Glenn Miller tune hits discordant note in East Germany
Bonn — For some weeks now, East German security men have been discreetly removing copies of Glenn Miller's ''Chattanooga Choo Choo'' from the record stands in music shops throughout the country.
East German youth clubs have received instructions from the authorities not to play the 1941 Big Band classic, and a pianist in one East Berlin nightclub was taken away by plainclothes agents when he struck up the offending tune.
Thirty-eight years after the death of the American band leader, his best-known melody has ended up on the Socialist Unity (communist) Party's cultural ''index.''
The reason is that West German rock singer Udo Lindenberg has turned Miller's harmless song about a train ride on the Tennessee line into a biting satire of Erich Honecker's humorless East German regime, under the title ''Special Train to Pankow.''
After years of waiting for permission from East German cultural commissars to perform in the ''workers' and peasants' state,'' Lindenberg lost patience and appealed personally to Honecker in a song that has become a gold record in the West and a clandestine best seller in the East.
Pankow, as every East German knows, is the exclusive East Berlin suburb where many party leaders have their homes.
Lindenberg's song takes a swipe at the East German practice of inviting the best-known West German crooners of glittering ''schmalz,'' but banning anything potentially controversial. Where Miller's chorus sang, ''when you hear the whistle blowing eight to the bar. . . ,'' Lindenberg sings:
''Every monkey in the hit parade is allowed there,
Even singing trash they're sure to get a big crowd there,
Only little Udo, only little Udo,
We don't understand why he's still banned. . . .''
Lindenberg's zany text has earned him hordes of admirers in East Germany. He says he receives more than 50 letters a day expressing thanks for the rare burst of humor and inviting him to stay in the communist state.
But Honecker and his cultural establishment are not amused. An East German youth official who recently helped organize a state-run ''Rock for Peace'' festival in East Berlin's prestigious Palace of the Republic said Lindenberg has wrecked any chance he ever had of being allowed to tour East Germany.
Among the most infuriating aspects for East German officialdom is that the West German singer has coined a nickname for Honecker - ''Honey'' - which has spread like wildfire inside East Germany.
Since West German radio can be picked up in most of East Germany, there is no way East Berlin can prevent the subversive ditty from entering East German homes , where it is religiously recorded on cassettes and traded at black-market prices.
To make matters worse, Lindenberg portrays Honecker as a closet rocker who secretly dons a leather jacket and locks himself in the bathroom to listen to ''West radio.''
The last straw for East Berlin is that the song ends with a voice saying in Russian, ''Comrade Erich, the Supreme Soviet would have no objections to Mr. Lindenberg performing in the GDR (East Germany).''
It is not the first time Lindenberg has hit the political headlines, but most of his previous targets have been in Western establishments. He is one of the many rock singers who have lent their voices to the campaign to prevent deployment of US medium-range nuclear missiles in West Germany this year.
His earlier efforts on behalf of a musicians' group called ''Rock against the Right,'' which campaigned against right-wing Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss's candidacy for federal chancellor in 1980, earned him plaudits from East Berlin.
The state record company released an album of Lindenberg's ''anti-Fascist songs,'' and the Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland praised his antimissile stance as courageous and progressive.
Against all the odds, Lindenberg has not abandoned all hope of one day being allowed to play in East Germany.
''After all,'' he said in an interview, ''Honecker too once played music.''
Indeed, 55 years ago, the young Erich was a drummer with a communist brass band in the village of Wibelskirchen, in what is now West Germany, and the music he made was probably as irritating to the authorities as Lindenberg's ''Special Train to Pankow.''