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Rock around the clock

In former East-Germany, rock'n'roll was a genre that gave rebels without a cause a reason to smile and dance. But if you wanted to shake, rattle and roll, you had to do it away from the watchful eyes of the state.

The glossy record from Bill Haley and his Comets

The old Brunswick record still reminds León of his rebellious youth.

During the mid-1950s I was a rebel, or a "Halbstarker" as we used to say– somewhere between 14 and 15 years old and against everything I thought stood in my way. Those days in former communist East-Germany where I grew up, rebellious youth were viewed with criticism. Music and rebelliousness were a natural combination giving us a way to express ourselves against everything and everyone. Then rock'n'roll swept across the sea from America and crashed onto our shore like a wave that would wash us of our troubles. It was a new genre that gave us a way to express our explosive angst with rhythm, beats, lyrics and instrumentation. Billy Haley was the first rock’n’roller that brought this new sound to us in Eastern Germany. It was wild and convulsive with a hint of explosiveness that made it the music ideal for protest against the state apparatus. Haley’s music expressed our undifferentiated feeling of protest - "We’re against it!" Around the same time Elvis Presley came onto the scene. It was a sound that channeled a lot of what we felt and in doing so made us feel happy.

I don’t remember exactly how I succeeded in acquiring an "officially forbidden" rock’n’roll record. Nevertheless after going through different "connections", I managed to get my hands on one of those glossy black discs from the Brunswick Company. It was as you could guess, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets. I couldn’t tell you how many thousands of times that record spun on the turntable but I can tell you that we used to rock out all the time hidden from view behind closed doors, shut windows and usually in the basement keeping the wild music hidden like conspirators.

That was all until one day the record got a crack in it after being constantly passed around like a ripped-up loaf of bread. The old Brunswick lost its rounded groove and was no longer playable. The weeks that followed were truly full of sorrow for that shiny disc and the music that had been silenced. But I still remember today, like a picture safely framed in my mind, those old wild times and the sound of my youth.

Sent by: León Wolfgang aus Deutschland
Edited by: Kerstin Boljahn


Rock and roll is an American music genre that originated in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was seen at the time as an expression of youthful rebellion. Rock and roll divided society as the establishment reacted in shock as they considered this new youth culture to be morally corrupt. Rock and roll was nevertheless there to stay and marked the beginning of a new era in music.

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