Debut novel, new album and Hubert von Goisern says: "Stopping? I can imagine that"
Debut novel. New album. And corona.
Hubert von Goisern between casual freedom and annoyance at the country's politics.
Hubert von Goisern has been silent for three years. So, a comeback interview in his studio – in a double sense, thanks to the corona crisis. And then it became a conversation about the possibility of stopping.
Politically, you sympathise with the Greens. How do you judge the performance of the government?
I'm delighted that Andrea Mayer is the Culture Secretary and prefer to look forwards. Nobody has it easy right now. The same goes for Ulrike Lunacek.
Were you disappointed?
You certainly don't need a cracker in the post of Culture Secretary. But there was no perceptible engagement. It was like with a musician who just plays down a concert. It's not enough. Lunacek hadn't developed any fighting spirit.
Is the problem just down to the person, or does it go deeper?
In this crisis, perhaps it wasn't possible to do more than make sure of survival and few people get ill. We artists play a role in that too. But with the opening it became clear that we have no mouthpiece. Hoteliers, pub owners, even lifeguards – they all have people willing to dig in for them, to get everything up and running again.
Why is that not the case in the art world?
There's no ministry of culture – and there hasn't been for so long that nobody can even remember the last minister. A cultural nation – and I don't doubt that's what we are – needs such a ministry. Art and culture can't be housed somewhere as an appendage.
How did that happen?
That culture became such a side issue in politics?
It's no surprise that culture became a side issue under a black-blue coalition government. Art and artists are the bogeymen to them – and vice versa. I had hoped for something different with the new constellation.
How have the past weeks been for you personally?
I had the good fortune of having recorded pretty much everything for the new album before the lockdown. A few musicians managed to make it over the border back home in the nick of time.
But an album has to be mixed and mastered.
The situation was perfect. I was cloistered inside with sound engineer Wolfgang Spannberger. Nobody bothered us. Nobody had the feeling that they had something else to take care of. Everything was still, just the studio was buzzing.
The album will be called Zeiten & Zeichen. When will it be released?
Without corona, it would have been the end of June. Now everything is delayed. We'll make up the autumn tour in the spring. So, it could be that the album doesn't come out until September. But we'll pick out two, three tracks and release them over the summer.
You've kept out of sight for three years. Now, before your album, comes your second book after Stromlinien. Why did it turn out to be a novel?
The idea germinated while working on Stromlinien, which was the logbook of the Linz Danube tour. I was always committed to the truth, having to do justice to everyone. It bothered me that you can't write that someone is an idiot. I wanted to write what I felt. I swore that if I ever wrote a book again, it would be a novel.
And was that easier?
Well, I began – and a week later I thought how wonderful it would be to write non-fiction, where you can stick to the facts. In a way I started with the book in 2003. I found a note from that year that said: "Write a story, about what? About a woman who walks out of the front door and doesn't come back."
Why a woman?
It's a reversal of the usual thing. Normally, you say that the man goes to buy cigarettes and never comes back. It was important to write it from the perspective of a woman, because if I were to write it from a man's perspective, then it would always just be me. The woman's perspective made it easier for me to slip out of my skin.
How does book writing compare to music?
It's solitary. You can play music alone, but nonetheless it's about structures in which I involve other people. During the writing I didn't let anybody read anything.
The novel is called Flüchtig. What meaning does fleetingness have to you?
There's nothing more fleeting than music, than a note. This fleeting moment only becomes significant in relationship with a melody. A melody only works because you can remember which notes came before, so that a path is revealed. The fact that music does what it does, that it can touch you, only happens because these fleeting moments don't stand alone, because the past comes into play and a future is expected. And life is full of these moments. Perhaps corona has unleashed something in this respect too.
What is it meant to have unleashed?
I hope that in such a situation of fleetingness, people become conscious of our existence.
That sounds a little as though you doubt that corona will change anything at all.
It's probably better to doubt society than to blindly trust it. I have hope that things will improve. It certainly won't be as easy to carry on as before.
The songs that you have played me so far give the impression that you're not simply carrying on as before either. They contain a huge variety of different styles.
Many of these ideas arose in the last three, four years – but most came in 2018 while writing the novel. When nothing came to mind, I'd pick up an instrument, without any intentions, then write down or record some of it. Twenty ideas came together in six months. With the previous ones, it was forty.
Sounds like it was an unusual way to an album for you.
Mostly I sit down and start consciously composing. Previously I didn't record and prepare things so consistently either. This time it was all much more meticulous. For the first time I didn't think about whether or how you could play it live on stage. It'll be exciting, but we have more time to rehearse now. There were people early on who said: you can't do that, it's all higgledy-piggledy. But I subverted expectations once before, with Inexil. I'm 67, when should I do it, if not now?
Was there any thought during the break of leaving it all behind?
Yes, there was. It was clear that I wanted to write the book, but nothing else was clear.
So, the album resulted from musical ideas you had while writing?
Almost everything came into being of its own accord, in fact. And when it's finished, I can imagine stopping.
You've often said that to me over the past ten, fifteen years.
Yes, but it's reassuring to be able to think like that.
You're no longer driven by what you do.
That's how I see it. It's certainly connected to the success that was afforded to me. It lets freedom grow. You see it with skiers who have a hard time stopping when things are going badly, because they want to win one more time.
"Stopping" for you means no more albums, no tour. Or do you then never pick up an instrument again?
I can imagine that. Right now. I'm oversaturated and steeped in music. I look forward to it being over and being able to look at the world with a different mind again.
The album will be finished soon. Then a culturally empty summer could stand before you.
I don't miss all that at all.
There's nothing you'll miss?
No. There's so much in this city. Nothing necessarily has to be added in order for you to find it beautiful. The consumer craze that we denounce applies to culture and sport too. I'm glad that I don't have to check the calendar for an upcoming Champions League game or an opera. I feel freer than usual - and have come across many who feel the same way.
What should we take away from these strange times?
One recognition is and remains that small is beautiful. We've been able to establish that we don't need to constantly be buying trousers and T-shirts and suddenly no aeroplanes are flying and still life goes on. It's certainly very tough for very many people and will remain so – but the world hasn't fallen apart just because we weren't productive for one, two months and didn't go shopping. And now we don't need to just run behind the ones who tell us how important it is to consume.
But there are also many concerns and needs.
I don't want to minimise them. Politicians now need to make sure that these are relieved. And they have the wherewithal to do so. For example, I'm calling for a transaction tax to finally be agreed, because corona is going to cost a lot. There is enough money on islands being funnelled away from taxation by huge companies. And politicians just look on because they're afraid that Amazon and Google and all the others will threaten to go elsewhere. Let them leave!
Hubert von Goisern presents his first novel
Here everyone is on the run. Maria of course, who jacks it all in to disappear from her everyday life and her leaden marriage to Herwig without a word. At this point, he, known simply as "Wig" by his friends, has been regularly escaping to Nora's bed. In turn, she sometimes deftly avoids her lover by moving in with her actual boyfriend. Then there's Lisa, who's constantly on the move through Europe - on the search for a good life, for fulfilment. Lisa tells this story, which Hubert Achleitner wrote in Flüchtig.
The novel, which is out now, it the Austrian's literary debut. As a musician, the artist named himself after the place where he was born in 1952: Hubert von Goisern, who once invented so-called alpine rock, has long been one of the most important, creative representatives of "new folk music" - on top of that, he's a sound researcher and border crosser. It makes his creativity so dazzling, exciting and multifaceted. It was barely ten years ago that he told us in an interview for this paper of his longing to one day write a novel: "There have to be dreams and desires", he says. "Being desire-free is ok for a moment. But being without desire in the long run is hostile to life."
In hindsight it seems as though he had already formed the leitmotif for Flüchtig back then. Because no matter whether main character, or minor - they are all driven by their desires, the dreams they have for their lives. And it doesn't matter at all whether they're mundane or sublime.
Just as the musician Goisern knows no bounds (of genre), the author Achleitner sends his protagonists across Europe to Greece: Flüchtig essentially works as a road movie, though without getting stuck in the clichés of being on the road. Achleitner tells the story efficiently and entertainingly, his style is pleasantly uncomplicated. He does tend to explain some of the written hints in progress (for example the first name of his main character, who was christened Eva Maria Magdalena). But this may also be down to the fact that the debutant is unsure of the effect of his sentences. His images are effortless, beautiful and sometimes of wonderfully laconic concision: "It was screwing, the way Pope imagined it, unenthusiastic fertilisation", he sums up the dullness of the sex between Maria and Wig, which creeps in after the couple lose their first child during the pregnancy. That misfortune marks the beginning of alienation in a once tender, fascinating love.
It is Maria's companion and friend Lisa who tells the story. She presents "things the way they happened, or, where I wasn't present, the way that they were reported to me", she promises on the first page. Nonetheless, Achleitner seems not to trust her completely. As Lisa, hitchhiking at the side of the road, gets into Maria's car, he changes to the authorial perspective for safety.
From there we follow the women on their wonderfully described chance encounters: "The most beautiful rivers are those that meander, not the regulated canals", as Lisa rightly notes. And we see how Wig ("a born optimist") at home in Austria tries to fathom his wife's disappearance with a sense of guilt, worry and newfound freedom. Achleitner succeeds in making all the characters vivid, their actions and their feelings understandable.
Despite the subject, his story never loses its light, entertaining tone. This is also due to the fact that Flüchtig is permeated by a quiet religiosity that can touch people's souls far from any institutions - and that gives hope. Because sometimes an escape leads those fleeing so far away from each other that they meet again in the end.
NEWS in conversation with Hubert von Goisern
Hubert von Goisern has reinvented himself: the man with the accordion has now released his first novel under his civil name Hubert Achleitner. It deals with nothing less than the meaning of life, suffering and love – with regard to himself, too.
On the one hand, Hubert von Goisern and the grand stage of popular music, and on the other, Hubert Achleitner and the secluded chamber of literature – the globetrotter from Upper Austria has now become a commuter between two worlds of art: he has just completed his first novel under the title Flüchtig, a complex relationship story, soon to be published. Now he's tinkering with and honing his new studio album Zeiten & Zeichen. The LP comprising 17 songs will be released sometime in the summer. Even Achleitner-Goisern doesn't know when exactly that will be. "It'll be ready when it's ready", he responds succinctly when asked about the release date.
Desire and fear
The artist has been mostly absent from the public eye for nearly four years. Now, at the age of 67, he's setting off again at full speed. Achleitner seems outwardly easy-going and relaxed, taking the interview in his slippers in his crammed study. But inside, he's burning: as an author, he ventures to tackle the great subjects of love, faith and the meaning of life; as a musician he is once again taking experimental paths. One of the new tracksis a rap with a difficult theme and sprinkles of folk music, another is reminiscent of the Rammstein sound – though still typical Goisern – another could be a classic summer singalong hit…
In conversation with News, the comeback star gives deep insights: it's no longer about measurable success for him – instead, it's about fighting fear of failure with relish.
As a musician you are Hubert von Goisern, as an author, Hubert Achleitner, and then you're also a private individual: don't you inevitably end up tipping into a degree of schizophrenia?
The extroverted stage figure has simply now written a book – but I didn't want "Hubert von Goisern" to be on the book, otherwise people would read it differently. I don't see literature as a stage. Being an author is something very introverted. I never aspired to just write a piece of fluff on a whim.
But nobody knows the author Hubert Achleitner.
That honestly doesn't matter to me. I thought for a long time about publishing the book under a pseudonym, because I was worried that a publisher could just take it because I had written it – in the vein of: that's done and dusted, he's got lots of fans, we can't go wrong, so let's grab it, even if it might be rubbish. The publisher wanted to equip it with a sticker: "First book by Hubert von Goisern". I said to them, as amicably as possible: "Yeah, are you serious?"
Are you an enemy of your own money?
No, it's not about being against earning money, but it's never about earning money either. I have nothing against success – but I don't do it for success. I want to live my artistic creativity. I'm not doing it at the same time as music, nor just quickly on the side: when writing, I enter my innermost places, communicating with nobody. I took a four-year break to write this book. I thought about it for a year, then I started workand then effectively wrote for two years.
What was it primarily about for you? Showing that you could do it, or dispatching a particular message?
It was primarily about showing myself that I can do better than what I have previously read in many other books. "I can do it too!" – that's what it was about. But I didn't tell anyone that, only myself, maybe my wife, or my family. Because I have great respect for everything that other people create – but I had also learned a great deal from many bad books. Yes, I have the feeling that writing has become more inflationary. Nowadays, everyone who has the time feels the need to write a book.
Your novel is about an aging, unintentionally childless couple, imprisoned in agonising routine, who drift apart. Is this perhaps based on the self-doubt of the almost seventy-year-old who asks himself: "Was that it?"
No, I didn't think about my age. It's about having the courage in a relationship, which functions like a business model, to say: "Actually, we're not a good fit at all." I have nothing fundamentally against business models, but it wouldn't be my way: I must really feel everything, even if it hurts! There's a certain degree of willingness to suffer that goes along with desire. It's not all always wonderful: as pleasurable as writing was for example, it was also sometimes tough. There were also these panic attacks, this fear that maybe nothing would work out. And not in the beginning; after two weeks you could quite easily say: "I can't do this." But if you have to admit to yourself after a year that you've bitten off far more than you can chew … - But I have this self-doubt with every record. Thinking to myself: "I can't come up with anything else, I've already said everything, if I were to set to now, I'd just be repeating myself." I have this euphoric impetus to enter into a project, but this fundamental fear of failing is always there from the start.
That sounds disconcerting. Wherein lies your luxury?
In that, like now, I can afford to do a record with 17 songs, where each sounds completely different and many people previously said: "That won't work, you need a line." My luxury is independence. But I've afforded myself this since the moment I decided to become a musician when I was thirty years old. I have never done music that I didn't want to do. Jon Hiseman, the late drummer in the jazz rock band Colosseum, once told me: "Whatever happens, don't give up. Secondly: never play at parties." I've stuck to both. Because even now I'm really put off the idea of playing at parties. It's not good for your artistic confidence if you get used to your music just being the background. Music is like a relationship, it's about persevering in good and bad times.
Your protagonist writes in a letter about her much younger travel companion: "I envied her naivety, she was carried by an unshakeable faith in the world." What is this faith in the world for you?
That this earth carries me. As long as I have been able to think about it, I've felt secure in this world. In Canada for example I went walking through the forest alone, although everyone threw their hands up: "There are dangerous bears and elks, which are even more dangerous!" But I thought: "Why should they do anything to me?"
Because that's the nature of wild animals?
Yes, there are times when the bears wake up in the spring and they're hungry, then it's better not to go into the forest. If you want to feel secure in the world, you need a feel for it too of course. I feel it and it feels me. Faith is – trust in the world, in life. And so I think that the bear will pass me by, because he doesn't wish me harm – and possibly I'm too contaminated to taste good to him.
When you have trust in the world, you have no fear of death, right?
Two or three times I've been in situations where I thought, now it's all over. In these moments I became quite calm and thought: "Okay ..."
And the later realisation wasn't "Phew, that was lucky!", but "the world likes me!"?
The realisation was: let go! Holding on is important too, holding on is stability too - but there are situations you have to sit out because otherwise something really bad will happen.
You can't get on with the good Lord?
I believe – but as far as God is concerned, I'm not quite sure, not least because the connotations are so masculine. That makes it really difficult for me. I believe in something that has no name. Something that I allow even though it goes beyond my power of imagination. Ah, the good Lord, the good Lord – he is not so good, otherwise there wouldn't be so much madness in the world. It's just a word for a great, connected plan. My grandmother was very devout, I just went to church with her and made my sign of the cross and knelt down and spoke the prayers. It's like hypnosis.
How do you know?
I've let myself be hypnotised and noticed: you're still there and present during this whole process, you're not doing anything you don't want to do – but perhaps I went to a bad hypnotiser, perhaps there are those who can beam you away further. I wanted to really be hypnotised, the way you want to be hypnotised by faith.
You write of your male protagonist: "If there was one thing he couldn't bear about getting older, it was the loss of naivety". How can that be regained?
As an artist I have the privilege of being able to live out my dreams, even if they're naïve. I can allow anything in my songs.
Wouldn't sexuality also be a way to stay amazed, an opportunity to allow everything?
Naivety is a great state of consciousness in all situations, in sexuality too, of course.
And nonetheless you write: "What was there to change? Man and woman, testosterone and oestrogen, skin on skin, phallus and vulva, made for each other." It sounds like it's not anything magical, just chemical and mechanical.
However, one should not disregard the fact that this is one paragraph in a 300-page book. Of course, sexuality is also astonishment and naivety, but it's not only that. You are always thrown back into a world that does not want to share this amazement with you because it defines sexuality differently.
As a high-performance sport?
You could put it like that. From the moment you fall in love, everything becomes blossom and flowers, and everything is naive and wonderful. Perhaps it is this state of falling in love that we sometimes miss. I fell in love a few times, very deeply in love, and then lived these relationships. It was like new every time. Of course, this changes as you grow older, clearly you have a different hormonal flux than when you were 17 or 18. I can focus on other things now and not see sex as the only fulfilling thing. When you're young you often have a very animalistic life, but then at some point you can keep things apart: what is simply desire, and where does love begin?
What has shutdown been like for an acknowledged globetrotter like you?
Cool, no aeroplanes, no mopeds, the blackbirds have the courage to sing loudly again – and I have work without end. This time was almost like a gift. And globetrotter? I can get into the woods, up the mountain, I go out of the house, I can walk wherever I want and nobody shoots me.
And not being able to travel around the world doesn't bother you?
It's not a problem for me, in the past two years I've been stationary but for a trip to Greenland.
So, all's well?
Apart from the fact that our daughter lives in London and we haven't been able to see her since the beginning of the year – yes.
So, do you think that the corona crisis will pass us by without leaving a trace?
Not at all, something has to happen in our society too. All these underpaid jobs, which suddenly seem as important to us as they actually are – redistribution must finally take place, otherwise at some point the bullets are going to start flying and there will be social unrest; I'm absolutely convinced. The existential angst that people have in not knowing how they're going to pay their rent must be extinguished. If they can no longer be certain of what is essential, then they have to take it from somewhere, because nobody wants to fall apart. I think it's great that rescue parachutes are being set up and so much money is being distributed. I am also absolutely for an unconditional basic income for all. But the money that is being distributed now has to come from somewhere.
Taxes must be collected from where they are not being paid. When I think about how much money is growing mouldy in the Cayman Islands, or the Bahamas, or in Liechtenstein and Switzerland – you've got to get hold of it! The money has to come from where it is – namely, right at the top. I'm one of the richer people, but I have no problem paying a lot of tax. If necessary, I'll pay more. But if you use the really big ones as a benchmark, I'm just among the little dwarves.
You have your protagonist's partner, who smokes too much weed, say of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: "He reminds me a little of Alfred E. Neumann, after he's been to the hairdresser and the dentist. A cover photo model boy, who's a sly dog. He has an unmistakeable feel for what the people want to hear (…) What really annoys me is the fact that he seems to have no ideals." No ideals – that's a pretty heavy accusation.
Yes, that's why I had a pothead say it. But I think it has something of the image he conveys. If he had no ideals, it wouldn't mean that he wasn't young and able to learn. And that's how I regard him too: as someone who now needs to grow into the job. Mind you, I also have a problem with proper idealists, who always think they know exactly how things need to be.
But from your point of view, how does Kurz differ from a Haider or a Strache?
Morally, they are quite certainly settled on different planes: I don't think Kurz is going to be making any concessions to a Russian woman to increase his power. Even Kickl's irresponsible rumblings are not his thing, he has more polish. What I think is good is that Kurz looks you in the eye and gives you respect. We have to be happy that we have him, because the Reds are flat on the floor.
And you're not worried that the non-idealist Kurz will transform into a so-called strong man?
He's already a strong man, he doesn't need to become one. I had my first clash with him after he presented the Australian refugee policy as being unbelievably ideal. For three generations they've been letting their refugees rot on some island. I said to him: "I'm sorry, but that was unnecessary." I use the familiar "du" with him and I think he uses "du" with me too now. In any case, he replied: "I think you misunderstood me, I'll have to explain it to you sometime." Then he turned on his heels and went. We've met twice since then, but he still hasn't explained it to me. But I have the feeling that he appreciates correctives, they're not nothing to him. And I think I've learned with age too – I hope so at least. Why shouldn't it be the same for him?
The artists have just shot down their Culture Secretary – is the power of artists not also somewhat dangerous?
The art world didn't send her to the moon, she sent herself to the moon, in that she just stood there and did nothing. For us artists, it wasn't evident that she would have done anything to help our prospects. She's nice, but that's simply not enough. She wasn't burning with for what we do – perhaps she only silently glows.
You write: "But what did being indecent even mean? It meant being there at some kind of boundary, moral, ethical, rational. God knows, the indecent live more freely." Was it "indecent" of you to discover the world with your music playing, while your wife kept your home refuge running?
Yes, maybe. There is this freedom, which goes beyond the conformist. But there was a give and take with us: within a short time, we were financially independent, so she was able to go back to university and had a university career. She probably wouldn't have been able to do that otherwise and would have remained a teacher. But one thing is true: if she hadn't looked after the family at that time, I wouldn't have one today – or I would have had to have lived a different life. The plan was: as soon as her maternity leave ended, I would become a house husband. And I was looking forward to it. But then my success got in the way.
Late, but all the more impressive debut from the Austrian not-just-folk musician
No, the fact that Hubert Achleitner was a musician first - most will know his songs such as Koa Hiatamadl and Brenna tuat's guat recorded under the name Hubert von Goisern - is never kept secret in this book. The book has a sound, composed of the surf of the sea on the coast of Greece and André Heller's love songs, from "yodelling loops of West African pygmies", the Magic Flute and a joik, the melody that every Sami child is gifted at birth. Only folk music doesn't make an appearance, as Achleitner, who had to be 67 years old for his debut novel, dispenses with any homeland anyway. It's interesting, because homeland is nonetheless something about which he writes: Achleitner tells the story of Maria. Born on a winter's night in the cabin of a mountain cable car. She marries Wig early. She soon becomes pregnant, but loses the child. The marriage becomes a difficult affair that drags on through the decades. Maria takes refuge in sports. Wig smokes too much pot and begins an affair with the much younger Nora. When she falls pregnant, Maria takes off. For Wig months of doubt begin and a search that leads him from the local police station to the mountains of the Greek monastic republic. Running away. Arriving in a homeland of whatever kind. The search for something resembling a good life and inner peace. And, as the title suggests - a play on "fleeting" and "fleeing" -, the escape from western affluent society: these are the grand themes that Achleitner packs into his book, which constantly remains in motion, in which perspectives change as do locations. This is all held together by a narrative figure who doesn't stand on the perimeter, but instead plays a secondary role. Linguistically, Achleitner's laconic everyday sound is the brace which just as compatible with small anecdotes as it is with big thoughts and with which the reader happily sticks.
Hubert von Goisern on "Frühstück bei mir"
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Hubert von Goisern frühstückt ☕ am Sonntag, einen Tag vor dem Erscheinen seines ersten Buches, mit @claudia_stoeckl1 über ebendieses. 📕 "Flüchtig" heißt es. Mittlerweile steckt der Sänger mitten in den Arbeiten zu seinem nächsten Album 🎶. Auch das wird Thema in "Frühstück bei mir" sein - am Sonntag von 9-11 Uhr. #einschalten #ö3 #frühstückbeimir #persönlichkeitenganzpersönlich
5 questions for ... Hubert Achleitner
Maria and Herwig are the two most important protagonists of your novel Flüchtig. When and how did you first conceive of the couple?
I had the first idea about fifteen years ago. The story should centre on a woman who leaves her husband – heads out of the door without explanation and doesn't come back. And a man, who sets off in search of her and the reason behind her puzzling disappearance. They were both supposed to make a journey and cross boundaries.
Travelling, foreign worlds, other perspectives and different faiths change Maria and Herwig, and the people around them. Are there times in life when we must stop and look around?
The majority of our life runs according to the image that we carry around with us of ourselves and of the world, firm on the track of external needs. However, time and again there are turning points, junctions, track changes … Whether you take them or ignore them depends on your readiness to follow your intuition and expose yourself to the risk of the unknown.
Your novel is largely written from the female perspective. How did that come about?
On the one hand it was the greater challenge, but it also helped me to put myself in someone else's position.
How did you go from composing and playing music to writing?
I've wanted to try my hand at fiction for a long time. Music was entirely to blame for the fact that it took so long. Musical adventures kept creeping in and muscling their way to the front. Until two years ago, when I put away all the musical instruments and banished them from my sight.
How does such a debut as an author feel for someone like you, who has followed such a long and artistically successful path?
It always feels good to succeed at something you've set your mind to. My first book, Stromlinien, was published in 2010. It was the logbook of my journey through Europe with a cargo ship that had been converted to a stage. While I was writing Stromlinien, I often struggled with having to keep with the facts. Fiction would be much simpler, or so I thought at the time. Working on this novel proved me wrong. But it was certainly more pleasurable.
Hubert Achleitner alias von Goisern on travelling, the time it requires
- and why foreign lands are often closer than you think.
Singer-songwriter Hubert von Goisern has finished writing his first novel Flüchtig (to be published in May 2020). When it comes to content, all he reveals is that it's about travelling, above all to oneself. At the beginning of the interview he puts on his black anorak and moves the interview outdoors – onto the terrace of a hotel in Linz, with a view of the Danube. Hubert Achleitner, as the artist was born, feels put off by the background music in the breakfast room. The constant music makes it difficult to think, he says.
South Africa, Philippines, Nepal, Senegal, Greenland – you've been around the world. Not just as an ordinary tourist. You've often settled in places for months or years at a time. Why have you so often left home?
To rediscover and reinvent myself. That's very difficult to do in an environment where everyone knows you. People project something onto you. That is, what they want to see in somebody. On the other hand, you can shed your skin somewhere where nobody knows you.
So why were you so keen to become someone else?
I don't want to die the person I was born. I certainly think there's room for improvement. Your core remains the same of course. But I don't want to stay still. Stopping time is boring in the long run. It's also about gathering experiences, trying things out and then perhaps realising that it doesn't suit you.
The body has to move physically so that what is innermost appears?
The spirit is connected to the body – at least as long as we breathe. But it's not just about what is innermost, but also what's outermost. About what is beyond the bounds of my imagination. Travel gives you this opportunity.
Don't you have to explain yourself in foreign places and talk about yourself too?
That's true and it's in such situations that you get to know yourself best. In the Philippines I was once asked to sing a few songs. And what did I choose? Folk songs and children's songs from the Salzkammergut. I had the feeling that these melodies would say something about me. To feel what homeland was, it was necessary to leave.
What definition of homeland did you find for yourself?
For 21 years it was the place in which I grew up, Goisern. But in the meantime, there are more places where I feel at home. Salzburg, Vienna. But when I go to Greenland or the Philippines too, it's a kind of coming home.
So, by leaving home you found homelands. Can homeland be plural?
Coming home isn't a passive, but an active feeling. Homeland is where I empathise and get involved. They are the places and people where saying goodbye and leaving triggers feelings of melancholy. Homelands can change too, some fade and others become transformed.
Finding yourself, locating yourself – what else is travelling about for you?
About learning through encountering and dealing with the unknown.
One of your biggest hits is called Heast as nit, wia die Zeit vergeht (Can't You Hear How Time Goes By). What role does time play in your travels?
I'd prefer that it didn't play any role at all. The perfect journey would be one without time pressure and without a destination. There's that wonderful saying: the goal is in the way! But this requirement on travel is difficult to put into practice. For me at least. Unfortunately. If anywhere, it works for me when I'm hunting for mushrooms. There's the aim of finding mushrooms, but the letting yourself just "drift" works in this case.
The famous notion of "living in the here and now" – is that what it's about for you?
It's important in life to see what is there in the moment. Then you pause – and then continue. That's what it's about too – continuing!
A plea for continuing and against standing still?
Yes, although you need the latter too at times. But you have to take another step at some point. It depends on this one step. It's better to take a step in the wrong direction than not to take a step at all. You can always change direction. But if you stand still, everything stays as it is. If you're happy that way, that's okay. But I need the kick of the new. It makes me unhappy to do the same thing three times.
A step can be taken forwards or backwards – progress or regression. As a globetrotter, how does this concept strike you?
It's progress when you go back too. We're not going backwards though. We're turning around and going in the other direction. I like coming at the source of something. The search for the origin is what drives me. Take music. The first two or three notes came into being one day. Whichever they were. And then people made something from them. That's what I want to tie in with.
At the same time as a musician you've often provoked an abrupt change at exactly this point. With your lyrics too.
Have I? Well, some people always use the same mug and I sometimes use the jug that I brought back from a trip.
Some people would call that "progress" or "innovation".
If there's one thing positive about progress, I think it's that your mind becomes expanded. That there's a greater awareness of interrelationship. The climate debate is one example.
Back to travel. When do you come up against your personal boundaries?
When I leave my comfort zone. When I leave my bubble it becomes stressful, but exciting too. It doesn't matter whether I'm in Austria, America or Greenland – I'm actually always in a milieu which harmonises with me. I seek birds of a feather and find them everywhere. But those who tick differently are the ones who interest me.
And where are these people?
Everywhere. The other world, the foreign, is basically very close. Sometimes right on your doorstep. The most exciting journeys take you to those you think are cuckoo.