By Michal Mitchell
Sitting at my desk, anxiously waiting for the clock to tick to 5:00 p.m. was how I spent my early evening. I was waiting to make a very important call, and not just any. It’s not every day you get to have an hour-long conversation with a rock legend. You bet I was a bit excited. Especially since that rock legend was singer Klaus Meine of the celebrated heavy-rock band Scorpions.
Lead guitarist Rudolf Schenker formed the band in 1965 in Hanover, Germany, recruiting his friend Klaus Meine for lead vocals. The two would form a friendship that would last over fifty years. Over the span of the band’s career, the group added rhythm guitarist Matthias Jabs, bassist Pawel Maciwoda, and former Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee.
Not only is the German rock band well-known in their home country, but they are a worldwide sensation. The band has recorded several hits such as “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Still Loving You.” Their famous lyrics and melodies have impacted audiences on an international scale.
The classic rock anthem “Rock You Like a Hurricane” soared its way to number 25 in the USA Billboard Hot 100 pushing its 1984 album Love at First Sting, from which the single is from, to number six on the US Billboard 200.
The emotional and romantic “Still Loving You” is certified platinum in France and is so popular – or rather romantic – that it reportedly started a baby boom in France. It is said the Scorpions are responsible for the country’s baby boom of ’85, where it’s apparently even been measured by France’s government for the increase in the country’s population that year.
And let’s not forget the power ballad “Wind of Change,” that stands as a rock anthem for many to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
With over 100 million records sold to date, the Scorpions are the most successful rock band in the Continental Europe by a long shot.
This hasn’t unfazed singer Klaus Meine at all. “Wherever we play a show, we get so much feedback from our fans around the world. It’s such a privilege, after so many years, [that] we play in front of three generations.” Meine says. “You see many, many young kids from up on the stage, going crazy, singing songs that were written before they were born, ya know? Which is – that’s a huge compliment. And like I said, there’s a privilege after all those years to have so many loyal, diehard fans in so many countries around the world.” You can sense a genuineness in his answer that shows the band really does care for their fans, and the fans them.
In excitement of his audience, Klaus tells me to search for “Scorpions Rock in Rio 2019” a video of their performance at the Rock in Rio festival in early October. I kindly oblige – I mean its Klaus Meine, how can you say no? What I find is a memorable performance marked by the band’s loving outpour of fans spanning all ages, singing and chanting with them.
“When we played Rock in Rio, a couple [months] ago, there were a hundred thousand, crazy, South American fans,” he says. “If you see that, you know this excitement, just share it. And this is the reason, we have so many young kids in front of the stage every night.
“Our parents came with tanks to Russia, and in ‘88 we came with guitars and rock music.”
Three generations of fans – young and old alike – packed into an auditorium to see a band they are truly passionate for, something that wasn’t always quite as common to the band.
In the band’s 2015 documentary “Forever and a Day: Scorpions,” at one point Cliff Gauntlett, the band’s road manager and friend, pointed out the change in audience: “ten years ago, there was a lot of old people in the audience and we had ambulances outside to take ‘em in case they had cardiac arrests. Tonight, […] I saw a whole new generation.” In a short span of years, the band had gathered a new, younger fanbase. A new generation had found its way back to legendary rock n’ roll.
I ask him what he attributes this newfound fanbase to. Meine credits the band’s young fans discovering the Scorpions music – and pushing their way through the crowd to the front of the stage – to the power of the World Wide Web.
“I think it’s, like when you grow up and you have your favorite music, your favorite band. You probably don’t wanna share it with your brother, your sister, but you have your own thing ya know? And there’s always a new generation following up, and all of a sudden they discover, some good old rock. It’s kind of interesting how they find us. I think it’s about the internet, the World Wide Web and how the fans communicate on Facebook. I mean we have like around 7 million followers on Facebook and that’s like a world community watching every move we make. […] They know our music, they share the passion for hard rock, they share the passion for the band, and I think that somehow it translates into the next generation. The young kids check it out on YouTube, ya know? […] Maybe they’re scared away when they hear this band is out there for fifty years plus, ya know?” he chuckles. “It’s like: ‘What? I don’t go there to watch a band that’s fifty years out there.’”
Not many rock bands can keep up with the demands of a changing music industry, especially while keeping such an intense fanbase diverse in age. Yet here are the Scorpions, over fifty years strong, with thousands of screaming fans rocking out to their concerts and festivals alike, packed into auditoriums.
“I think it’s wonderful and very inspiring and motivating to keep going. Because we know, we have a worldwide audience, and we play a global stage. When we’re not in America we play all over Europe, over in Spain, we play in Italy, in Portugal, we go east in Poland, we play the Ukraine, and now in Russia. We’re pretty much, all over the place. We still enjoy it, very much. And there are not so many bands out there that do what we do.”
Back in 2010, the band had begun filming for their documentary: “Forever and a Day: Scorpions”. Thinking it would be their last tour – and then a goodbye for the band – the Scorpions wanted to film their final performances together for the world to see. But, as you might have noticed, the band is still together.
The band thought it’d be best to conclude their run with a farewell tour while they were still in good shape. But, seeing their loyal fans packed into auditoriums, singing their lyrics back to them like there was no tomorrow, might have changed their minds. The band decided they weren’t going to retire; they weren’t done with the Scorpions.
“I mean with every other year as we’re growing older, sometimes it’s tough ya know?” Meine says. “But the best part is when you’re up on stage and you see the fans – and they love the band, they know the songs, they enjoy the concert. The energy we receive, this is what keeps us going, and it’s fantastic.” He reflects for a moment. “We’re very privileged, ya know. We know that. We’re very privileged, and that we still can do this, on this level.”
The German band keeps proving they are strong enough. With dozens of songs and well over a dozen albums, fans can’t get enough of them. The talent of the band is incomparable. I mean, this is a band who has written and produced songs that have become a staple for what it means to write great rock music. I wondered if it was difficult at all for singer Klaus Meine to write lyrics in English starting out as a band, after all the band originates from Germany. Many artists who are native English speakers find writing meaningful lyrics hard. Not everyone can write lyrics in English as poetic and inspiring as the German rock band.
“Well, I mean I guess when it’s not your mother language, it’s like if you would start tomorrow writing and articulating your wonderful magazine in German.” Meine laughs. I agree with him, that would indeed be difficult. My German needs… let’s say some touching up.
“So that’s quite a challenge, I guess. It was not easy of course – in the early years – but, over all those years – and when the Scorpions became such an international band, spending so much time in the US,” he says, “with so many true members being from England, being from America, from Australia, from Brazil. It’s an international crew. So English became our second language. And writing songs these days in English, is obviously much easier than it used to be like 30, 40 years ago.”
When it comes to writing lyrics for the band, Klaus finds his inspiration on the road, touring his favorite countries with his bandmates. With even Utah’s Rocky Mountains being a goldmine of inspiration, he doesn’t need to search far before a great hook or title finds its way to him.
“I think about hook lines in English. It’s like the mind is so focused,” he says. Klaus starts talking about finding great lyrics and catchy titles, and you can hear the excitement build up in him. “Something like Blackout for example, but that is something – it’s so catchy. And it’s even in the not-English-speaking world. Everybody understands what a blackout is. But there are many, many song titles over the years, and some of them really became great hook lines. […] Like “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or like “The Zoo,”” he continues. “Wind of Change,” “Big City Nights,” “Still Loving You,” all those songs ya know? But they all started because [of] touring all over the world. And especially back in the ‘80s, touring in the United States, it was so very, very much inspiring. Ideas just came flying. Writing songs about what is life on the road – like sitting on the tour bus and driving overnight through the Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake City ya know?” He lets out a laugh at the mention of the city where I live.
I ask him if he’d come visit Utah soon for another performance. “I think so. We’ve always had a good vibe there. We always had very loyal fans from the old days when we played in the arena, to the amphitheater days, – at the USANA it’s called right? The USANA?” he asks. I reply with a ‘yes’ and am quite impressed the legendary rock singer remembers the specific amphitheater from which he played years ago (considering I’ve lived here most my life and can barely remember the name myself). I hesitate with my reply, but surely muster through a proud ‘yes’, with which Meine responds with a laugh.
“We always had a good time there, and it’s actually a beautiful spot. All those high mountains around. It’s just a beautiful city, it’s really nice, we really enjoyed that. […] Looking forward to coming back there. I know we have many fans there.”
Being a band that has travelled the world for over fifty years must come with a few handfuls of stories to tell. I wondered which era Klaus personally enjoyed as a rock musician with his bandmates.
“Definitely, the 80s were amazing and they were, I mean for every rock musician on earth. It was rock and roll heaven. It was just an amazing time, with so much fun, and I mean there were parties everywhere. The ‘80s – especially being on tour in the United States – were like a never-ending party. It was very inspiring to be on the road with all those amazing bands, from Aerosmith to ACDC, Ted Nugent, ya know in the early days,” Meine says. “Sharing the stage with all those amazing bands and musicians, it was just great.”
Klaus remembers a moment in particular, one where the Scorpions had chosen Bon Jovi as their opening act. Yes, that Bon Jovi. Before they were big.
“We pick Bon Jovi to be our support band, being our special guest, our opening act on a big tour in the United States,” Meine tells. “So, we basically – yeah it was a moment were they just played the clubs ya know? And all of a sudden, they played in front of the Scorpions [in front of thousands] in arenas every night.”
Being chosen as an opening act must have made the young Bon Jovi feel welcomed. After all these years, all the opening acts, the countries toured, which country had Klaus felt welcomed by the most? I’m sure he had a list of his favorite countries toured, but was there ever a country he had felt welcomed the band with open arms? I ask him.
“Which country welcomed us the most? Okay, that’s a good question. I think…” he pauses on this, and you can feel him thinking. I expect perhaps Brazil, as he had mentioned the excitement of the fans from Rock in Rio. Or perhaps the United States, as he had delightedly told me fond memories he had in New York City (and of course everyone I’ve met here loves the Scorpions). But instead I get an answer I didn’t expect, one with a beautiful message attached to it.
“When you really think about it, I think the Russians welcomed us really in a special way,” he says. “Because, when you think about the Germans and the Russians in World War II and all of history – and, I mean our parents came with tanks to Russia, and in ‘88 we came with guitars and rock music. The way they welcomed us with open arms was quite stunning. It was amazing.
“But of course, there’s so many different ways. Like the fans in Japan, when we played for the first time in ‘78, they were amazing and totally crazy as well because they fell in love with this German band. So, I could find something about every country probably. And of course, it was in the United States, they are the most, responsive and most crazy and loud audience in the world when they really like the band.” (Knew it). “When they like the band they come to a concert and the party starts right in the afternoon in the parking lot! So, by the time the band starts the show, they are really there, and they give you the loudest response. They are really like a wide, wide crowd, the American fans. Simply, we like it.
“But I could say pretty much the same thing about South American fans. Because in Brazil, and all over Latin America, the fans are really wild for rock music. We just went through – in Brazil – we played Rock in Rio in early October,” (Knew it). “And it was just amazing to be back in one of the biggest festivals in the world. It was simply amazing.”
It’s not a surprise that Klaus feels so welcomed by many countries. Not only does the world recognize their rock ballads and guitar riffs as a milestone in music history, but, to many the bands iconic rock ballad “Wind of Change” stands as a musical landmark in history, as an anthem to the fall of the Berlin wall.
“[It’s] more than you could ever expect from writing songs, you know?” Meine says. “I mean, writing songs for the band to play live, writing songs – maybe, if you’re lucky – it’s a song with good lucks of airplay on the radio. And if you write a song that turns out to be a big hit, that’s – I think – amazing, for every songwriter. Doing what we’re doing.
“But to write a song that turns out to be so very much connected with – like you said, a historical landmark – with such a very special world event like the coming down of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War- that’s connected with that – that’s more than you could ever think of in your wildest dreams.
“And of course it makes me very happy that people make this connection, even though it’s not a song about Berlin. It’s not a song about the coming down of the Wall, – it’s a song about Moscow!” he says. “But when I wrote that song it was just right after the Moscow Music Peace Festival when we came home, and filled with emotions and all the changes, I could see with my own eyes between ‘88 when we played and one year later at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, we saw the world was changing in front of our eyes. Being a German band, it had a much deeper feeling for me to play for thousands of Russian fans, than it had for Bon Jovi or Ozzy Osbourne who played also in Moscow with us. For them it was like: ‘hey dude, we rocked the Soviet Union, right?’ For us it was much, much, much deeper because of the history, because we grew up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall,” he says. “The Russian fans came to me saying: ‘Klaus, time of the Cold War will be over soon. It’s a new generation, and in the Kremlin [there is a] new leader, his name is Mikhail Gorbachev, and the world is about to change.’
“And with all those emotions, when I came back home, I wrote the song. It was like, not foreseeing the future. I felt, it was just in the air. This change was coming. And of course, when it really happened a few months later, after I wrote that song, even then nobody thought about releasing that song as a single. It was part of the Crazy World album; it was released in ‘91.
“Because everybody thought: ‘we are rock band, ya know? First single is a rocker, second single is a rocker, okay maybe third single we can get away with a ballad.’ And “Wind of Change” was released in ‘91 and the Berlin Wall came down two years earlier. But then that song went around the world and became such a smash, and then people picked it up, and it became like the anthem for the coming down of the Berlin Wall. Because the people probably could feel the power of the message. I mean it’s a song of hope. Hoping for a better world, joining together, coming together instead of separating each other even more. And too many people lost their life, when they tried to live in the free world, when they tried to overcome the Berlin Wall. So, it’s a very emotional thing, and we lived so close, it was part of our life.
“And when that song came out, it obviously touched a nerve. It described a moment in time, before the Berlin Wall came down and that I guess makes it strong. It makes a connection for so many people that it became the soundtrack to this historical event.”
I remind him of his translation of the song into Russian, further connecting more people to the meaning of the song.
“That was the hardest thing, of course, [translating it to Russian]. And Mikhail Gorbachev invited us into the Kremlin just ten days before he resigned, before the end of the Soviet Union. And I think he invited us because of the Russian version, which was quite a – coming from a German singer- it was quite a move to make, you know?”
Hearing the history of the Scorpions through singer Klaus Meine – their tours, fans, experiences, stories, – I wonder what piece of advice he would give his younger self for the long-journey ahead.
“I would say: Klaus just keep going. Take a little bit more care of your voice. But keep going, you’re doing good!” he says in excitement. “And to believe in friendship. To believe in teamwork. And there’s a future ahead of you. You know? Just keep going, and enjoy life, and enjoy the fact that you can live your dream.”
Indeed he has.
After our call, the one that had previously left me anxious in anticipation for, I feel a sense of calmness from a conversation that was – in all realness – a genuine reflection on one man’s life work. I decide to re-watch that Rock in Rio video Klaus Meine raved so much about. Instantly I am transported back in concert with them, as if I’m actually there. I am reminded once again of the power of legendary rock music, a power the Scorpions prove to still possess for over fifty years strong. As I listen to the band play their triumph of a song “Wind of Change” for thousands of fans, I conclude that their music has no farewell tour or expiration date, it will live on well past their fifty-five years. I am confident, as I hear the fans whistle the tune that left a mark in history. I can feel it in the air.