April 19, 2016
Rock Me Amadeus: A Cultural Phenomenon
When it comes to the modern pop music of Austria, few songs even come as close to the level of popularity and earworm of Falco’s number one hit Rock Me Amadeus. Released in 1985, Rock Me Amadeus could be heard almost constantly on radio all over the world, bringing it to the top of the charts all over North America and Europe. This song quickly became a bit of a cultural phenomenon worldwide and told an interesting tale of Viennese history to the world, though many would be unable to understand it. Despite its immense popularity worldwide, the fact that the song is sung in German leaves much of the non-German speaking world unable to understand the meaning of the lyrics (aside from possibly the chorus).Falco’s Song Rock Me Amadeus tell a bit of the life of one of Vienna’s most famous residents: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and in the process, shines a bit of light on Viennese culture as a whole.
Falco was born in Vienna, Austria on February 19th, 1957 and as such, his Viennese heritage and ties to Austrian culture come into play in the creation of his music. Rock Me Amadeus in particular puts a punk/hip-hop inspired spin on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most renowned artists to come out of Vienna. Ewa Mazierska describes Falco’s connection to his birthplace as she says that “As the very titles of the songs suggest, in them Falco is linked to his country, Austria, or more specifically, to Austria at its most touristy, due to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Vienna being Austria’s best known treasure” (Mazierska 169). Mozart is heralded as one of the greatest, most influential, composers of all time, and as such, the people of Vienna take a great pride in the fact that he was born and raised in their hometown to the point where people dressed as him, and orchestras named after him are some of the largest tourist attractions in Vienna. The majorities of the lyrics of Rock Me Amadeus paint Mozart as a party-centric rebel artist looking to rock out and have fun before his early demise, much like Falco himself, who died in a car crash at age forty. Roughly translated to English, these lyrics are “His mind was on rock and roll and having fun because he lived so fast he had to die so young”. In his own way, Falco manages to present one of the largest historical artists of Vienna in a way that anyone from any culture can understand, through music, and by extension, music video.
In my other core class, Identity and Independence, we learned that there are facets of every culture that are not universal. As an example of something we’ve learned in this class, Schadenfreude, as a term, does not translate well into any language. As such, to communicate such ideas, we need to have “discourse” between cultures. Rock Me Amadeus, in a way, uses music and music video as the tools of discourse, communicating in a language that everyone can understand. While the listeners of English-speaking countries like The United States and Great Britain may be unable to understand the lyrics of the song, the visuals seen in the music video of Rock Me Amadeus actually conveys more of a message than it might seem on the surface level.
A large misconception that has been built up about the famous composers of Mozart’s time is that they were all boring, uptight, and overly civilized. Falco attempts to show the rest of the world modern Vienna’s view of Mozart, that being the bad-boy punk-star of his time. The visuals of Falco in his Mozart costume, strutting through clubs and concert halls with legions of fans chanting his name and women swooning over him paints pictures that the lyrics alone could not. With his music video, Falco is trying to help the rest of the modern world understand Vienna’s infatuation with the classical composer that might seem boring to some. Outside of the music video, some aspects of the song itself worked wonders as its own tool of discourse. The fact that Falco does not write the entirety of the song in German in itself is proof that Falco wasn’t writing this song for his fellow Austrians. Falco uses terms such as “Superstar” and “Rock Me Amadeus” in plain English as a way to give his English-speaking audience something to pick out from the song in an attempt to construe the meaning of it. On top of everything, however, Falco’s strange combinations of music genres and languages are really what drove the song’s popularity home.
Using a mix of new-wave punk and synthesizer-heavy hip-hop, Falco took the world by storm with this massive hit of a song. Steve Earnest describes Falco as “A pioneering figure in German language rap music- still growing in popularity well into the twenty-first century” (Earnest 470), which is exactly what he was and is. While very cheesy by today’s standards (to the point where the song is tagged under “Quirky”, “Campy”, and “Humorous” on Allmusic), Rock Me Amadeus truly pushed boundaries in its release, and became a big hit partially because of the weirdness of its presentation. Hip-hop in general was a relatively new genre at the time; putting a German new-wave spin on it not only raised a few eyebrows, but caused quite a number of heads bobbing. To this day, the impact of this song can still be felt, as all over the world people still joke about the wacky nature of the song and the ridiculousness of its music video to this day.
In the end, Rock Me Amadeus has stood the test of time as the piece of pop history that it is. From its endless cycle of radio plays around its time of release to the various retrospective opinions on the nature of it nowadays, its popularity remains unquestioned. Falco’s weird spin on the history of Vienna and Austria lives on to this day as a testament of Vienna’s ability to produce universally loved music, both in classical and contemporary forms. Overall, it just goes to show that even the corniest, most bizarre portrayals of culture can grow into global phenomenon.
Earnest, Steve, et al. “Falco Meets Amadeus.” (2002): 469-471.
In this volume of Theatre Journal, Steve Earnest provides his critique of Falco’s rock opera entitled Falco Meets Amadeus, inspired by Rock Me Amadeus. This source is particularly useful to me, as Earnest provides a good description of Falco’s career up until his death in 1998. Steve Earnest holds a Ph. D from the University of Colorado in Musical Theatre, which provides him with a fair bit of authority to speak on the topic of the play, as well as Falco’s musical career.
Mason, Stewart. “Rock Me Amadeus Review.” Allmusic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://www.allmusic.com/song/rock-me-amadeus-mt0011372279>
Mazierska, Ewa. “Tourism and Heterotopia in Falco’s Songs.” Relocating Popular Music (2015): 167.
This section of Relocating Popular Music discusses much of Falco’s influence and much of the reasons for the extreme popularity of Falco’s music at the time of its release. This is particularly useful to me as it details much of the influence that Viennese and Austrian culture had on Falco’s music career. Ewa Mazierska is currently a professor of film and cinema at the University of Central Lancashire and holds a Ph.D in film, which may not entitle her to speak on the topic of music history, but I would argue gives her an argument in the field of popular culture.