If anyone remembers Falco, it will usually be for the wrong reasons, either for being known as a one hit wonder, or for dying relatively young and tragically.
Some people must have found the one hit wonder, ‘Rock Me Amadeus‘ annoying, as it made its way into a Top Ten Readers Poll of The Worst Songs Of The 80’s but it also got into VH1’s Top One Hundred Songs Of All Time, so, in complete contrast, others loved it and still do. Me included. I found it annoying at times, only for the fact that it stayed at number one for ages in the pop charts and I’ve never been one for the pop charts, or for songs staying at number one for too long. Both the pop charts and stubborn No.1’s are incredibly annoying. I found it even more irritating as a teenager, just like nails down a blackboard. Thankfully, now that I’m old, I don’t have to partake in any way, even passively.
‘Rock Me Amadeus’ was a number one hit in 1985 both the U.K and the United States and later in Canada in 86. It was originally recorded in German. He was the only artist, whose main language is German, to have a vocal number one in America. He is the biggest selling Austrian musician of all time, selling more than 20 million albums and 40 million singles.
‘Rock Me Amadeus’ was just a tiny slice of Falco’s life. And, he wasn’t even Falco really. His name was Johann Holzel and he was born in Vienna and rather pampered as a child. This was not surprising, as when his mother was pregnant with triplets, he was the only one that survived. He was given a baby grand for his fourth birthday and was something of a musical prodigy, auditioning for the Vienna Music Academy at the tender age of five and attending the Vienna Conservatoire at sixteen. He dropped out of that university through sheer frustration. Perhaps he felt he’d already outgrown them musically.
After a short stint in the Austrian army, he played bass in nightclubs where he was spotted and signed as Falco, the solo artist. His first release was Ganz Wein, then Der Kommissar, a catchy, quite disco-y, new wave but not corny tune. It did well in Europe and German speaking countries but hardly left a mark in the U.S and the U.K at the time. It looked like Falco was destined to spend his music career on the sidelines, until a group called ‘After The Fire’ covered it and American singer Laura Brannigan put out a tweaked version for her second album. These both ended up bringing a renewed interest in Falco’s original ditty and kick started his career all over again.
My personal favourite is Push!Push! released not long before he died. It’s such a powerful, passionate and chaotic sounding track and great to dance to. Although, his music was very varied and he released many strong ballads, it hints at where he might have been going musically, before he left us.
There are accounts of his life in those last years, where he could hardly stand up during rehearsals, couldn’t even speak coherently, preferring instead the blissful blur that self medicating can often bring. He died in a traffic accident at age 40, his car colliding head on with a bus, in February 1998. Alcohol and cocaine were in his system at the time of the crash.
So what led him down that path? What leads anyone down there? I’ve been down there myself on some level, maybe still am. I’m always interested in that kind of thing. I’m saddened but interested or interested but saddened and I like to chew over the possible whys and wherefores of a situation. It probably won’t make it better but to understand and rationalise, even on a basic level , usually brings some sense of closure in my book.
He was reputed to be unlucky in love. This would seem to pan out, in the long run, as he discovered, through a paternity test, that his seven year old daughter wasn’t his daughter after all. The relationship with her became strained after that and he allegedly cut her out of his will. She even wrote a book about it called Falco War Mein Vater. (Falco Was My Father)
This may have been a breaking point, driving him deeper into the false sense of security that drink and drugs can bring.
He may have also had survivors guilt, being the only survivor out of triplets. It has been suggested that his earlier depressions were through wondering about the siblings he survived and that age old question, ‘Why Me?’
So, the perfectionism, the touch of genius and I don’t like to use that word lightly but I think there was a touch there. The discovery that his seven year old daughter wasn’t his and the whole survivors guilt issue. It was all a cocktail of issues, that took him to that other cocktail, of alcohol and cocaine. In his lyrical tribute to Mozart he writes,
‘He was a punk
And he lived in a huge city
It was Vienna, was Vienna
Where he did everything
He has debts because he drank
But all women loved him
He was a superstar
He was popular
He was so exalted
Because he had that certain appearance
He was a virtuoso
Was a rock idol
And everyone called:
Come on and rock me Amadeus’
from ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco & Rob & Ferdi Bollard
Perfectionism always brings its own particular problems. His fear of failure and of not livng up to his own expectations, as a former child progidy, would have been stressful enough, but he also knew he was extremely musically talented, just like that other troubled Austrian musician before him.