Herbert Groenemeyer hopes debut North American tour garners new following
By Jeff Elbel For Sun-Times Media September 19, 2013 9:34PM
A megastar in Germany, singer-musician Herbert Groenemeyer is in the midst of his debut North American tour.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 22
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $35–$100 (21+)
Info (773) 525-2501;
With his rich, booming voice, pop singer Herbert Gronemeyer has been introduced in the United States as “the German Bruce Springsteen.” On home turf, Gronemeyer needs no such comparison. With a career spanning 35 years and 14 albums, he is the most successful musician in his homeland with over eighteen million albums sold. Still, he doesn’t mind the analogy.
“I’m quite honored by this comparison,” says Gronemeyer. “Musically, we are quite different. Maybe the length of the career and the length of our concerts are similar. As far as I know Bruce Springsteen, he sings about the needs of what I think you call blue-collar people. I come from the mining town Bochum, so that’s my background. I actually sing his song ‘I’m on Fire’ in my concerts.”
Gronemeyer is on his first North American tour, which stops at Lincoln Hall on Sunday. Since he fills soccer stadiums in Germany, these club dates return the 57-year old singer to an environment he hasn’t experienced back home in ages. “The funny thing is, big concerts are much easier to play and less musical than small ones,” says Gronemeyer. “When you play an arena, you have to play more like an elephant. You pump it out. In small clubs, the music is more detailed.”
Gronemeyer and his band are eager to meet intimate crowds possessing limited knowledge of their work. “You have to convince them on that night,” he says. “That’s really exciting. We invited them, and we have to prove that we are good hosts. To have the opportunity to play in America is a dream come true for all of us.”
Gronemeyer’s English-language album “I Walk” (2012) includes fresh material alongside translated versions of older favorites. Careful effort was made when bringing songs into the new language. “We tried to keep the meaning, but went off the literal translation,” he says.
“Mensch,” originally released as a German-language song in 2002, is Gronemeyer’s biggest hit. Updating the song presented surprising challenges, beginning with the title itself. “In New York, they sometimes say, ‘He’s a real mensch,’ meaning he’s a decent human being,” says Gronemeyer. “It’s a very strong German word, full of sentiment. It doesn’t translate so well. That’s why I also called the song ‘Mensch’ in English.”
The deeply personal song followed the loss of Gronemeyer’s wife and brother. “I tried to write a positive song about life when I had this catastrophe,” he says. “Maybe not so early, but we all face loss. If we realize that, it makes life more precious. People helped me through dark days. With your friends, you’re well sheltered. That’s what I originally tried to express. In that sense, the song hasn’t changed.”
Although film buffs often recognize him as Lieutenant Werner from the 1981 submarine thriller “Das Boot,” Gronemeyer also has appeared on smaller screens recently. PBS aired his concert special “Gronemeyer: I Walk Live” throughout June. A DVD is now available, including Gronemeyer’s duet during “Mensch” with Bono. The pair first worked together during 2005’s “Make Poverty History” campaign. Gronemeyer believes that music and politics don’t mix, in stark contrast to Bono’s methods. “He always makes fun of that,” says Gronemeyer with a laugh. “But I think art should always scare politicians.”
Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times free- lance writer. Email: email@example.com