Knud Romer, Denmark
Roxy Music: Song for Europe
Knud Romer grew up in the dark Danish province during the Cold War. His only window to Europe: the radio. Between marching music, news and espionage codes, one song stood out for him and opened up a new perspective for him.
By Knud Romer
I grew up so far out in the country that it was in the water. I hardly knew where I was and what year it was. It was the darkest province. When the sun went down, you couldn't see the hand in front of your face, it was that dark on Falster.
My only connection to the outside world was via the thin wire coming from a small Phillips plastic transistor radio. I hid under the duvet at night and kept up with the short-wave and medium-wave and explored the cosmos, and stations emerged from the noise, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, ORF, Voice of America and ‘This is BBC World News’.
Foreign broadcasts were constantly slipping in, and Russian announcers and marching music alternated with German folk singers and American news and mixed into a sea of voices. They would drown each other - and I was on their trail, searching for something and not knowing what.
The creepiest was the woman’s voice which reeled off numbers – vacantly and monotonously – non-stop. ‘Achtung, Achtung’ she said and counted ‘1234567890’ – Eins, Zwei, Drei and so on – and there was Austrian folk music with yodelling, then it started all over again and continued.
I knew right away what it was, and it unsettled me. It was during the Cold War, and the numbers were codes with secret messages to spies. They were found everywhere on the short and medium-waves – German and English and Russian broadcasters – and there was a lone woman’s voice saying ‘Papa November, Papa November’, over and over again with a hectic snake charmer’s flute in the background – then she started to reel off in German, ‘406, 422, 438, 448, 462’ – and other stations were called Papa Zulu, Charlie November, Sierra Tango, Foxtrot Bravo.
The most chilling of them played some notes on a music box, Swedish Rhapsody. After a while, a girl’s voice began to say the numbers in a sweet, innocent German voice – and they became my nursery rhymes that I listened to on the radio and fell asleep to during the Cold War.
But one night there was an eruption in my ears on 208 kHz: Radio Luxemburg – and it was the most beautiful thing I had heard and impossible to resist. There was music and adverts and jingles and sound effects and people who called in from Amsterdam and Düsseldorf. The disc jockey – Rob Jones – spoke faster than you could follow, and smoothly and tunefully when he announced the next song.
I thought it couldn't be true, but it was. We wrote the year 1973 and I had escaped the province and the Cold War - and knew exactly where I was and what I wanted in life. I wanted to travel away and find myself in all the countries from my transistor radio that had been opened to me by the sounds of "Song for Europe" by Roxy Music:
Here as I sit
At this empty café
Thinking of you
All those moments
Lost in wonder
That we'll never
Though the world
Is my oyster
It's only a shell
Full of memories
And here by the Seine
A long lonely shadow