When Phil Everly died last week, at only 74, I was really sad! The Everly Brothers had once changed my life when I was a 11-year-old kid in postwar Germany. Really? How could have two ultra-American singers have had such an effect on a foreign youngster? Simple: I had heard "Wake up, Little Susie!" on the radio.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X7b2E_Jq-k I was lucky, my relatively sophisticated parents liked to listen to the BFN and BBC -- (my hometown Hamburg was under British Occupation until 1958). And since I was a musical child and crazy for tunes very early on, I was always glued to the radio.
The first few riffs of that song pulled me right in, but when I heard the slightly wailing, aching, strange yet perfect harmonies of the Everly Brothers I was smitten, overwhelmed, overjoyed, perplexed - in short, my ears where on fire. Love at first sound. Who were these two mystery brothers?
I had no idea then where Don and Phil came from, what they looked like, how old they were and so on. There was no TV and Information of that kind was impossible to obtain in a country that tried to ignore Elvis (to no avail, though). I decided to act. The legendary German-American friendship had long been established in our family via my Mom's Lithuanian relatives in Cleveland. So I wrote to pen pal Raymond -- my English was rather decent -- and begged for "Susie."
Months later a little black 45 record arrived in one of those magical American packages we received three times a year in the '50s. My first record ever, and I was beaming with pride. I held a treasure in my hands. Imported independence. Foreign gold. All mine! What a victory over parents and the entire old generation: wild music in a foreign language. Literally. Too bad, we didn't have a record player yet.
It didn't matter, I had the Everly Brothers bug just the same and stayed close to the radio and the hit parade on BBC. And waited. The minute we had a record player about half a year later I purchased my first own record by handing over my saved allowance of four weeks to the small record store on Main Street.
Maybe, now being thirteen, I had become more romantic because the song "All I Have to Do is Dream" acted like a drug and turned me into a zombie-like daydreamer hooked on Don and Phil's haunting harmonies. Before school, after school, before going to bed: "Dree-hee-hee-hee-heem, Dream, Dream, Dream - When I want you...."
The mark of a true fan is the relentless repetition of playing favorite songs over and over again, and it is to my mother's credit that she tolerated the daily Everly Bothers assault. She couldn't quite see the earth-shaking qualities in a sound she found a bit dissonant and tinny - Elvis was more her cup of tea - but compared to German popular music, the brothers were unique all right.
My older sister also followed my lead and became a huge Everly Brothers fan, not quite as fanatical as me, but enthusiastic enough to become part of a sister-duo which sang along to every Everly hit. I was Phil with the higher voice, she was Don. In the meantime we finally knew by way of the first German teenie mag how they looked and who was who. The third record I bought also came with a cover picture of the two. We would study their photo practically during every time we put the songs on and discussed who looked better. Phil was the blond, friendly one with this all-American smile. My sister's favorite. Fine, because when it came to crushes - the dark-haired pretty boy Don won hands down. Both had that gorgeous hair! Lots of it. I was hair-obsessed and in my dull suburban world, all the boys between twelve and twenty were badly dressed and had this neat, boring hair, parted on one side - and they certainly didn't wear daring black or red shirts like Phil and Don! And did Dieter, Gerd or Hartmut have guitars? Of course not!
To understand my obsession with American music one needs to understand that the entire post-war generation in Germany was thirsting for something fresh and untainted that had nothing to do with the shameful Nazi past. We had to build our idols and role models from scratch - and for inspiration many looked as far away from the homeland as they could. I myself felt like a spiritual orphan who had put herself up for musical adoption. For me, ideas of freedom were closely connected to the wish to be free of the German stigma. The language was a major part. So that's when I began to collect idols and built an altar for all of them, subjected to a strict nationality code. They had to be foreigners, preferably Americans. And it stayed like that for several decades...
Naturally, even the hottest love affair is bound to fade. There would be many loves in my music-permeated life after the Everly Brothers, (still) lead by the Beatles, followed by the Stones, Dylan and Hendrix. But the two pretty brothers from Chicago with their glorious harmonies who brought a new sound and ardently desired revolution into the joyless atmosphere of German living rooms of the „Wirtschaftswunder" fifties, remain one of my favorite musical heroes.
I still feel lucky. To once have been - at precisely that time in history - that jittery music-crazed young girl and later teenager longing for tunes, devouring any sound that was fresh and strange, that had a beat and a rhythm, something you could shake your legs and hips to, something you could get lost in, only to feel reborn a minute later, as a member of a new generation, is a feeling that makes me happy and smile. And I still sing along every day, everywhere - if I like the song.
Sabine Reichel is the author of "What did you do in the War, Daddy? Growing up German"