The Shmults Brothers story

So, you wanted to know who the Shmults Brothers are and how they came to life? Well, here it is, sit back and read on:

It's a silly story way back from high school years, I think they wrote the year nineteen hundred and seventy six (the picture is fading out, waves swirling over the screen and the TV turns black and white.....)

A friend of mine (Uwe aka Nick Shmults) and I were starting to play instruments, him on drums and me on keyboards. We had plans for a band (yeah, right) and even though we never played in one and also had very little experience with our instruments, we already had a name: "Brain Damage" from good old Pink Floyd album 'Dark Side of the Moon' (the name speaks for itself). It was at that time, when we came up with a plan to get back at our music teacher.

That particular teacher was pretty weird. He was an excellent piano player, perfect in musical theory etc., but was really wacky otherwise. He tried to teach us the fundamentals of music and used classical music examples to do so. However, the pieces he chose were the most horrible music I had ever heard to that date. Bartok, Stravinsky, Ligeti, all of which I like today, but he chose the worst, weirdest, and most chaotic pieces these composers ever wrote. And worst of all, he elaborated on 12-tone music, established by the Schoenberg School. The most disgusting, a-tonal, a-melodic music ever written in the universe, justifying its existence through the difficulty to play it. There may be some people who actually like it, just like there are people getting a kick out of free-jazz. But we were 12-graders who liked rock music, you can probably imagine what this did to us, having to listen to this stuff every week for 2 hours... And to top it off, our teacher had this big urge to teach us all about the methods and techniques those composers used, such as the tape-loop technique of Ligeti (basically playing a recorded tape backwards or back and forth and back and forth andbackandforthand....)

What made the guy even more odd, and got us - a class of 14 guys with no girls in it - plenty chance to make fun of him, was the fact that he apparantly was gay. No big deal as such, except that he needed to show and tell us every single time. Sometimes, he "had mercy" on us and played some pop music in order to teach us theory. Like ABBA's 'Loving me, loving you', for example. What a message! And what a contrast: Abba and Stravinsky!! Or Chicago's 'Just you and me'. When they sang "just you and me alone togeeeeeeetherrrrrr", he turned down the volume and said "Don't you think I mean YOU here....". Oh brother!

No matter what he played, he made us "discuss" the music afterwards (even if it was ABBA). He asked somebody in class what they thought about the music, its structure and quality and so on, and then went on to at least five more students asking the same question. Of course, we had no clue what he wanted (and even less clue about the music), so sometimes people said "I don't know what to say", which immediately earned them a grade 5 (F) for not knowing anything about music. However, if you said something, anything, that you might have picked up from his explanations in class and applied it to this particular piece of music, he was satisfied and gave you a grade 1 or 2 (A or B). We soon found out, that we just needed to more or less repeat what the classmate before just said (or what we said a week ago), and he was satisfied, too. This went on and on forever without mercy, and as the schoolyear proceeded, we got VERY tired of it.

Anyway, at one point we decided to teach HIM a lesson, make fun of him and get a kick out of it. So we sat down, me, my friend Uwe, and another friend Tom with my electronic organ, a drum set, and a bass, and we 'played' - improvised - with the goal of not having one single second of tonality, melody or concept in this 'music'. And to top it off, we swapped instruments, so everybody played an instrument that he never played before. The result was a whole tape of NOISE, you really can't call it anything else, with a few nice ideas in it, such as the beer-o-phone© that we created during that session: a series of beer bottles filled with different levels of beer, which made them sound like some sort of xylophone when played with the drum sticks. Also, the old-style, asthmatic sounding, 1890-style car-horn that we used inbetween (including solo performance) became popular.

Well, we picked a 15 minute "tune" out of our one hour long tape and decided to play it in class. Before the actual lesson, we informed all of our classmates of what we will be doing, told them to play along and ask 'serious' questions and make 'professional' statements about the music. When the teacher came in and started the lesson, we told him that we composed a tune on our own and that we used advanced techniques like the modified "tape knot" technique or the "inverse instrument technique" and that we used a state-of-the-art synthesizer for our music that we called "Induction Oszillator with Electrodynamic Thermo Chopper", which was nothing else but a small oszillator, put together with an electronic engineering kit for 12 year olds, where the pitch of the sound could be modified with a potentiometer. It sounded great, though! Well, maybe not great, but definitely interesting....

After our elaborate introduction, we started the "music", expecting the teacher to interrupt it at any time after a few seconds (once every normal person would have realized that this is bogus). Instead, and to all of our surprise, the guy went to the back of the room, sat down in a chair, put his feet up on another chair and listened to the entire 15 minutes of noise. Once the the tape stopped, he got up, clapped his hands and, completely thrilled, yelled "That is some of the best music I have EVER heard in my life".

Well, imagine the faces we made when we heard this. (After all these years, I still do believe that he seriously meant what he said and that he was not just playing along with our practical joke!). He immediately started discussing the "music" with us and, of course, everybody played along, making a serious face when they commented "I think the artists were under the influence of alcohol when they composed this" [TRUE!!] or "this tape-knot technique sounds a little more advanced than Ligeti's tape-loop technique, it's more bumpy..." and so on. Our teacher then gave each one of us three distinguished artists an A+ for this contribution and, before the class ended, he wanted to hear this piece again. Again?? 15 minutes of this sh.... AGAIN???? We did it and the class was dismissed.

BUT: our parallel class was coming up right after us, and Mister Z. insisted on me playing this piece of music AGAIN in that other class. Of course, none of them knew what was going on and while Mister teacher listened to it in the back of the room (and me getting REALLY bored now), they were totally confused and didn't quite know how to take this: me bullshitting at them and the teacher listening to it. Those students got pretty bad grades during that session, because they didn't like it and commented that they thought "that this is a big joke". They didn't take me seriously, can you believe it?! Bummer for their grades.......

Coming out of this, the three of us cracked up and, of course, now needed a name for this "band". My buddy and I thought about it for a while and one day we were reading one of the favorite German comics named Mecky (which is a hedgehog character and his friends) in one of our geography classes. In that particular comic strip, they had a contest of bands going on with Mecky and his friends on one side (playing friendly music, because they were friendly comic characters), and a few rough characters on the other side, named the brothers SCHMALZ (which is the German word for lard, pork fat, incidentally also used for what we call "Schlager Musik", the German equivalent to greasy country music or muzac). Of course, the rough guys played the loudest, most violent music, literally blasting the audience over the fences. Only possible in a comic strip - but it looked funny, indeed.

So, sitting in this geography class, we suddenly knew that we had a name for our band! Except: we needed to modify it a bit, because "Schmalz" sounded too German, too basic. Hence, we started playing with the letters, scribbling down variations of it and trying to americanize it a little (which, then, was 'cool'). From Schmalz, we got to Schmalts, Shmalts and finally one of us wrote down 'Shmults' (which would be the American way to pronounce 'Schmalz'). At this point, my friend and I looked at each other and - without saying a word - both of us started laughing so hard that we literally slid down our chairs under the table, because we couldn't contain ourselves anymore. The teacher got a bit upset for interrupting his class, but we sure had a good name for our chaos band: The Shmults Brothers (who later founded Brom Productions Ltd., their record label, management and all-purpose "company". But that is yet another long story....).

The famous, prestigious, illustrious, glorious, most superfluous Shmults Brothers! (pun intended). Their names were Joey B. Shmults (me, actually named after one of the comic strip characters, and even today, I have friends calling me "JB"), Nick Shmults (my buddy and drummer Uwe, named after famous Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, one of the smoothest drummers ever), and Ray Shmults, our friend Thomas, named after Ray Shulman, Gentle Giant's bass player (guess which were our favorite bands!).

The Shmults Brothers got fairly popular with time, we named our 'album' appropriately "In The Beginning" and the tune that we played in class was called "Time Wecker", because it ended with the advanced lyrics "Time Wecker, time wecker, you wake me in the morning with a shing-a-ling" and the 10 second long ring of an old alarm clock (German: Wecker). Words and vocals by JB Shmults, ahem...

We even were imitated by some of the guys in the parallel class, who wanted to try a similar gig. Of course, they utterly failed (got only a B), mostly because they actually knew how to play their instruments. Way too tonal and melodic, and just a cheap copy of the distinguished original....

Years later (actually a decade or so): One of our biggest achievements was an appearance in a journal called 'Oldies Market', sort of a printed eBay Magazine for rare vinyl records. You submitted a record listing and readers could bid on them, the highest bidder was published and the seller sent the record to that person after receiving a check. The magazine also had a 'hitlist' with the 20 most expensive records ever auctioned, something like Elvis Presley's bootleg recording in front of the Las Vegas Old-Folks home or so... Anyway, we made up this 'recording' of the Shmults brothers ('In the Beginning') and offered it for DM 25.- ($17). Then we told a few friends of ours to bid on it with 35, 79, 150 and 251 bucks and promised them that we would NOT insist on collecting the money. To avoid getting kicked out of the magazine's checking system for fraud, we picked friends from all over Germany. It looked like a real bid and the highest one of which was then actually published at number 4 of the Top 20! I remember someone actually calling me after that and asking me what kind of music this was and if I had another copy of the record. I used my improvising talent and told him SOME story of a fairly well-known local band, and that I would let him know, if they ever re-released their album.... Poor guy (me, that is, having to stay serious while talking on the phone!).

Our music teacher, Mr. Z., eventually got suspended from work, a year or so after he tortured us in 11th grade. That was the day when he showed up dressed all in white, with a red scarf and lots of lipstick and make-up in his face. (yes, Germany is liberal, but not THAT liberal). Rumors had it that he went out of teaching and was seen selling flowers a year after his suspension.
We'll always remember him..........


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Jürgen M Lobert / 26-March-2001