Critics documenting the emergence of a "new spirituality" in pop music may have overlooked one of the most cosmic and unlikely examples: German singer Nina Hagen.
Unlike U2, Lone Justice and others who sprinkle their work with straightforward biblical references, Hagen's galactic pantheism embraces everything from Buddhism to Christianity and wraps it all up in a wild salvation-via-UFO outlook. Amy Grant she's not.
"It all hangs together," said Hagen about her belief in the positive power of both Jesus Christ and alien beings. "Jesus Christ will be the leader of an intergalactic earth evacuation. We're getting some earth leaders up there to check the mother ship. The Bible says that the sky will be glorious and Christ will come back to us all. It doesn't (exactly) say in a spaceship, but it uses other words."
Hagen's frank outrageousness is one of the things that endear her to her fans. Her eclectic and eccentric music is similarly outlandish, embracing everything from punk and funk to electro-disco and opera. As a singer, she can mimic the operatic flights of Beverly Sills, the quirky tones of Yoko Ono and the pained growls of Marianne Faithfull, sometimes all within the same song.
Hagen (who headlines the Variety Arts Center tonight and Saturday) has been a cult favorite ever since the East German expatriate recorded her first album in 1979. But it wasn't until she spotted a UFO while in Malibu in 1981 that the connection between flying saucers and religion became a dominant issue in her work and life. Hagen tunes such as "Gods of Aquarius" and "Flying Saucers" and her remake of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" all explore this association.
Hagen, 32, isn't surprised--or concerned--that her ideas often are met with skepticism. During a recent phone interview, she prefaced her account of her UFO sighting by saying, "If you don't believe me, I don't care."
She also doesn't care what mainstream churches think of her theological views.
"They don't involve the whole truth," Hagen said of most Christian churches. "They close the door to higher experiences that people like Shirley MacLaine have. People who are stuck in a Catholic church, that's OK for them because that's what they need right now."
Hagen's music is too unpredictable and off-center to easily gain mass popularity, so it's not surprising that after making three albums for Columbia Records (her last one was 1985's "Nina Hagen in Ekstasy"), she's now without a label contract. But that doesn't especially bother her.
"I once had a dream and this one familiar god, who was probably one of my master teachers, said, 'You should not worry about being on the charts. That's not important.'
"I have my own strength. Maybe one day I'll have a big hit and the world will make a big sex symbol out of me like they always do when there's a new chick. Then they will blow up (the image) and try to cast me away. But they can't do that with me because my strength keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Though Hagen has yet to land a new U.S. record deal, she recently recorded a single called "Punk Wedding." The song was written for her Aug. 9 wedding to a 17-year-old Spaniard, called Iroquois, whom she met in Rome in 1985.
Said Hagen, "The single is coming out in Germany and we're talking to a company in the States about getting it released here so everybody can participate in the wedding celebration. It's a total party song and there are church bells in it, as well as the ocean, fields and motorcycles! We're going to shoot a real groovy video at the wedding."
Does she have any apprehensions about marrying someone barely half her age?
"Not at all," stated Hagen, who now lives on the Spanish island of Ibiza. "It doesn't matter how old people are. It matters if they love each other and have fun with each other. It has nothing to do with age. To get old is a mental disease. Everything is in the head."
Remarkably, the vegetarian mother (she has a 6-year-old daughter) insists she is not a rebel.
"(I don't have) a rebellious streak," Hagen claimed. "I have a wish for world peace and the truth. I would like to see a society that will bring happiness to all life forms. Of course to the Nazis, I appear a rebel, but to the rebels I appear like a normal person from Venus."