Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
He drank it all and he said “I feel fine”
– Rasputin, Boney M.
I’ve always thought it best to move through life without regret. If you are young and encounter an older person that laments on the choices they made, it’s always an uncomfortable moment. A younger version of myself would feel astounded by that predicament. Why not just make the choices that made you happy? I would have thought. Of course, as you grow older, you come to the realization that life isn’t so simple. You always end up with a few regrets, no matter what people say.
One of my regrets was going to university. I only lasted a couple of months. I went to school after a glorious, hazy year of backpacking through Europe. I went to school because my parents wanted me there. I went to school because all my friends did. I’m reminded now of the opening sequence of Weeds. Little boxes on the hillside. I was following someone else’s path. I went to school because, well, I thought it was the thing to do.
My second regret is taking an existentialism philosophy course. I thought it would make me smart and sophisticated. I would begin wearing tweed blazers with elbow patches, I thought. I would grow a goat tee, and stroke it casually while pontificating on the works of Heidegger. I would begin ordering complicated caffeine concoctions, making passionate wild hand gestures I had memorized on the streets of Rome a year earlier. I would begin to wear glasses, maybe. Not because I needed them, but because they went with my newfound plaid patterned beret image.
Perhaps not so shocking then, that none of this actually transpired. I struggled through the course material as though being force fed a constant stream of brussels sprouts. (I love brussels sprouts now, incidentally. Especially when wrapped in bacon and drizzled with maple syrup. Have you tried those? Awesome stuff. Anyhow, back then, I hated brussels sprouts.)
The problem was that the course was worsening my already deepening depression. I was all too aware that I was ill suited for any of my classes. I was lonely. I missed my girlfriend. Although we had broken up in anticipation of being in separate cities, we were still in touch. Maybe this made things worse, in retrospect. I missed my friends, but most importantly; I had no idea who I was or where I was going in life. If any of that last sentence rings true for any of you, I strongly recommend NOT taking an existentialism philosophy course, unless you are a sadist.
I remember this one day, I think it was the last day I showed up for this particular class. It happened to be the same day that Kurt Cobain died. I was never really a big fan of Nirvana. Although I didn’t really have a personal connection to his music, it was still a disturbing day for me. It’s always an exceptionally sad day when someone’s hero chooses to quit before the game is up. Our teacher read his suicide note to us. We spent the rest of the class talking about authenticity.
It’s a topic that’s always fascinated me, and I’ve written about it before. I think authenticity within any art form is intrinsic to the value of the work itself. Just last week, Victoria Beckham admitted her microphone was turned off for many of the Spice Girls performances. Maybe that’s not so shocking. Especially when it is now almost common place for stadium sized performers to have backing tracks underneath vocals during live shows.
And then there is Boney M.
I first had the pleasure of being introduced to Boney M. at a friend’s walk-up apartment late one Saturday night. You know those nights. When you’ve been out to dinner and had some wine. A text from a friend in the vicinity urges you to pop round to say hello. You have one or two more. You are sitting on someone else’s couch, on the other side of town. You are wondering how you are going to get home. Do you dare deal with public transit on a downtown Saturday night, streetcars and subways filled with rowdy, rabid drunk soccer hooligans puking inside their shoes? Or will you risk hailing an overpriced Uber or taxicab, possibly driven by a blind, rabid drunk soccer hooligan, puking inside his own shoe?
It’s a daunting decision. You glance down at your phone, eyeing it as though it was a pistol with only one bullet inside the chamber. It’s a game of Russian roulette, at this late hour, deciding whether it’s finally time to pull the plug on the evening. Then someone yells out:
“Youtube Dance Party!!!”
The mood suddenly shifts from quiet complacency to wild, abandoned frenzy. This party just went from zero to hero. From Disney to DEFCON one. Then it happens.
Someone else yells out:
“Put on Boney M!!!”
And in that instant, dear readers, I was never quite the same man again.
It’s always a challenge to describe a song or performance. And a Boney M. show is no exception. You have to see it, to truly believe it.
From the moment I began watching the first few minutes of their 1976 disco classic, Daddy Cool, I was transfixed. I needed to know more. Who was this mysterious dancing figure, in a completely oblivious free style form, dancing, almost, it would seem, in a completely separate universe from his flanking, gorgeous back up singers? It was sheer, wild abandonment. I was mesmerized.
It turns out Boney M was the brainchild of German record producer Frank Farian. The same producer behind the notorious Milli Vanilli phenomenon. The back up singers hailed from Jamaica, while legendary frontman of the group, Bobby Farrell, was originally from Aruba.
The Boney M. story is one of fame minus the fortune, thanks to shady contracts and less than scrupulous managerial tactics. Bobby succumbed to heart failure on December 30, in 2010, dying inside a hotel room. He had just performed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Ironically, it was the same day of Rasputin’s anniversary and the very subject of Boney M’s massive hit.
Boney M., I assure you, is better than any available mood enhancer out there; legal or otherwise. It is impossible not to feel good after watching a Boney M. performance. When I watch Boney M., I always focus in on Bobby’s moves. He moved with joy, wrapped up with intensity inside the rhythm of each track. Maybe it doesn’t really matter that he didn’t actually sing on any the recorded albums or performances. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Sometimes, maybe, that’s all that really matters.
Did Bobby Farrell ever regret anything in his life? I like to believe he did not. Except maybe a better contract. One thing is certain; according to his daughter, now a successful rap artist herself; the eternal words Daddy Cool are inscribed on his tombstone. Rich or poor – that’s pretty hard to top.