Falco’s Resurrection

A Viennese Wunderkind is Now Celebrated in Film 10 Years After His Tragic Death

Manuel Rubey plays Falco in Verdammt, Wir Leben Noch! - a biography of Falco’s life | Photo: MR Films

Photo: MR Films

Manuel Rubey in Verdammt, Wir Leben Noch

Manuel Rubey plays Falco in Verdammt, Wir Leben Noch! – a biography of Falco’s life | Photo: MR Films

Falco is sitting in a confessional booth, observing his fingernails in a bright light that is shining through the little window. Not very interesting so far; but then the curtain opens and a bunch of already dead legends appear in the background having a good time in a bar. Jimmy Hendrix uses his tongue to play the guitar, Humphrey Bogart drinks champagne and Freddy Mercury happily throws wine grapes in another guys mouth. Girls are dancing; champagne rushes out of the bottles. And the Blues Brothers are imitating Falco, by lip syncing to his rap verses.

It’s a picture of excess, to demonstrate the fast and short life of cool genius.

In between, the music video cuts back to Falco in the confessional, observing the whole scene and commenting on it in his characteristic Viennese accent. At the end of the video, the lights are turned off and a big cake with just one candle appears out of the dark. The video finally ends with Falco starring at the camera and giving us a blessing. “Verdammt! Wir Leben Noch”(“Damn it, we’re still alive!”)

This was the music video that came out 1999, one year after Falco died in a car accident in Puerto Plata. It’s also the title of a new cinematic adaption of Falco’s life, by director Thomas Roth that was released in Austria in February.

Verdammt! is a biopic – a film biography – portraying Falco’s work from his early days, as member of the Viennese band “Drahdiwaberl” though his own later hits as solo artist, hits like “Der Kommissar,”  “Wiener Blut“ and his worldwide smash-hit “Rock Me Amadeus.” With Manuel Rubey as Falco, a classicly trained actor and singer seen recently at the Neue Oper Wien in Dieter Kaufmann’s opera Requiem für Picoletto in 2006 and King Lear at the Burgtheater. The singer unravels before our eyes, a mess of drug-addled confusion, and one couldn’t help thinking that the original Falco’s decadence was more sophisticated.

The movie wasn’t the only tribute to the Viennese singing “hawk, Falco,” who died ten years ago in a tragic car accident. He died on February 6, 1998, just two weeks before his 41st birthday, of severe injuries received from a high-speed collision with a bus in his Mitsubishi Pajero near Puerto Plata, a resort in the Dominican Republic. February 2008 belonged to Falco in Vienna, as if he had stood up out of his grave to command our attention, and yes, entertain us, once again. Author Peter Lanz tells his history, German Hip-Hop texter Smudo gives him a voice, and Manuel Rubey helps him to come to life on the big screen.

Lanz’s book is in fact the only authorized biography of Falco, reissued in a third edition this year, to celebrate what would have been Falco’s 50th birthday. And also, just to pay him homage once again – one more round of last respects.

The author gives us a deeper look inside Hans Hölzls’ divided life, his secrets about his wild lifestyle and mysterious death, but also his struggle with his artist character, Falco.

“Falco was already a legend in his lifetime,” Lanz said. “He was an idol, still unapproachable, unfathomable for a lot of people. He symbolized the lifestyle he was living to many young people, the riotousness and revolutionary life that was very attractive.”

But to become a legend takes more, Lanz went on. Part of it is simply the mystique of dying young, and under circumstances that to this day have never been fully explained, that gives millions the space to dream about what might have been.

“It’s funny,” Lanz reflected, “Jimi Hendrix once said, ‘You have to die before they think you are worth anything.’ Who the gods love, will be called early and become an idol: James Dean, Janis Joblin, Brian Jones, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix… And yes, Falco as well.”

Photo: MR Films

Born in Vienna on Feb. 19, 1957, Hans Hölzl was the only survivor of triplets. How is it that someone no one thought would live would have such a career? (Einer, den keiner vorhergesehen hatte, macht so eine Karriere.) His entire life, his bizarre beginnings haunted him – both charmed and cursed by the miracle of his birth. Of course it was not only that miracle that made him special. After a professor at the Vienna Music Conservatory certified that he had absolute pitch, people respected him even more. He graduated from the Vienna Music Conservatory in 1977.

He moved to Berlin for a short time because his idol David Bowie was living there. He earned his money by singing in a jazz-rock band and a few months later decided to remake himself under the new name of “Falco”, as to tribute the German skier Falko Weißpflog. He started playing for the Austrian bands Spinning Wheel and Hallucination Company, an inexorable young talent careening on into the mad hard rock-punk band Drahdiwaberl, where from 1978 until 1983 he achieved international fame.

Der Kommissar” is about about a drug story. In his official music video, Falco flees from the police, with several police cars in the background. It was his first major hit, all the more successful since he was the first German-speaking rapper. Smudo, a bandmember of the successful German hip-hop band Die Fantastische Vier (The Fantastic Four) credits Falco with bringing rap to the German speaking world..

The rock-punker entered an old palace with there motorcycles and circled around well-dressed, but with a bright-coloured wig. Falco is singing while encircled by beautiful girls costumed up in turn of the century garb. This visual image of the first German speaking rap song, that took first place on the United States billboard charts, combined kitsch and decadence to represent Vienna. It shows Falco as the hero, impersonating Mozart but with a healthy shot of madness. It has basically the same concept as the Verdammt! Wir Leben Noch music video, a loud get-together of shrill people.

“It was the twentieth of March 1986 when he was eating dinner with his friends and someone called his attention to a remarkable fact:  that he was the first German-speaking artist who managed to become number one in the US-Charts (for Rock Me Amadeus). He was very depressed and only said: I’ve dreamed about this my entire life. Now it’s happened.”

Hans’ life wasn’t always full of glory. He drank often and swallowed a medicine chest full of pills. He could only walk straight after a blood transfusion. His body was soaked with cocaine and his blood alcohol level was 1,5 when the ambulance squad found him dead in his Jeep.

But he was also a great artist who crossed many borders in his life, who was living constantly in conflict between irony and naiveté, innocence and experience, will and weakness. He just ended up on the wrong side.

As Jimi Hendrix said, “Once you are dead, you are made for life.”

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