Perfect Sound Forever

Herman Brood

Photo from Herman Brood Zing site

by Kurt Hernon
(July 2004)

Summer in the Netherlands, July the eleventh in fact - as summer as whatever the fuck passes for summer in Amsterdam can be. The sun, playing the tease as it ran from cloud to cloud and stayed selfish with its warmth for most of the day, slipped between the cracks of drawn drapes and shot a straight razor thin line across the hotel room floor, up the leg of a table across a piece of paper. A nervous pen hovered over the paper. Herman Brood watched his own hand shake. He wondered if he could even remember a time that his hand didn't shake like this. That fucking junk did this to me, he thought. He stared at his hand for a few minutes and tried to concentrate, hoping like hell that he could make it stop.

Stop goddamn it!

Thousands, no, make it millions of tiny dust particles danced to his left, reveling in the sun's sudden generosity. His hand still shook.

Just stop already! Fucking stop! If it would only stop, I'll be fine.

A second, a minute, several minutes, an hour, days, nights, years, a lifetime passed and it kept shaking.

The goddamn thing won't stop shaking.

Brood pressed his pen to the paper and quickly jotted something down. The sun reconsidered its generosity and quickly withdrew, leaving the dancing dust particles to fend for their anonymous selves. The room grew dark and Brood could hardly see his hand anymore.

That's better; it's not shaking anymore.

Darkness and anonymity, those twin fucking evil's that together always seemed to lead him back to that shit junk every time he thought he'd finally kicked.

Not shaking at all. Perfect.

He smiled, never for a moment believing his own lie. Hell, he'd been lying to himself for so long by now that he'd be more a goddamned fool than a dope addict if he didn't know better than to believe even one ugly word of his own bullshit. Lying is just something that junkies do; it's how they cope – at least for as long as they can cope. Lies are your best friend. Lies are your lover. Lies become currency and psychic sanctuary. Lies become the air you breathe. And then you become the lie.

Nope, completely still…not even a fucking twitch!

A smile crept across his broad, tired, yet still very distinguished face.


And then nobody believes anything anymore. And then you quit believing yourself.

Fuck you hand. Fuck you and everything about you. Fuck you and the arm that gave birth to you. Fuck you, the arm that gave birth to you, and the fucking torso that sprouted it! Fuck you, the arm, the torso and the head upon it! Fuck the hand, the arm, the torso, the head, the goddamn legs, feet toes, ass, and every-fucking-thing about all of it. Fuck every last ounce of even the very essence you've left in this godforsaken world.

A door clicks shut.

"Do not disturb" swings to and fro on its handle.

A lonely Dutch legend aimlessly wanders the halls of the esteemed Amsterdam Hilton. He is, inarguably, the biggest rock and roll star his country has ever known. He is not, inarguably, the biggest rock and roll star to have ever wandered these halls.

Room 902. Seventh floor.

He finds the door and touches it. Room 902.

The Amsterdam Hilton, March 26, 1969 – The suite that is room 902 becomes the most famously photographed hotel room in the history of the world. Behind its doors lie one John Lennon and his peacenik artist wife Yoko Ono. They are in bed for the entire world to see; in bed for "peace" they say. It is a "Bed-In" to protest the bloodshed happening in a small Asian jungle country over a thousand miles and damn near a half-century away. In Vietnam, they say, both Americans and Vietnamese - young and old - are dying horrible deaths in the dark, dank, and damp jungle, in monsoon soaked rice fields, and in thatch hut villages.

So in a plush suite near the top of the Amsterdam Hilton, in an awfully cozy looking white bed, the biggest rock and roll star on the planet is holding court with his hippie-artist wife in an effort to "raise awareness" about these outrageous horrors that are occurring in our world – right now, while we lay here, under these blankets, atop these pillows, getting photographed.

It's a wonder they could even sleep at night.

Brood smiles... or is it a wince... or does he even care... or can he even care?

His hand touches the "9." It's shaking. Next the "0." Still shaking. He ignores the "2."

Fucking hand...

The air felt damp and cool on his face. The sun, still mostly hiding behind one of it's many friends, kisses the earth with a series of grey-rainbow smudges. July 11, 2001... ahh summer! To most Americans this would feel more like spring.

Fuck America, they did me worse than the damn dope did.

He glances down at the world below him and feels as high as he's ever felt.

Then he glances down at his hand by his side and it mocks him, shaking like an autumn leaf dying in the breeze.

He breathes deeply, and then sighs. Herman Brood takes one step forward and smiles at the thought of his goddamned hand never shaking again.

"I've had enough; maybe I'll be seeing you around. Make it a great party."
– suicide note left behind by Herman Brood, July 11, 2001

"Herman Brood jumping from the Amsterdam Hilton for us was like – I don't know, maybe Elvis blowing his brains out in the awareness of his own hopeless condition and some sort of premonition of something evil to come."
– Ad Vanderveen, Dutch musician

It is, without a doubt, the most horrible and horrifying sort of self-evaluation – suicide is. And it is not something that any of us can or should pretend to understand. I have no idea of really knowing what went on in Herman Brood's mind that day, just as I have no comprehension of the personal horrors and demons he was grappling with. I can only imagine. And even at that, I would likely wind up entirely off the mark. But what I do know is what Herman Brood left behind. What I can do is mine the essence of Brood, an essence shared with us through a lifelong recording career, his prolific efforts as a painter, his untutored and painful poetry, his shockingly effective turns as an actor, and his hard-earned reputation as the penultimate sex and drugs and rock and roll star. A star that shone so brightly and with such white-hot intensity in his homeland (and much of Europe) that it is damn near impossible for anyone outside the Netherlands to comprehend. Ad Vanderveen (himself an wildly talented Northern European Neil Young doppelganger) wasn't just talking out of his ass when he brought up Elvis Presley, he was simply speaking as plainly as he could to American ears - ears that had remained mostly deaf to Brood's music. If Elvis had been the King of America then Herman Brood was a Dutch God; the rock and roll Buddha of the Netherlands; the absurd and utterly illogical heir to a legacy of Dutch artists that stretches far into the heavens and kisses the cheeks of Rembrandt and Van Gogh; themselves seated at the left and the right hand sides of His throne. In his own country Herman Brood was a Very Big Fish... as big as they come. It would be a very long time indeed before anyone with feet on terra firma in the Netherlands and with Dutch blood running through his or her veins would forget the legendary Herman Brood.

It was to be called Ciao Monkey because that's exactly where he was in his life in the year of our Lord 2000 - working hard to at long last and finally bid adieu to the monkey that he'd stooped to let up on his back so many years before. It was destined to be, unbeknownst to everyone involved, his very last record. That goddamn monkey turned out to be a motherfucker. He'd never imagined that it had gotten so big, so strong, and so lecherous. He never, not even for a minute, imagined he's have to grapple with the vicious beast for two full years just to rid himself of it – two years that could have turned into three, four, ten, fifteen if Brood hadn't decided that enough was enough...

If I can't ciao monkey this sonuvabitch, I'll just take him down with me.

On Ciao Monkey, he was singing about it all. On Ciao Monkey, with hindsight being all that it is, it is painfully obvious that Herman Brood could see – vividly - his own dark future. It isn't a very good record, but on July 11, 2001 it became a stark listen to be sure.

But Herman Brood had been singing about his own fate for a very long time. Long before he tried to sing it away. He'd let that goddamn little monkey hop up on his shoulder in his early twenties when he was just one of the Blizzards, playing piano behind Cuby (as in Cuby & the Blizzards). And that monkey was right there, hanging on for dear life as Brood and Cuby and the other Blizzards recorded Greoten Uit Grollo (Greetings from Grollo) a landmark early Dutch rock platter that somehow holds up to time's test very well, thank you. It clung ever so tightly to Brood's lean torso as the Blizzards accompanied worldwide legends like John Mayall and Van Morrison. It shed its little monkey tears when Cuby's record label got tired of that how much the monkey had grown and fired Brood from the Blizzards. It was only 1967 and Herman Brood was barely twenty-one years old and his rock and roll dream seemed as though it was only a half step behind him in a race to the grave.

"How'd I get mixed up with this fuckin' monkey anyhow?"
– "Me and My Monkey", Robbie Williams

The Blizzards called again, as they would for a few years off and on. But, as these things tend to list in rock and roll careers, the Blizzard's and Cuby were never able to muster up another Groeten Uit Grollo. But there would be a few reunions and much reminiscing and one last tired, fruitless run at that cold hearted and elusive bitch Stardom. But it was what it was and what it always tends to be: nothing more than hangers on hanging on to nothing more than nothing. Faded glory dies hard... nostalgia kills.

In 1976, after brief, indistinct runs in something called Stud as well as the band Vitesse (which released one lousy record on which Brood played piano and then quit) Herman Brood played poker with his past and joined the re-formed Cuby & the Blizzards one last time. He was thirty years old and a Dutch rockroll dinosaur. Fuck that.

Koos van Dijk wasn't an impresario, he wasn't exactly Malcom McLaren, but he was a smart fellow in the Dutch music scene who saw in Herman Brood what Brood himself always thought he saw in the mirror: a Star. And moreover, van Dijk, while certainly not approving of Brood's marsupial friend upon his back, knew the power of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll imagery in the middle 1970's. Brood was a natural. Van Dijk became Brood's manager/confidante/protector. The monkey couldn't have been happier.

Wild Romance seemed to sum things up nicely, so nicely that their was never a debate as to the name of Brood's solo project: Herman Brood and his Wild Romance. It was perfect. Even the monkey liked it.

Honing their chops in the pubs in and around the town Groningen, Wild Romance stirred up a serious R&B pub rock vibe that suited Brood's adoration of old rock and roll originals like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, god-forgive-him-for-even–comparing-himself... Little Richard.

As 1976 became a year older and the United States of America turned 201 years old, Herman Brood and his Wild Romance turned the noises absorbed into the walls of pubs in Groningen into a taut slab of smoking hot black plastic that they called Street. It was an uneasy mixture of pub rock new wave angst and jump blues classicism that hadn't quite found a comfortable place to settle, but it was undeniable in its energy and bordering on absurd passion. It seemed that guy who used to play piano in the Blizzards was quite the charismatic front man. Insane in fact. Unbelievable. The best.

Cuby who?

Across the cold Atlantic Ocean lies the land that gave birth to rock and roll. Herman Brood loved American music, considered it the defining art form of his lifetime (Brood himself was an art school student with a keen interest in painting), and he knew that if he were destined in any way to truly leave his mark on rock and roll, he'd have to meet America somehow, someday, someway.

Shpritsz means "stop", and from the sound of things on the record, the monkey had to be a little bit worried by now. Song titles like "Dope Sucks," "R & Roll Junkie," "Hit," "Skid Row" and "Pain" didn't bode well for the monkey. But, to the monkey's good fortune, Shpritsz caught more than a few ears off guard... American ears. America! Land of excess! Home of foreboding and forbidding puritanical ideals... and the constant cultural struggle to pull away from them!

Meeting the post-punk new wave tide that was quickly traversing the Great Atlantic in the form of pub rockers like Joe Jackson, Graham Parker, and Elvis Costello and spicing that approach up with the growing American Trans-Euro obsession (hell, Bowie and Iggy Pop were in Berlin for God's sake), Herman Brood and his Wild Romance found themselves in America with an utterly unexpected "hit" on their hands.

"Saturday Night" is far from a spectacular rock and roll track, but it is the sort of novel foreigner-does-American R&B boogie that catches you off guard with its passion – a passion that tends to get choked out by crass American cynicism far too often - and winds up pasting a big stupid grin on your face. Brood mumble speaks the lyrics with a doughy accent that sounds more like the grunting and groaning of intercourse than any sort of rock and roll bad boy, but perhaps that's the secret. His Wild Romance plays along admirably, walking a fine line between R&B, new wave edginess, and disco. It's a clichéd weekend anthem that seems as obvious as they come, yet somehow feels fresh – in the way that (in 1978) foreign things done half-assed but passionately seem quaint.

If all "Saturday Night" did was draw people to Shpritsz then it would have done its job. But "Saturday Night" found itself in the top 40 of the pop charts and gave Brood his first taste of American adoration. It would also be his last. But again, if all that "Saturday Night" did was bring people into the strange and charismatic world of Shpritsz, then it would be the finest song Herman Brood ever did.

Shpritsz is Herman Brood's apex; his zenith; his Everest. It is not one of rock and roll's great records, but it is a very good record that defined a man and his artistic view of the world and himself as good if not better than a few of those "great" records. It is all Brood. Braggadocios, cautious, wild, out of control, fun seeking, nervous, weird, faux, earnest, high energy, and full of low self-opinion, Shpritsz is Herman Brood as life of the party, but all the while offering up silent pleas - winking and nodding to everyone and anyone about the fucking monkey leering over his shoulder. It is a record full of all the energy and life that was being drained from Herman Brood at a startling rate. That goddamn monkey surely had a straw dipped deep into the man's soul.

1979 and this Wild Romance courts America with a compilation album and gains a small, albeit much desired dose of respect. Herman Brood, after spending two years establishing himself as the definitive Dutch rock star, was finally – in America – a "real" honest-to-goodness sexdrugsandrockandroll star. Just like Jerry Lee. Just like Chuck Berry. And while not exactly like Little Richard (there would never be another... ever) or Elvis Presley (who embodied everything that Brood had wanted to be), he was playing rock and roll, his rock and roll, on the same slab of soil that they had both tread upon. Everything seemed better in the States…the sex, the drugs (especially the drugs), and the rock and roll. So much so that Herman Brood and his Wild Romance would stay on the west end of the Atlantic to record Go Nutz, the follow up to Shpritsz.

But those American bastards, these supposedly keen ears that'd given birth to this thing called rock and roll, refused to work with the Wild Romance rhythm section. They were shabby, shoddy, and downright rotten they'd said. They knew a couple of professionals, they claimed. Real pro's pro's that would shape the songs more precisely. Guys who understood the sort of R&B that Brood and the Romance were trying to make. Guys who'd help them get there. Brood and the monkey believed them. They'd had their taste of America and now wanted a mouthful – friends and colleagues be damned.

Go Nutz turned out to be a soulless pile of shit. Stripped of the wild-assed amateur exuberance that had always made Herman Brood's music a unique concoction of sloppy style and high ideas, Go Nutz became Wild Romance's tombstone. Having been replaced for the recording by studio musicians, the band fractured and the music bled to death because of it. Brood kept feeding his monkey, completely oblivious to the fact that the best band he'd ever played with was drawing its final breath.

By the time Herman Brood turned 50 years old in 1996, he was probably as famous for his paintings as he was for his music. His artwork had certainly become far more lucrative. His paintings, glorious and insane, could generally be best described as an exercise in colorful dementia. But Brood was a rock and roller first and foremost. He'd never stopped recording, although most of his music tended toward trend hopping (1999's Back on the Corner was a big band swing revival that works extraordinarily and surprisingly well). The entirety of the Netherlands celebrates Brood's first half-century with parties, art shows, and nationally televised concert. He is a hero. A super hero in fact. The Dutch Buddha. It won't ever get any better than this!

But the monkey is hungry for more. Always hungry. An insatiable sonuvabitch that will consume Brood if Brood stops consuming for him. He doesn't mind the acting, the painting, and the toned-down lifestyle, he just wants fed along the way. And fed well. And fed often. And Herman Brood, quite frankly, is sick and tired of feeding the fucking furball on his back. He'd put up with him long enough. The time had come today...

There are five Madame Tussaud's Wax Museums on the planet Earth and one of them happens to be of laid brick and mortar in Amsterdam. Inside there are the endlessly morbid waxen facsimiles of various celebrities, politicians, and otherwise historical figures. As garish and bizarre looking as the wax Elvis Presley may be, everyone recognizes the attempt being made. He is a young to middling aged Elvis, handsome and confident and full of vigor. He is Elvis as most wish to remember Elvis. Right beside him is another rock and roll legend, one that won't be recognizable to many folks besides the Dutch. But there he is, in his rightful place, beside another King from another Kingdom.

"His name was Herman Brood," someone may whisper to the uninformed, "and he was the greatest Dutch rock and roller ever. There will never be another like him. It took them four full volumes to write his biography. Four... He was that great a man."

There have been complaints as of late in the legendary Amsterdam Hilton. It's a pricey, high-class joint that doesn't take kindly to its clientele being disturbed and thus takes any complaints, as bizarre as they may sound, very seriously. They've recently called in experts, had some noise studies done, and have doubled up the monitors in its hallways, but nothing has seemed to help them get to the bottom of their problem. No one at the hotel will talk about it much because, well, the sort of people who tend to shell out good money for a quality hotel room just don't take to kindly to the notion that there's even the slightest truth to a rumor that says there might be a howling monkey running loose through the hallways at night.

But that's what they say they hear... a fucking monkey... a godawful howling marsupial... a lost chimp... howling... crying really... desperately looking for the hand that has fed it for nearly 30 years...

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER