falco photograph

When stars were born – in my club

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. [1]

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. [2] 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.

poster exhibition weber zettl
poster for our first exhibition- posted as screen prints in various restaurants and cafes

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 unusual 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).

rehearsal place

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.

bona mente studio
my fur coat listens to the sounds of Falco & Co – – – studio street view

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 musicians

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.

Jano and Harri Stojka

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.

When stars were born: bona mente studio stage
the stage at our club bona mente 1978

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!

When stars were born: halucination company
the early hallucination company

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

When stars were born: stefan weber and falco
The gentleman with the puked jacket and the cute gloves was Stefan Weber. Falco is on the right. Foto Franz Hausner. © Wien-Museum

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. [3]

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.

photo falco

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.

Some Falco top hits were: Vienna calling, Der Kommisar, Rock me Amadeus ……

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

When stars were born: photo Zettl, Weber and H

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.

take a walk on the wild side. oil painting by friedrich zettl

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.

artwork by friedrich zettl daugther of a friend

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.

paintings 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.

street scene Vienna, oilpainting by Zettl
a rather large oil painting – not that flat and more detailed in real

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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

girls – girls – girls | flyer for exhibition, an old sketchbook | portraits – a new page | Jean Michel Basquiat Exhibition in Vienna




51 responses to “When stars were born – in my club”

  1. ee. avatar

    Haha, was ein Zufall! Seh ich den Beitrag hier und im Hintergrund läuft “Wiener Blut”. Sehr gut! 🙂

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      HA, Wiener BRUT heisst ja auch mein Thema 🙂 Der “Zufall” freut mich sehr. Hoffe, der eine oder andere Aspekt war neu. Schoenes WE!

      1. ee. avatar

        Ja, so manches war mir neu. Dir auch ein schönes WE! 🙂

  2. Edith avatar

    Lieber Friedrich, beeindruckende Vergangenheit, sogar Vergänglichkeit einer aufregenden Zeit. Über unsere Grenze etwas zu hören oder zu sehen war schwierig. Wenn ich für die Bibliothek Schallplatten kaufte, schob mir der Geschäftsinhaber immer mal ‘eine andere Platte’ vom unterm Ladentisch zu. Dabei war auch Falco.
    Deine Malerei spricht eine deutliche Sprache. Mir gefällt hiervon alles!
    Dir von Herzen ein gutes Wochenende
    Gewünscht von mir ❤

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Danke Dir, wie immer, fuer Deine freundlichen Worte! Falco “unter der Budel” 🙂 (Wr. Slang). Es ist immer wieder erstaunlich, wie manche kulturellen Erguesse heute heisses Blut machen – und morgen schon wieder ein “alter Hut” sind.

      Aber ja, die Musiker bei uns hatten es sicher nicht darauf angelegt, alte Huete zu werden. Und keiner schmiedete Plaene fuer die Zeit im Altersheim….

      1. Edith avatar

        Für uns waren dies Raritäten zu damaliger Zeit. In der Blüte der Jahre hat wohl niemand Pläne fürs Altersheim geschmiedet, ich jedenfalls nicht 😀 Dort werden wir irgendwann planlos sein, uns unterwerfen müssen…

  3. seankfletcher avatar

    I enjoyed this post very much, Friedrich. You have done justice to the subject matter and opened a portal into a world that I would like to know more about re the creative soul.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      That makes me really happy, Sean! I was also concerned with the post about a few things between the lines. Above all, how quickly we often ignore everything that doesn’t fit into our perfect world or how carelessly we condemn popular culture today – and surround ourselves with it tomorrow

  4. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

    Solange wir neugierig bleiben, Buchen fluestern hoeren und aktiv reflektieren, muss sich das Altersheim hinten anstellen 🙂

  5. Bon Repos Gites avatar

    I fascinating read and a wonderful journey into a period when the times really were a changing!

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it! Yes, “change” was in the air back then – just over our heads…

      1. Bon Repos Gites avatar

        It must have been quite an experience and I think your writing captures that very well without any romanticism or sentimentalism!

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Thank you again, especially for noticing the lack of romanticism and sentimentality. Have a grat weekend!

      3. Bon Repos Gites avatar

        You are most welcome! Oh definitely and I think the piece is more powerful because of that!!
        Thanks for your good wishes and wishing the same for you! 🙂

  6. diespringerin avatar

    Das ist ein wundervoller Beitrag, der viele Erinnerungen wachruft. Die Stimmung vom Wien jener Tage, dieses Licht und auch diese Schatten… Danke!

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Ich bedanke mich! Und freu mich natürlich, dass der Bericht wahrgenommen wird, wie er gedacht war. Liebe Grüße aus Wien 😎

  7. swabby429 avatar

    Drugs are such a sad temptation. It’s shocking how much talent has been lost because of them. I haven’t thought about Falco in ages. I’m glad you wrote about him.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, this topic is very delicate. I remember that there once was a campaign, “war on drugs” but I don’t think that’s the right concept for this complex subject.

  8. rabirius avatar

    It is always interesting to see how all life’s situations are somehow related to the music you were listening to…
    …I can still smell glue when I listen to old tracks by Depeche Mode. I was gluing together puppets with a friend and we were mostly playing their music. 🙂

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Nice to see I’m not the only one who also remembers the music by smell 🙂

  9. The Sicilian Storyteller avatar

    Fascinating post and an intriguing look into parts of your life and work. You’re right; Rock’n Roll and Drugs and Death would have been the natural progression but it doesn’t flow as wonderfully as Death and Drugs and Rock’n Roll. Personally, I prefer Sex, Drugs and Rock’n Roll infinitely more than Death! I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! I agree with every word – only it is known that (e.g. in the USA) writing about sex is much worse than about drugs 🙂 So I skipped that part. Also, I didn’t want to be a show off 🙂 🙂

  10. artsofmay avatar

    What an interesting post. Thank you. Though my circumstances were different, your post takes me back to the often far out (an apt phrase) times I experienced in Toronto in the mid 1970s.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thanks very much! Sometimes it’s good to reflect on that time – as long as you don’t get stuck in the memories. Toronto was certainly a lot more open-minded – always.

  11. Mike and Kellye Hefner avatar

    Oh, but you are a writer, sir. I would love to read your book when it’s published.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      You are too kind, thank you! No, I don’t think I have what it takes to write. Once upon a time I thought I might be a decent musician, but I was wrong. Then came the painting. There isn’t much left to try, because as an old man I don’t have the muscle strength for sculpting 🙂

      1. Mike and Kellye Hefner avatar

        Ah, age is but a state of mind.

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Thank you, of course you are right! And I’m a “young at heart” man who always feels younger than his thinning hair indicates.

  12. rose kern avatar
    rose kern

    Old man??? Friedrich,you are young enough to make of all your future posts a memorable book about your life.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you Rose for your kind words! I think I prefer to paint, my experiences are all packaged there. And that less shocking 🙂

  13. Renee Espriu avatar

    You have always been a fine artist and your earlier pieces reflect that. You have a gift, on that has changed and been transformed over the years but one, nonetheless, that will always be remembered by many. Thank you for sharing this time in your past.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      You are very kind, Reneé, and your words do mean a lot to me. It’s like a good chef: his tasty creations only come into existence when his guests rave 🙂 🙂

  14. Rosaliene Bacchus avatar

    Not surprisingly, your artistic style has evolved over time. Your “rather large oil painting” is a fascinating snapshot of Vienna of those early years. Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” was also a No. 1 hit in my native land, Guyana. While we did not understand the lyrics, the beat was contagious. How interesting that you’ve played a role in providing a meeting place for upcoming singers and musicians! Sadly, drugs and alcohol seem to go hand-in-hand with rock and other bands.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you! Alcohol never played a role at all (except at events). I also think that drugs were not such a big issue at that point. When I later heard about the tragic fates of some of the musicians, I began to see things differently.

  15. Martha Kennedy avatar

    Your original title kind of channels Ian Dury…

    I was interviewing a guy from “our time” yesterday. Afterward I thought about that whole time and all the drugs and all the deaths, some were “delayed” decades and preceded by years of decay until the death was almost a mercy killing (my brother). Cocaine — so big in the 70s. Awful stuff. My experiences taught me it was the last thing I needed ever, that was after being up for three nights on just two lines of basically uncut shit I snorted with a friend in Aspen who was an addict and who died a few years later with only half a nose. The story of that — I don’t think I wrote it anywhere ever, but maybe. I was always mostly sober. My brain is weird enough as it is and I don’t have anything to run from or the urge to seek external thrills. I never really have. Thank god.

    Maybe fifteen years ago I had a friend who’d been a drug trafficker with a ship and the whole enchilada. He was a recovered addict who had had an epiphany while he was in the penitentiary. When he got out, he went to an ashram in Oakland, CA, and became a pilgrim there. He ended up a friend of great friend of mine. Sadly, he was killed in a car crash in 2012. He was an extremely talented man with a heart as big as a mountain. He and his wife lived in Tijuana and worked to help heroin addicts through rehab with Ibogaine, a very promising treatment.

    So many bizarre stories.

    Your studio — you should write your autobiography of this experience. Who cares if you’re a “writer” or not? I mean, it doesn’t matter. Writing is like painting. You do it and you learn how to do better. The most important thing is staying true to the story and I think you’ll find that line as you write. It’s just art. “More words count less; hold fast to the center” Lao Tzu. Best writing advice I ever got. Just do it.

    As for Falco — I remember hearing him for the first time on (of course) the car radio while I was driving to school? I thought, “What’s that? Well, I could dance to it.”

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Oh gal, that sounds pretty tough! I’m very glad that, except at that time, I didn’t have any friends or acquaintances with drug problems. Which of course is a matter of definition. If someone in front of the TV on Bonanza melts into the sofa or has become an organic part of the smartphone, you can already identify a certain addictive behavior.
      But of course I hear from the people you describe and I see the “zombees” who have rid themselves of parts of their brains as particularly tragic. You can’t even read a book anymore because you don’t have enough concentration. It seems like “Waiting for Godot” to me.

  16. linhah avatar

    Interesting times, now gone by.

  17. linda levante avatar

    Gut gemacht Herr Zettl. Der Inhalt stimmt und man konnte es auch gut lesen. Erinnerungen an eine schöne Zeit, die wohl leider nicht mehr wiederkehren werden.

    Damals waren wir aber auch naiv, muss man wohl zugeben. Wir haben nicht verstanden oder wir konnten damals nicht verstehen, welche politischen Auswirkungen sich aus der Flower-Power Zeit entwickeln würde.

    Thank You.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Danke, Linda Levante! Wie Karl Valentin es so schoen formuliert hat: “Prognosen sind schwierig, vor allem, wenn sie die Zukunft betreffen”. 🙂

      Flower-Power: Ich war nie ein Rudeltier sondern, heute noch, ein “lupo solo”. Damals las ich vor allem Sartre, Marcuse und Canetti. Damit hatte ich ein intellektuelles Weltbild, das vom “Flower Power” – Hype doch recht weit entfernt war. Aber ja, vieles an der Musik jener Zeit hat sich tief eingepraegt, aber gleichzeitig war ich viel in der Oper, Musikvereinssaal oder (Keller-)theater. Qualität konnte man in allen Bereichen finden, wenn es auch schwieriger war als heute. Und Hypes sind nie Qualität sondern sehr schnell seichtes Amusement. Sie werden leicht durch neue Hypes ersetzt, wenn sie kein Geld mehr abwerfen.

  18. JMN avatar

    A riveting account, Zettl. Tragic and instructive in so many ways. It’s good to see your early work, as well.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much ❤️. I am glad you like it.

  19. Suzanne avatar

    Such an interesting story! Loved this account of your past

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! I was not sure if I should write about this at all and then I thought there are quite a few readers of this generation….. Back then we had little possibilities of exchanging our experiences.

  20. annieasksyou avatar

    This is fascinating, Friedrich–and so well written for someone claiming not to be a writer!
    Unfortunately, far too many talented musicians die young as a result of drugs. I wrote a piece about music some time ago that quoted a researcher on addiction about a relationship between the dopamine highs that musicians get from their art and the highs from substances. Sad but interesting concept.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, it’s very sad. Later I also dealt with this topic a little bit. When some bands have over 100 gigs a year, mostly over 2 hours long. then that alone is very exhaustimg. Of course, the fans expect the musicians to give their all. With herbal teas and organic juices, this is probably difficult to cope with.

  21. Digital Empire avatar

    Very interesting. I am saddened after reading about the tragedies involving drugs, but they must had led very exciting and very fabulous lives. It’s always very cool to read about humble beginnings, and oh, very cool painting by that way. It’s a snapshot of living history.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, very sad!

    2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, very sad. But on the other hand, none of them wanted to lead a life like that of their parent’s generation. There is always a reason why people turn to drugs or start drinking. Addiction experts can sing a song about it. And it is always associated with much suffering – for oneself and others.

  22. Kelly avatar

    You are a writer and your post is an interesting read. There’s little difference between a crap first draft or an iffy sketch which later becomes a masterpiece. The lost painting is incredible and you’ve captured spirit in N’s image.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! I am glad that you liked the article. All the best!

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