Thursday, 28 June 2007

Book Review: Vengaboys – The Untold Story by Berthold Schreck

The number of books written about the Vengaboys in recent years is great; so great, in fact, that many people would question the necessity for another. This one is different, however. Written by Berthold Schreck, the Boys’ former butler, it provides an inside look into the lives of those most reclusive musical geniuses.

The book has much to lift it above the crowd of unauthorized biographies. The well-known and oft-told tales are all here: the formation of the band after the dissolution of Kraut-rock combo Gaft in 1996; the early tumultuous gigs in Dutch coffee shops; the rise to fame and their very public breakdowns. But from his insider position, Schreck embellishes these familiar stories with some amazing new facts and information, providing a wealth of previously-unknown-to-the-public Vengalore.

The chapter on the writing of the Vengaboys’ first hit, Up & Down, is particularly thrilling in Schreck’s hands. The band, stuck for lyric ideas once the first two lines had been written (the now classic and famous couplet ‘Up and down/Up and down’), argued long into the night about which direction the track should then take. The fighting was so great that they came very close to dissolving the band. It was several days later when band member Anya came up with the idea for the next two lines: ‘Up and down/Up and down’, and, rejuvenated, the rest of the band joined her in writing the rest of the song (coming very close to brilliance in the penultimate lines of the final verse: ‘Up and down/Up and down’). The chapter closes with the band discussing the possible tie-ins for the song, considering bungee jumping, trampolinists and spiders, before eventually settling on the then-current craze of yoyos.

The band’s much-publicized spat with 2 Unlimited is detailed at length by Schreck. Some writers have asserted that this was all a stunt concocted by the two bands’ record companies, but this argument is dismissed. Behind the scenes, Vengaboy Giles spoke to Ray of 2 Unlimited and offered to ‘feed him his own sphincter’ if he didn’t rename the latter’s album, then entitled ‘The Vengaboys are Shit’. In the end, the album title was changed as part of the ransom after a daring kidnapping of Anita from 2 Unlimited, during which several Vengaboys sadly lost their lives.

The Vengaboys’ songs are analysed with shrewd consideration of their private lives. ‘My Uncle John from Jamaica’ is completely different in light of keyboardist and songwriter Jan’s turbulent family life. ‘Oh! We’re Going to Ibiza’ is a very personal cry for help from one band member, who, according to Shreck, wished to escape so badly that they attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

The book ends with the tragic events of July 2005, when, as a support act for Enrique Iglesias, the Vengaboys ate some bad chickpeas backstage and were dead before their encore.

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