Meret Becker on the magic of the circus, her love for Leonard Cohen and why she’s still taking music lessons after all these years.
Coming from a long line of Berlin actors and entertainers, Becker started out as a varieté singer at Berlin’s Scheinbar in the late 1980s. As one of Germany’s most recognisable performers (from Rossini to Munich to Tatort), she’s shared stage and screen with the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten, Nina Hagen, U2 and Kent Nagano on top of appearances with her band The Little Teeth, and of course, her late stepfather Otto Sander and brother Ben Becker.
This month she’s already performed at a tribute concert to Leonard Cohen at Wintergarten. Next she’ll take the stage at Heimathafen Neukölln to present Le Grand Ordinaire (Nov 26) with plenty of songs, acrobatics, tricks and her trademark musical saw.
Le Grand Ordinaire is inspired by the circus – what fascinates you about it?
As borders are so important for people these days, I find the boundlessness of a circus very fascinating; all languages are spoken at the same time, none of them accent-free, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from. In a very subtle and affectionate way, it’s very political. Also, everyone has an image of a circus from childhood memory which is impossible to find in reality. It’s a phantom which stands for wanting to run away, for adventure, and also for something broken. A magician does tricks, but it’s the audience that’s doing the magic. The bird doesn’t really disappear, but the audience believes it does. I love this moment. In one song, I gargle with water. And if only one person goes home and imitates me while brushing his teeth, I’ve won.
What’s your relation to Leonard Cohen?
Leonard Cohen is one of the top 10 musicians who influenced me, his arrangements on New Skin for the Old Ceremony in particular. Every time I listen to it, I’m in seventh heaven. What inspires me apart from lyrics and music is how he uses his voice. It’s like Patti Smith, they don’t sing the notes out. They don’t need to prove anything. Blixa [Bargeld] is also one of those singers. Strangely, Blixa and I fit together well because of that. When it comes to interpreting a song, we think alike.
Are you a perfectionist?
Yes, but I love permeability and risk. If it’s too perfect, I’ll destroy it. Although I’m very scared of failure, I think it’s important and worth striving for. You learn how to use your failures or fears over time. If everything goes totally smoothly, the audience just conks out. However, I envy people who have that one thing they concentrate on. I always feel like I’m insufficient because I don’t sit at the piano for eight hours a day. Some days I don’t sing at all, and it shows. I have to start from the beginning and practice lots; much more often than others. When I haven’t acted in front of the camera for a while, I’m walking on eggshells for the first two days. Others come in and have fun, they’re on top of things immediately. I have also been taking singing lessons to this day. You always have to improve. The process is never over, whether it’s acting, singing or living. And then, at the end, when you’re really good, you bite the dust.
You’ve been a long-time Kreuzberger.
I’ve lived there for 20 years. Right now, I don’t. I would like to go back, but it’s difficult. It’s gotten way too expensive. I will always be rooted in Berlin, because I grew up here, my father is buried here, I can never leave again. But many things about the city have become very unfamiliar. Before, people decided to open cafés because they wanted to attract a specific scene or because they wanted to make music. Today, people open cafés because they want to make money; and they’d love nothing more than a second branch in Mitte and a third one in Friedrichshain. It’s this sell-out that gets on my nerves. I mean, I saw the Wall fall, after which my hometown changed completely, too. But that it completely disappears because of capitalism is pretty insane. I just hope that as many people as possible will prevail. If we all leave, it’s really gone.
Meret and The Tiny Teeth Fri, Nov 24, 21:00 Heimathafen, Neukölln