meThere is no point in talking about Wolfgang Ambros without looking at the traces he has left on you. My Ambros was completely projected on my origins, a city in the Hesse district, very far from the way I lived in Vienna. He doesn’t know and didn’t know anything about it, Ambros will probably never have heard the word Friedberg. And yet it was one of the most important. He was the quintessential depression artist, his songs really, and not just literally, flew like black birds. The beloved despair at the age of fourteen or fifteen (or did we only learn it through him?) was described in his songs: “The young man sits resignedly and fights against the tree in front of the window. He sold if to agony.” Ambros sang the anthems of our adolescence of failing, giving up, refusing and falling. As he worked musically with simple means, someone could always strum one of his songs with a wandering guitar, in some lounge having a beer, in the backyards smoking and smoking weed. “Espresso” was a classic, the song is about someone sitting at the bar waiting for something to happen, but nothing happens, and that’s all that happens in the song: “Weu i mi goaso fadisier”. in the background, which lay on the music like at home in Hessian the foam of the wine on the sandwiches.
Ambros came into our lives just as we started drinking alcohol and tobacco. If the parents had known what was going on, they would have banned it, which of course would have made us laugh out loud. The album “Viva el Cementerio Central” was the most idolized, since the title already said it all. It even contains a (scandal!) suicide song written by his colleague Georg Danzer, who pretended to practice the suicide technique in the bathtub: the water definitely had to be lukewarm. With this song you only got serious once.
What started turned dark and abysmal. I still remember well that “Der Watzmann ruft”, that thing made of spoken word, music and lyrics, we also perceived as fun, but above all as therapeutic. The whole record sounded like an “as if”: people in a very depressed mood allow themselves a trip to the apparently fun for their own change. It was actually a dance of death. By the way, once you were immersed in the dark universe of “Ambros”, even an après-ski hit like “Schifoan” sounded completely different. We don’t hear it sung as if it were a posh bear on a ski slope or a part-time freelancer, but a completely broken guy pretending to have a little reality in the face of his own mockery of life. Half Sandler who just sits at the espresso and babbles something about skiing the weekend. Incidentally, the song itself offers no clue to such an interpretation, and yet this is exactly how we hear it. Everything Ambros touched had already fallen into the abyss and from there he was calling you. Incidentally, in this morbid cosmos great sociability could develop, even when fully grown human, sometimes roaring the coloratura of Ambrosian depression with a Pongau innkeeper at night most wonderfully with rowanberry brandy . There are always accompanying songs.
The core of his work was for us, and the Wetterau youth were not alone in this (think of Niki Ofczarek’s famous performance in the “Der Pass” series, where he sings a relevant verse from Ambros on the jukebox in the Heumarkt café and then a “Geh scheissn, du Wappler!” is heard): the song “De Kinettn wo i schlof”. Although the life described there had nothing to do with our social background and our youth, he described our attitude to life and implemented a surprising impression of homelessness in the midst of our homes. The song literally led you to abandonment. It is about a Sandler who is expelled from the well where he sleeps. In the middle of the song there is a stanza that conveys a whole description of the world and existence: “And people come towards me like a wall towards me. I am the one who will find her, eat ma vua, if I pull myself together and close my eyes at the first step”.
The innkeeper and I also roar it regularly.
We grew up, and Ambros before us. At some point he also had to get rid of the beautiful despair of her early years, at some point she undressed and lost her resemblance to the gods. But Ambros was always someone who picked you up with that certain basic honesty that comes from the past. Yes, until today something very special to listen to him, something lights up immediately. “Slowly grow ma zamm” is one of his most famous songs. Nearly forty years ago, when I was fifteen, my then-girlfriend wrote me a letter in her sharp, crisp girlish handwriting, which I still have. It contained only one sentence, from an Ambros song: “You are wia of Wintasun, who only shines in some Togn.”
She was in her thirties at the time, having sung the song ten years earlier when she was almost twenty. The great Wolfgang Ambros turns seventy this Saturday.
Andrew Mayer is a writer. More recently, his novel Las ciudads (2021) was published.