Morning Music Funnies # 4 – Nina Hagen vs. Don Rickles (The Merv Griffin Show)

Nina Hagen can stake credible claim to the sobriquet “Godmother of Punk”. Her back-story reads like a cold war espionage novel. Hagen was born and raised in East Berlin during the cold war. Her paternal grandfather died in a Jewish concentration camp. Her mother was a professional singer who would remarry when Nina was 11 years old. Her new stepfather was singer songwriter and political dissident Wolf Biermann. Biermann would have a huge influence on young Nina.

Nina studied music and ballet from a young age and was considered an opera prodigy by the age of nine. And, as a young adult, Hagen would begin her career behind the iron curtain as a (more or less) conventional entertainer. However, when her step- father was expelled from East Germany for his political views, Nina applied for an exit visa and told the government that if they didn’t allow she and her mother to emigrate to the west, she would loudly carry on the political legacy of her stepfather Wolf (who she claimed was her biological father). Miraculously, her power play worked and she was shipped to West Germany and settled in Hamburg where she signed a record deal with a CBS affiliate. Her label thought it wise for her to travel and absorb western influences before she began her recording career in earnest. Hagen landed in London as the British Punk movement was in full swing and became a fixture on the scene, befriending such notables as The Sex Pistols, The Slits, and Lene Lovich. She never looked back and applied the punk ethos to both her music and her visual image to shocking effect.

When Nina wasn’t demolishing stagnant musical forms, she worked the TV talk show circuit across the globe. In America, talk show icons David Letterman and Merv Griffin took the plunge, One fateful night, Nina was booked to appear on the Merv Griffin show with notorious insult comic Don Rickles. Not surprisingly, sparks flew and Hagen held her own (and then some) against the mugging and barbs of Rickles. A mismatch made in heaven.

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