"I find no fault with Jesus"

Grüß Gott Spring 2021 | Text: Robert Maruna

Seven days, seven questions that encourage contemplation. This time, we asked someone who needs no introduction: Hubert von Goisern – successful folk musician, now a celebrated author and a long-time critical spirit.

Your current album Zeiten & Zeichen begins with the unequivocal statement "Friends, life is worth living!" What makes life worth living for you?

That line originally came from Fritz Löhner-Beda, a Jewish librettist. He wrote this lyric at a time when people could not be certain of their lives. It was the rise of National Socialism at the beginning of the thirties. A little later, Löhner-Beda was deported to a concentration camp. And even there, where life was determined by death, he still wrote positive songs. That really inspires me, because it reminds me of something that is so often forgotten: no matter how badly life is going, we still have our friends. And that's exactly what this song expresses. It's not just that life is worth living just in itself, but also because there are people with whom you can talk about life. And it is in these conversations that you find joy, inspiration and, as I say, hope.

In your younger years, you turned your back on Austria and went looking for the wide world. Today, you're one of the most successful folk musicians in the country. What does home mean to you?

It is a feeling of familiarity. Outside of my homeland, in a society that is not my own, it could happen that someone comes along and says: "it's my way, or the highway!" Either you adapt to your surroundings, or you leave. It's different at home: I simply wouldn't accept such a statement. Because I'm at home here, I am going to have a say. The moment you get involved, it becomes home. When you're just a guest, it's difficult to develop such a feeling, because you're just observing.

Your novel Flüchtig is about the escape from a mountain homeland, across Europe to the holy Mount Athos. Is there something holy about mountains for you?

In a certain sense, sure: nature is a great church. And the more untouched it is, the more intense the feeling. The sea, the desert and the mountains all trigger this feeling within me. They are all places where humans don't have much of an effect – you remain an intruder. And that's exactly where I find myself and find God. These landscapes almost exude an immortality, while in a city, things are constantly changing. In nature it's the complete opposite: I look at a tree and can see that it has much more to say than I do.

In Flüchtig, the varied language is eye-catching: poetic sentences alternate with everyday language, and here and there, there are Austriacisms and expressions like "awesome" and "cool". It seems vexing at times and is reminiscent of the contrasts in your music, which is situated somewhere between folk festival and vernissage. Does art need to be a little vexing to be effective?

I think that contrasts increase the excitement. For my song Brenna tuats guat, at first I thought: that's nearly a hit, but the lyrics are too socio-critical. But clearly people are more resilient than they often seem. Of course, the main thing is, there's a party happening! You could really see that with this song. Even the audience in North Germany sang along to every line. They can phonetically tell what I'm singing, so a proportion of the basic statement sticks. In that respect, I don't feel that the song is being violated if it's played at Oktoberfest or a vernissage. I try to combine all worlds in my art, from the sensitive to the orgiastic.

In Brenna tuats guat, there's also: "War'n ma Christ, hätt ma wisst, wo da Teufel baut in Mist" ("If we were Christians, we'd have known where the devil's wreaking havoc".) How do you feel about Christian values?

Being Christian is different from being Catholic as far as I'm concerned. Jesus Christ was and is an unbelievable inspiration. He combines humility with – to put it plainly – a provocative, formidable, even indecent, uncompromising nature. So if you orientate yourself towards Jesus, you get a good idea of what's right and what's wrong. In the history of humankind, there are only very few people with whom I cannot find fault. Jesus is one of them. Mind you, I often ask myself what he meant when he was hanging on the cross and said: "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Is it an indication that Jesus was wrong? That perhaps at the end, there is no father? I often think about that. But in the end, it's much more important to me that the role model of Jesus existed for people, than for there to be a resolution to the unanswerable debate as to the existence of God.

What does recognition mean to you? How important are music and literature awards to you?

First and foremost, it's about being a part of society with what you choose to do or not do. When your personal creativity is ignored by society, the feeling creeps in that you don't belong. Recognition and appreciation play such a decisive role because they give us feedback. You can't always judge what you're doing yourself. In that respect, recognition is also a form of forging your own identity.

As a musician and author, you're not bound to fixed working hours. Do you keep to the idea of Sunday as a day of rest?

I'm a total advocate of Sunday rest: I consider this collective pause to be valuable. You're not just allowing yourself a rest; society as a whole takes a breather. I also think that the collective religious service is important. Though I seldom go any more. The last services I attended were not very inspiring. There must still be priests who can give lively, inspiring - in other words good – sermons. I think they're mostly cliché-ridden and often pretentious. This worshipping of a male God – we're back with the Father, our "Lord", and the priesthood that's reduced to men - simply doesn't work for me either. I don't have a solution for how faith can be raised to a level that corresponds to the spirit of the times. In any case, the insistence on the masculinity of God is symbolic to me for an imbalance not just within Christianity, but all great religions. I often have the impression that wonderful music brings people together in a better way than invoking the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit can.