Autobiographic notes: Average man, 1992

© January 2017 Paul Cooijmans


It was in the autumn of 1992, when I had just graduated as a guitarist and was in the last year of studying composition, that I received an invitation from a Netherlandic foundation called Conamus to submit a song for the Eurovision Song Contest of 1993. For clarity, all composers registered with the music copyright organization Buma/Stemra were invited, at least I presume that to be the case. I had joined that organization early 1992 on advice of a prominent composer who was temporarily replacing my composition teacher, the latter being ill at the time. After hearing my Composition, dedicated to saying "Aha" in a monotone voice, he had recommended to send it to Donemus, the leading publisher for contemporary music, and to join the copyright organization so that I would receive money whenever the piece was performed.

I did both things, and the work was published (the score, that is). On occasion, the copyright organization was slightly confused, and sent me letters saying that a composition named "Composition, dedicated to…" had been played somewhere. As it happens, many, if not most, of my works had titles beginning thus, so that they needed my help to identify the piece. The payment ("royalties") for a non-broadcast stage performance of a composition depended on various factors, but generally amounted to five to ten guilders. Since I had to pay about a hundred guilders contribution yearly, this was not necessarily profitable, considering how hard it was to get one's music played.

I was not a songwriter at all in that period and had no intention to write a new song for the contest; however, I found an old song in my archives that looked suitable. This was called Jan met de pet, written about 1983, and later translated into English as Average man. So, it was from the Catweazle era, but it had not belonged to the band's repertoire. I had only played it with Ludy as a singer, a friend of mine with whom I have on several occasions done things like reading poetry and playing music or short comical sketches. To make clear how different this project was from my going activities: apart from composing serious music, I was working as a guitar teacher and cooperating with a female singer, mainly playing Renaissance lute songs. In September 1992, I had taken part in a masterclass by the classical guitarist David Russell. My playing was up to fairly high standards.

In the end, the song I submitted was not chosen for the Eurovision contest. In hindsight that was probably for the better, as 1993 turned out to be the year in which the Netherlandic organization of the contest fell in the hands of a clique sometimes called the gay mafia, resulting in many years on end of exceptionally bad songs from our country being sent in. But, I did get a message from a broadcasting organization, informally known as the male parent urinates perpendicularly in the upward direction, asking me to play the song in an alternative version of the song contest they were holding on television in December 1992. This seemed good publicity to me. A problem was that I had no singer for this particular song, nor was I a singer myself; so I contacted Ludy to see if he was interested to participate with me. In all fairness, Ludy could not actually sing either, but that never stopped him from doing so anyway. He agreed. I sent an old recording of us and the song to the television people to make certain they knew what to expect, and soon they let me know how delighted they were to have us in the program — an episode of Television nomads, a show broadcast from a, sometimes moving, old bus.

The bus in which the song contest was held
The bus in which the song contest was held.

To Hilversum

By public transport we travelled to Hilversum, where the alternative contest would take place. It was in the last days of November, and the show was being televised a few days thereafter. Ludy warned me to let him do the talking; my accent would make a bad impression, said he. Regarding that accent, several decades later I would arrive at the insight that my accent or way of speaking is part of a speech disorder, possibly foreign accent syndrome, and this disorder encompasses more than just an accent; but to give details on that would exceed the scope of the present autobiographic story. In Hilversum, the town where most Netherlandic radio and television was made then, we first went to the broadcasting organization's studio building, and were subsequently taken to the location where Television nomads was being filmed that day. It concerned an open space in an industrial area, like a parking lot, and I vaguely remember that the actual nomads bus drove us there with some other candidates. I may be mistaken though, perhaps they only drove us back to the studio afterwards, or perhaps they drove us both there and back. I am certain we did not walk to or from the location, and that is also logical considering that some of the musicians were carrying instruments.

Looking at a video of the show, the site appears to be a railway complex, the bus being parked with its rear end directly adjacent to the tracks, so possibly a complex that was not in use at the time. There were other cars parked too, but at least some of those belonged to candidates or television personnel. There were six competitors in total, two of which consisting of a duo, Ludy and I being one of the duos. Two participants had traditional Eurovision songs, in no way alternative or new, and used pre-recorded music to sing to. Two others were singer-songwriters with work that did differ from the usual Eurovision repertoire, and accompanied themselves on steel-string guitar — in case of the black-haired singer with sideburns and glasses — or keyboard — the chain-smoking blonde young man, who had a girl in miniskirt with him (the girl did not take part in the music though). Smoking on television was still allowed then. The (other) duo had a new wave song called Interbational beat; when asked about the title, they explained that the letters b and n are located in close proximity on a keyboard. My song was described as "a song with bollocks" by the presenter. We were probably the least professional of all musicians in the bus, and all were quite young, in their twenties at most. With my 27 years, I felt I was one of the oldest there. Television nomads was a program for young people, after all.

Paul Cooijmans playing guitar in Television nomads bus
Paul Cooijmans playing guitar in "Television nomads" bus.

The prize was eventually awarded to one of the traditional songs, sung by the only candidate who had changed into a stage costume just before it was her turn (I myself had only taken my trench coat off for the performance). She had her manager/father with her. We regarded it as deliberate irony of the program makers to let someone win with a straightforward song that could as well have appeared in the real Eurovision contest. At one point, a producer of sorts entered the bus to take care of formalities like expenses. We had expressly been promised a compensation for the cost of travelling, and Odette Sutek, as the producer's name was, wanted to see our train and bus tickets. I was travelling on a public transport card valid for a whole year, so I did not have a specific ticket for that day. She refused to compensate me, saying I had not had any real expenses. I disagreed and explained that a card like I had cost money too, so that I had expenses still, just not specifically for this journey. The Sutek woman kept refusing, and accused me of trying to "finagle". I had rarely been so insulted. Apart from this broken promise, we would also not receive a video recording of the program, despite their emphatic reassurance beforehand. I was slowly learning the lesson that people in the media, journalism, and show business have this habit of not doing as they say. As soon as they have the material to make their program or article, you never hear from them again until the next time they need you.

When the contest had ended, we were driven back to the regular address of the male parent urinates perpendicularly in the upward direction, and Ludy entered an office there to say hello to someone he knew, or claimed to know. He was always keen to casually drop names of famous or important persons who were friends of his, supposedly. The person he was looking for was absent if I recall correctly, and we went back home.

The interview

The alternative song contest was aired early December, and I was smart enough to record it on video even though we were expecting a tape from the male parent urinates perpendicularly in the upward direction (which we did not get, as just related). Later, Ludy would borrow the recording from me and neglect to give it back; eventually, after again a few decades, he told me he had lost it. Fortunately, a sister of mine had made a recording too, and meanwhile I have digitized that so that a file containing the pertinent Television nomads episode resides on my electronic computer now. I doubt that the entire program is present, but the song contest item is complete, although only eleven minutes. There may have been a remainder of the episode containing other items.

In the weeks after the broadcast, I got reactions here and there. A girl who studied at the conservatory, and sometimes was on the same bus home as I, told me she had liked the song and guitar playing. "Only the singer was… bad", she said, somewhat hesitantly, and went on to set forth how much she liked eating meat — a known preoccupation of hers. And only one or two days after we had been on television, a newspaper journalist called and wanted to interview us. This took place in my parental house, and a photo was taken in the garden. Annoyingly, Ludy did almost all of the talking again; even when the interviewer asked a question to me, Ludy would interrupt me after a few words and "finish" my answer for me, saying things like that it was all about the message in our music. We had only entered the contest to convey a message, I learnt there and then; the message that people had to be educated to look over borders and races. Well, that was the first time I heard that. Later I found out he had become a Baha'i, which explained all the free-of-obligations talk of universal peace that suddenly exited his oral cavity. This was my first newspaper interview, so I was deeply shocked when I read it and saw words put into my mouth that I had never said, and were mostly Ludy's.

Loose ends

I have put the contest video on YouTube meanwhile, hoping no one will object. As far as I can find in a quick Internet search, at least two of the other participants of the contest are still active in music; one man who sang a rather traditional song is still performing as a singer, and one of the boys of the song Interbational beat is working in music education. By way of anecdote, it may be interesting to mention that several years after these events, in the mid- or late 1990s, I tried to get into another television show of the male parent urinates perpendicularly in the upward direction, when they were filming in a town near me. I sent a tape of myself playing my Composition, dedicated to apathy, not to be confused with the fugue of the same dedication based on the same melodic theme. A girl called me for information, and asked what these boring chords were about. Was I trying to express apathy, she wondered. I explained that it concerned not chords but harmonic intervals resulting from 2-part counterpoint, but that was obviously over her head, and I was rejected as a candidate.

Shortly thereafter, Ludy contacted me about the same casting, suggesting we would try to get in the program. I agreed to let him apply on our behalf. "At first they seemed interested", he told me later, "but when I mentioned your name it was over. They also knew that we already were in Television nomads years ago." Still, before the millennium was done I would appear on television one more time. One of the following autobiographic notes will be devoted to that occasion.