Falco & Co
Actually, I wanted to call this post “Death and drugs and rock’n roll“. Admittedly, the title sounds pretty lurid, and yet that’s what it’s all about. Although the word order from right to left is more logical. That’s why some things can be a bit disturbing, especially from today’s perspective, but for some of the older semesters, it may not sound so unfamiliar after all.
Disturbing not only because of certain aspects of pop culture but of course because of death – in the plural. And that’s probably why I pushed those years out of my consciousness as much as possible. 
A few days ago I saw a poster announcing a tour by Harri Stojka and I was surprised that he is still alive. So I had to think about a few things.
I would like to single out the period from 1975-1978. 1975 seems like a good start, as I had only just started painting seriously. Largely isolated and with a very small circle of friends, I tried to seek publicity for my painting. And 1978 was a turning point insofar as I went to China for several years, which changed my life fundamentally and this phase of life came to a natural end.
I lived very modestly and with a correspondingly small apartment, and since I wanted to paint large-format oil paintings, I dreamed of a studio. And without having contributed much to it myself, it suddenly existed.  This project was called Bona Mente. To put it briefly, my vision was that artists from different genres, especially painters and musicians, should have a studio together, not only to paint there but also to exhibit or organize other artistic events. That way the running costs should come in. Sure we did not have birthday parties & Co in mind.
It didn’t start all that badly. We were a small group of less than 10, with some just attending because they “wanted to belong somewhere” or sensed that something nice was about to develop. These friends then also contributed the most to the fact that the project ran. As for painting, the only one who painted there was me. And while I was still relatively inexperienced in organizational matters at the time, my friend Klaus Weber was a born doer. We soon had club status and therefore also received some government funding – though we definitely were not a boys’ choir.
The first exhibition then also showed pictures of Klaus and me. Without being able to remember too many details, I remember that larger groups of people stood in front of the gallery and waited to be allowed in.
But this unexpected public success had hardly anything to do with our paintings, we were both relatively unknown. The reason was rather that there were many young people who were open to crazy ideas and at the same time were looking for contact with like-minded people. And such meeting places were rare. (We’re talking about the mid-1970s, Vienna was still very conservative and narrow-minded).
Well, the project soon seemed doomed to failure, since we couldn’t make a living from selling the pictures. The rent for the studio alone (not too far from the center of Vienna) was already straining our possibilities. So the idea came up to make the huge basement soundproof and use it as a rehearsal room for musicians. P., who wasn’t an artist himself, handled it with great skill, and R., who wasn’t an artist either, knew all the people in the alternative music scene.
some history was made
And so something was initiated that, even from today’s point of view, took on a historical character. A number of musicians and bands who have rehearsed with us have achieved prominence and a certain level of fame, with Falco being the best known. “Rock Me Amadeus” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1986, making him the only artist in history whose principal language was German, to score a vocal number-one hit in the United States. According to his estate, he has sold 20 million albums and 40 million singles, which makes him the best-selling Austrian singer of all time.
The first musicians who rehearsed with us were the Stojkas. Some may be familiar with Harri Stojka, an exceptional artist who has also gained importance in the USA.
Harri, his cousin Jano (both guitarists), and 2 sisters (vocals), all Romani, inaugurated the basement. And how! However, Jano then died (not with us) of a heroin overdose. The first of several later then.
If you look at the stage that we offered the first musicians today, you can hardly help but smile. Well, none of us had high standards – we couldn’t afford them.
I had agreed that nobody was allowed to use hard drugs or bring those with them. Not for moral reasons, everyone has the right to shape their own life. But of course, the matter also has a legal aspect and I certainly didn’t want the police in the club.
Once I saw Jano pull in a line “H” and drew his attention to this passage of our agreement again: But on the one hand, I’m not the authoritarian type, and playing the moralist isn’t my thing either.
And then, honestly, how would you go about making it clear to these people: No Drugs!
Hallucination Company, was a little smaller when they rehearsed with us. Falco also, just like Harri Stojka, played at the beginning with this band. Only of local importance at the beginning, but in the course of time some quite important musicians emerged, some of whom started remarkable solo careers. Of course, they didn’t play on this small stage, but in the opposite part of the basement.
From Hansi to Falco
And then Falco was born. How “born”? Well, at the first rehearsals he was still Hansi Hölzel and a member of the group Drahdiwaberl, a band that was mainly influenced by Stefan Weber. Stefan was a charismatic, dominant personality and his band shook up and turned the scene upside down. Hansi eluded that dominance (at least that’s how I saw it) by embarking on a solo career as Falco and, as we know, achieved international prominence. 
His heavy drug use, especially cocaine, was also his undoing. A few more of these musicians that I knew from that time died prematurely because of their addictions.
In 1998, Falco died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic – he died instantly. The autopsy revealed a blood alcohol level of 1.5 per mil and large amounts of cocaine and THC. (source: German wikipedia). There were 3 guys named Hansi (Johnny) in the scene, all of whom died because of drugs. Beside “Hansi” Falco, there was Hansi Lang and Hansi Dujmic whose death was particularly tragic.
Did I know these people? Yes, sure. When the musicians came to rehearsal, they had to go through my studio to get down a flight of stairs to the rehearsal cellar – and I was “the man with the key”. Was I acquainted with any of them or even friends? No, not really. To be honest, I didn’t like most of them. They were too extroverted, overbearing, and arrogant for me, especially Falco. And we all were way too cool for petty bourgeois behavior like small talk. They did their thing and I did mine. Occasionally I looked into the basement and followed parts of the rehearsals, occasionally one of them stopped by me and watched me painting for a moment.
As mentioned, I left Austria in 1978 and that was the end of it. The Bona Mente project died out soon
Co-founder, Klaus (right), died tragically years later when he crashed his car into a ditch and he wasn’t sober about it. It was also particularly tragic because his two little sons were in the car with him. Since they were buckled up, nothing happened to them.
H., Klaus’ sister-in-law, the girl in the photo, also became a victim of the drugs, and just like her sister E., Klaus’ wife, she fell very deeply. Years later we learned of her miserable fate and started a collection to bring her back from Spain and get her medical attention, but she died soon after.
A few remarks on the painting of that time
As a kind of counterpoint to the turbulent times back then, I plunged completely into realistic painting, often almost photorealistic. Here are a couple of paintings from this period:
Title: “Take a Walk on The Wild Side“.
Portrait of R., the man with the links to the alternative arts scene who brought the bands to us. He is still alive, but his wild years left imprints and it’s difficult for me to communicate meaningfully with him. He calls me occasionally and I feel bad that I’ve retired and am a bad friend. It depresses me to see this once lovely, warm-hearted womanizer now in this state I can’t change.
But the picture with the little girl is pretty nice, isn’t it? Oh yes, N. was a very dear girl, with whom I was often and happily together. When we jammed as a group, she often played along on the piano when she was 4-5 years old and it was amazing how she could fit in. I lost contact with her parents then and learned many years later that she too had died of a heroin overdose – she was only 20.
This picture of her, which I also painted in our studio, is one of the few paintings from this painting phase that still exists.
Of the others, there are usually only bad photos and the pictures themselves have been sold, given away, or lost.
It’s not too bad about some of the lost pictures, but it hurts a little that this one below was lost. For me, it expresses the mood that prevailed in Vienna at that time very well. And I worked hard on the picture for weeks.
Have I exaggerated the whole thing? I wish it would be like this. Rather, some things that are not directly related to this text have been left out. Shocking? Let’s face it, the music scene today doesn’t look any better. 27 Club sounds sad, yes, but it has “nothing to do with us”. And when “Prince” died from an overdose of fentanyl, most people didn’t even know what that is or they think it was taking place in “another world”. And we’re talking about the stars at the top. We only hear from the second row and below if we look very carefully for it.
Of the many videos out there of Falco, in some ways “out of the dark” reflects his personality quite well. Of course, it’s an artificial concoction.
 If I were a writer, I would be tempted to write an autobiography, or at least about those early years in Vienna. Not because I think I’m of great interest as a person, but because this period is a clear reflection of what life was like for adolescents in a society in transition.
 At that time I was publishing a magazine on literature and arts with a couple of friends and we were quite successful (by Austrian standards). I was now also dreaming of an artists’ circle.
 Now while researching, I heard that after my time the Vienna Art Orchestra was also born there. They are pretty good and are now quite famous here. There is still a Bona Mente association today, but it has nothing to do with us.