Songs for the Soundtrack of a Life
A chance encounter with a online photo of Tokio Hotel lead singer Bill Kaulitz, with his trade-mark lion's mane hair, black shadowed eyes, and the peculiar spelling of Tokyo led me not only on a journey to discovery the German export Tokio Hotel, but on a journey of self-discovery as well. I learned the band's name comes from "Tokio," the German spelling of Tokyo, a city the band would like to visit; and "Hotel," because they spend so much time on tour and living out of hotels. And with that a fan was born, both of their musical style and of the band behind that music.
Following up on my original curiosity about what Bill Kaulitz looked like without make-up and big hair, I came across their website. Scream was the background music; after a few listens to that and some of their other songs, and reading about the individual band members, I realized I had stumbled upon something unique. And it was more than just their pretty faces.
The overwhelming fan base for Tokio Hotel is still in high school, and the band members themselves were all born in the late '80's. So what's in it for a middle-aged mom, besides catchy riffs and pretty lyrics? Lots...in simplest terms: Be yourself; someone is always there for you; hope; none of this will be easy. But working hard to be the best self you can be...no, not the best self...the true self you are, but maybe lost along the way...is worth the effort. Even if it goes against the "norm" or what is expected or what others think. Something that simple may be obvious to others; but sometimes the simplest things elude us.
The Kaulitz twins have always done their own thing, been their own persons, and were allowed this freedom growing up. Bill decided early on to dress the way he wants, has evolved his personal style as he sees fit and doesn't let it be dictated to him, either by peer pressure or a management agency. They play their music the way they want and because of their hard work, they've reached the level they have. And watching them perform, (YouTube and DVDs are wonderful) the pure joy they get from doing what they love is evident. Bill can be singing the most melancholy song in German and if you don't know the English lyrics...the big smile on his face makes it seem it's the happiest song in the world. It's a wonderful thing to see, and has given me inspiration to make changes in my life, accept what I truly cannot change and do it all to a kick a** sound track. So here's my pick for Tokio Hotel's top 10 list.
10. In Die Nacht (In The Night)
This song was written by Bill for his twin brother, Tom. Stunningly beautiful, sung sweetly and unapologetically by Bill, accompanied only by Tom, it's a deeply personal song. I have never heard it in English and I'm not sure I'd feel as moved by it if I did. Many of their songs translate well into English. But sometimes meanings get lost in translation; I think subtle differences in word meanings might distort the song just enough to make it less powerful. I think this one needs to remain untouched; a love song from Bill's heart, written and sung in German. No one is ever as eloquent in another language as they are in the one they learned to speak in.
9. Der Letzte Tag (Final Day)
End of the world party song. Or for me, a horror film junkie, zombies taking over the world party song. Either way, in either language, it's got that vibe...we're running out of time, so enjoy what's left of it, hopefully with someone special. Plain and simple.
8. Lie die Sekunde (Live Every Second)
For me, this song was one of those mini-epiphany moments...a smack myself on the forehead thing. A line of the song is "Wake up...stop it now." Well, yeah...if you want to start doing something positive, you need to stop doing whatever it is that's negative. I heard this song around New Year's, the time most of us make resolutions. Kind of put a new spin on it for me; it's a two part process.
7. Wir Sterben Niemals Aus (We Will Never Become Extinct)
Immortality...province of the young...but in this case, it's a little more. What you do today, the actions you take, whose lives you touch, can make a difference...as a parent, this song engages my heart and mind as I think of what I will be leaving of myself with my son, and what he's taking forward into his future, and beyond. We're all here for a reason, but sometimes that reason isn't evident until we're gone, and we'll never know the difference we've made. All that from a rock song written by teenagers. Cool.
6. Rette Mich (Rescue Me)
I've worn out my original Scream CD, and this song is one of the reasons. It's sad, pulls at heartstrings and showcases Bill's emotional range to perfection. It's simply arranged and beautifully executed. No deeper meaning here, just the sadness of the words and the beauty of Bill's voice.
5. Ubers Ende der Welt (Ready, Set, Go).
Easily one of the most recognizable songs from Tokio Hotel. Released in German on Zimmer 483, in English on Scream, and on the Scream:America two song single as a Jade Puget/AFI remix, it's a classic. Each version has it's own charm; the English sung in Bill's lightly, but lovely, accented English, and the remix has a nicely infectious dance beat, without overpowering the singing. I'm not a fan of all remixes, but this one gets played a lot at my house.
Playful and sexy, as sung by Bill, even if you don't know German. And it's just as playful when you read the English translation. One of many songs based on experiences of band members, Reden gives a glimpse of life on the road, being a young, attractive, male rock star, living in hotel rooms, with many adoring female fans, while never becoming explicit. Being older, I can appreciate reden ("talk" in English) as a euphemism for...whatever happened...without having to have it spelled out. A little mystery is a good thing.
3. An Deiner Seite (Ich bin Da) (By Your Side)
Simply the most beautiful song in their catalogue, in English or German. Starts slowly with Tom's superb guitar and builds nicely, never becoming overpowering or cloying, always remaining melodic and elegant. A love song, a friendship song...it's gotten me through some painful days.
2. Schrei (Scream)
Live performances of Schrei, their second single, usually begin with Bill wielding a bullhorn and completely controlling an audience of screaming girls. Electric and loud...well, screamed...it's the perfect "be yourself and be loud about it" song. From their debut album, Schrei, Scream in either language can inspire anyone at any age to get up and take charge of their life.
1. Durch den Monsun (Through the Monsoon)
Released in August '05 as their debut single, Durch den Monsun has grown up along with the band. The Scream
album, released in English in '07, contains both the English and German versions. The song has changed key with Bill's voice; he's mellowed the presentation a bit, less hard edged and more refined while still powerful; it's been sung a cappella...but it has endured throughout their career. To me, it's the best of their current catalogue. It represents Tokio Hotel...it changes, it evolves, gets added to or stripped down. But no matter how it changes, it remains true to itself. As does Tokio Hotel; as we all should.