I released my single Candy’s Caravan in December 2010 in my jazz label Moontraxx Records. Stylistically the song is a blend of Nu-Jazz, electronica and pop – reminiscent perhaps of artists like Portishead and Annie Lennox. It features two characters with different perspectives, myself as the narrator and the prostitute Candy who is the main character – like the title implies. Atmospherically it sounds slightly theatrical, like a short and dark Burlesque piece.
I had completed the lyrics for Candy’s Caravan long before I had even started on the music, which fell into place when I was experimenting on the piano along with a simple pre-recorded trip-hop loop. The structure and arrangement for the piece I then further developed on live gigs.
It marks one of my first pieces that evolves around a woman’s very specific fate, by focussing on a very narrow window of her everyday life and struggle. I have since then explored an array of typical female topics from different socio-economic statues and cultural backgrounds. Some are in song form, other are spoken word or musical poetry pieces. The paths of women, their stories and their dreams, have always intrigued me, as we face completely different challenges than men. As a writer and a woman myself, I have had to deal with trauma, many changes and losses, so, even if I haven’t made that very experience personally, I try to deeply empathize, research and reimagine what culturally those struggles may be.
A full-length recording is available here:
The lyrics of Candy’s Caravan actually mirror a combination of different experiences, made during my student years in Hamburg, Germany. Another influence is my theatre background, most obvious in the usage of dialogue. I worked for two small theatres on the famous Reeperbahn in St. Pauli, Hamburg and these experiences definitely coined the piece.
Unusual Student Jobs
Like most students getting themselves through college, I took on a vast variety of jobs and gigs. These jobs not only varied in certain skills I had to quickly learn and apply but also in their social environment.During the summer holidays before I started junior college, I worked in a tile factory. I was intrigued and sometimes intimidated by the gritty working class women, who often even had children to care for, households to run, but stood there every morning at 6 am from Mondays to Fridays for a physically quite strenuous 8-hour shift. The parallel universe was later working in an office, a proper office with buzzing computers, a synthetic carpet, bad coffee, fashion magazines and lots of gossip, where I helped translating technical terms.
Another interesting experience was being an extra on TV productions. During those years, in the nineties, Hamburg was a huge media metropolis before a lot of production companies moved to Boomtown Berlin after the wall came down. So there were lots of well paid TV jobs. I did have a hard time sometimes, being the impatient and curious person I am. I found all of the waiting, the “hurry up and wait!” hard to endure, which is why I so loved the theatre and love performing live because it’s all about being in the moment. Anyway, for two episodes of a German evening TV series I played (or rather posed as) a prostitute which turned out to be a very interesting experience.
Livings as a Prostitute?
One of the gigs was quite well paid because it was not only in the middle of the night and absolutely freezing cold but we were also, naturally dressed in the most skimpy clothes you can imagine. In retrospect, it would be fun to have a few photos but that was before the selfie-era. My friend and I were hardly able to stand in the patent leather boots we were strapped into, the fishnet stocking were cutting into the flesh of my toes and the layers of thick make-up seemed to be the only form of insulation we had against the freezing cold. Although we flirted with the role, it did in a way feel uncomfortable that the mostly male technical crew changed the way they looked at us the moment we were clad in over-sexualized, skimpy mini skirts and revealing lace-up tops.
It seems as if we stood under this dark and eerie railway bridge in a barren industrial area near the train station in Hamburg-Altona for hours, pretending to chat up the drivers cruising by, until finally, I suppose, the lead actors got their lines right. Daylight was already lingering on the horizon as we fled home with numb toes, chattering teeth and blue lips. I realized what a terrible and humiliating profession this must be: exposed to the cold, to investigative stares, like being live stock on a meat market. Despite working on the Reeperbahn, I had never really seriously thought about these women before. But I needed to pay my rent too.
Fishnet Stockings and Lonely Tissues Boxes
It was a pure coincidence but the next gig I took on was playing a prostitute in a bar. But at least it was indoors and warm. The most interesting part was the location: The scene was actually shot in a real bordello in Sankt Georg, a very seedy area of Hamburg, like often districts in close proximity to central train stations tend to be.
After a wardrobe person handed us each a hanger with our skimpy costumes, the production assistant showed us our dressing rooms: They were the actual bordello “bedrooms” (for lack of a better term) and we were supplied with one each. Mine was a fair sized room with red padded walls, sporting gigantic gold-framed, mirrors and dominated by a gigantic king sized bed that was stripped bare of bedclothes, revealing a smooth red plastic sheet that covered the mattress. The humungous bed was flanked by two night stands, each crowned with a singular, a lonely tissue box.
It was extremely weird to get undressed and changed in that room. There was a bed – but nobody ever slept there. Was anyone watching? What was behind the mirrors? I panicked for a second thinking, any moment some John would be arriving. There was even a small extra room we had first entered before proceeding to the “bedroom”. It had a window and was sparsely furnished with two chairs and another tissue box – I think anyone’s imagination would have been triggered by this situation and it definitely delivered some interesting inspiration for my writing.
The Famous Reeperbahn.
It was around this time I got a job at the St. Pauli Theatre, which is located on the famous Reeperbahn. The Reeperbahn (also known as the “sinful mile”) is absolutely unique. To someone who has never visited, it could be described as a hybrid of the old strip in Las Vegas, London’s Soho on Fridays, the red light district in Amsterdam and the sex-tourist’s strip in Bangkok. It’s atmosphere alone has certainly influenced some of my writing (and many others before me) and coined reflections on topics like prostitution.
The German crooner and actor Hans Albers is strongly associated with St. Pauli, and wrote the neighbourhood’s unofficial anthem, Auf der Reeperbahn Nachts um Halb Eins in the 1940s. In the 1960’s The Beatles had stints on the Reeperbahn early in their careers. And in the first lines of his song Down The Reeperbahn the American singer-songwriter Tom Waits captures an a-typical scene:
Around the curve of The Parrot Bar
a broken-down old movie star
Hustling and Easterner
Bringing out the beast in her
I love Tom Waits as a writer and enjoy reading most of his lyrics. A lot of people recognize him by his distinctive voice that the critic Daniel Durchholz described most accurately as sounding as though “it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”. Exactly like a sound track of the Reeperbahn…
Short Memories and Long Tales…
I have always been drawn to the Reeperbahn. It’s simply an extremely interesting and seductive place. Because indeed, like Waits writes, “the memories are short but the tales are long, down there in the reeperbahn”. As a visitor, it is a fantasy-world full of false promises and illusions – like a theatre. I’ve also been to some of the best parties at great clubs there (like the legendary Mojo Club) when the European Electronica movement first started. I sang regularly at a dive bar called very suitably, Die Rote Laterne, where my co-writer and I practically founded and musically developed our band 4UrbanArtists. I often partied and sometimes sang atAngie’s Nightclub, where my singing coach Roger Cicero, performed regularly, playing piano and singing jazz, soul and pop songs before he had his big breakthrough as a German jazz singer and sadly died prematurely in 2016.
Often, after the curtain had fallen and we had wrapped up the show, I would step out onto the Reeperbahn, the air filled with cigarette smoke and the smell of alcohol and it would take me a while to adjust. Especially when you actually work there the contrasts can sometimes feel very strange. For the longest part of the evening I had been enveloped in the safe and abstract world of a theatre. Then after the show, I would walk out onto the street and be confronted with crowds of testosterone driven guys seeking sleazy sex and drugged twenty-somethings on their way the next hip club, crazed to dance, to drink and flirt.
So afterwards, my co-workers and I would often have drinks at the house bar. But on one of these slightly insane evenings even the bar was so crowded that some of the crew members and I decided to go somewhere else.
My Encounter with “Candy”
We went around the corner into a dark alleyway to a small, unknown (well, unknown to the tourists) bar. I had my bike with me that I pushed along side while we all chatted and then absent-mindedly decided to chain to a lamp post (yes, literally, Unter der Laterne…). Suddenly this raging fury shot out of the dark, hobbling towards me on her neck-breaking high heels, violently swinging her handbag and yelling at me: “Du Schlampe…! Du…” (You bitch, you) I understood immediately. I fiddled with the lock as fast as I could, muttering, “Schuldigung! Schuldigung!” (sorry, sorry) under my breath and then humbly entered the bar with my bike. That was the image that coined Candy’s wig and the high heels. The lesbian couple who owned the bar were gracious and let me park my bike in their dingy back yard, where once a week, boxes of liquor and the large barrels of beer were delivered. I have always been quite a street wise person and am also respectful of people’s space but this one time I did almost get beaten up by a hooker, whose territory I – in her eyes – hadn’t respected.
Especially at the weekends the energy on the Reeperbahn can almost be explosive. Depending on how much the crowds drink, which football team has lost or won, on how warm and humid it is (the colder, the calmer) and, I suppose, how business in general is going for the street girls. There’s a strong feeling of hierarchy. As a “normal” working woman you stay out of their way, mind your own business. The street girls are at the bottom of the ladder: Sometimes they’re heartbreakingly young girls, barely the age of eighteen, runaways, drop-outs, lining up in their neon-coloured hot pants, snow boots and fur-trimmed jackets and make-up hustling the men and boys in front of Burger King. Street prostitution is only legal during certain times of the day on the Davidstraße. It’s the most curios sight at 8pm to see them suddenly all pop out of their rabbit holes to then later suddenly vanish again. But it is also very absurd for most tourists to see them lined up exactly opposite the historical Davidwache, the district’s main police-station located on the South side of the Reeperbahn, on the Spielbudenplatz.
It was always downright fascinating to watch the gaudy but also desolate nocturnal activities of the crowds. But working almost daily at the theatre at night and sometimes in the daytime, is very different. Despite the chaos, there is a certain rhythm on the Reeperbahn. I sometimes had to go to the theatre during the day to hang up washing, repair costumes or attend rehearsals and often I could almost hear a big and long sigh, a feeling of general relief when the tourists and party animals had left during the daytime – in order to nurse hangovers and guilty consciences. The rhythm of the street then elapses into slow motion. What lingers in the air is the stale odor of beer, bad breath, sweat, fried onions, cigarettes and vodka – like the trail of cheap perfume women void of any style or taste leave behind. The buffed and mean looking door men become tired and tame looking, the sleazy, crooked eyed drug dealers slouchy and coffee-thirsty and the run-down catty prostitutes look cold and worn.
Yet the closer it gets to dawn the more the pace speeds up again: Having barely recovered, the cobbled streets and the musty bars are swept, and synthetic wigs and nylon tights are the subjects of emergency cosmetic surgery. Once the revealing daylight has vanished the illusions are born again – luring and seducing, like Candy…
© Frances Livings. All Rights Reserved.
(c) Jane Burton, The Other Side #2, 2002