little. Then I went with Sam Hawkins, Old Firehand, Kleki Petra and a bunch more Indians and settlers to the local inn to passionately enjoy the produce that gives the region ‘Weinviertel’ its name.

Stay tuned for another article from this series, coming soon …

Credits

Image Title Author License
Adolescent Stumblings Adolescent Stumblings Alexander Stipsits CC BY-SA 4.0
Cover-Roger Ebert Statue Cover-Roger Ebert Statue Bordwall CC BY-SA 4.0

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