Uschi Obermaier: Proletarian Chic
Do a combined Syd Barrett Uschi Obermaier search on Google and you get approximate 4600 results tying both celebrities together, the first results being 'who's dating who' (now called Famousfix) related finds. On the fifth place, although this result will change from computer to computer is an entry from the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit, but not the regular one.
Iggy's church can be found on various places on the interweb, most of the time just to gather some dust. One branch office though, is alive and kicking, and operates more or less independently from its headquarters. It is on the microblogging Tumblr platform, is aptly called The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit and can be found at the following address: http://iggyinuit.tumblr.com.
The first image that is presented, also on the Famousfix
platform, is the one of Syd Barrett on a Formentera
beach, standing behind a woman who hides her nudity behind a red veil.
That picture is actually copyrighted
and belongs to John
Davies who took the picture when he went to the island in summer 1969.
Update 2015 02 25: John Davies contacted us to get some facts right.
The photo of the naked girl behind the red scarf was taken by Imo (Ian Moore) and not by me although I used it in an article I wrote about Cambridge, and credited Imo. Secondly, I went to Formentera first in 1963, with some friends from Cambridge, including Richard Eyre. We raved about the island so much that other friends started going there in the mid-sixties, including dear Syd. I still spend a lot of time there and one or two of those Cambridge "hipsters" still live there.
The article from John Davies can be found at A Fleeting Glimpse: The John Davies Collection. In another Church post (from 2012, time flies!) we have highlighted the yearly trek from the Cambridge hipsters to the island of Formentera: Formentera Lady.
John Davies was one of those Cambridge hipsters who, between 1963 and 1965:
...made the transformation from schoolboys to aspiring beatniks’, swapping school uniforms for black polo necks and leather jackets, listening to Miles Davis, riding Vespas and smoking dope purchased from American GIs on the neighbouring airforce bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall.
He was, with Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, one of the people who mastered the Gaggia espresso machine in the coffee-house El Patio and who (probably) had his hand in the till when the boss wasn't around, as noted down by Nick Sedgwick in his roman à clef Light Blue with Bulges:
Lunch times, just keep the till open, ring up only half of the orders, keep a check on the rest, then pocket the difference.
Nick Sedgwick, who sadly passed away in 2011, wrote a Pink Floyd 'on tour' biography in the mid-seventies, but this was never published because none of the characters came out very well, with the exception of Roger Waters, who had commissioned the book. In August 2011 Waters promised to respect his friend's dying wish and release the manuscript as 'a simple PDF, a hardback version, and a super de-luxe illustrated limited edition' (see: Immersion). Transferring a typoscript to PDF literally takes a few minutes, but nothing has moved three and a half years later and the Church fears that this is just another case of the ongoing Waters vs Gilmour feud still lurking behind their smiling faces and fat wallets.
Update March 2018: meanwhile the book was (finally) published in 2017, see In The Pink hunt is open!
The Church has dedicated some space to the above picture before on the post Formentera Lady throwing the hypothesis around that the woman was one of Syd Barrett's girlfriends nicknamed Sarah Sky. This explanation was given to the Church by a Barrett fan who quoted her grandmother, but communication was interrupted before we could get more into details.
According to Emo (Iain Moore) however, the girl was an American tourist who was visiting Formentera for a day and had arrived at the house they all rented, close to a nude beach.
In December 2013 The Groupie Blog claimed the woman on the picture is German photo-model Uschi Obermaier. This was followed by another post in January 2014 where the author pretends Syd Barrett used to hit Obermaier when he had hysteria attacks.
Obviously the Church wanted to get further into this as none of the biographies mention any kind of romantic (nor aggressive) involvement between the two of them. As the (anonymous) author of the groupies blog was not contactable Uschi's autobiography High Times / Mein Wildes Leben was bought and searched for any Syd Barrett entries.
First things first: Obermaier's autobiography is a fine read, a three to three and a half star rating out of five.
Born in 1946 Uschi escapes the German conservative square society in the
mid-sixties by clubbing at the Big Apple and PN in Munich
where she is rapidly adopted by the in-crowd because of:
a) her good looks,
b) her dancing abilities and
c) her free spirit attitude.
She meets with Reinhard 'Dicky' Tarrach from The Rattles, who will have an international hit with The Witch, and soon promotes to international bands like The Kinks, whose Dave Davies is such an arrogant male chauvinist pig he deserves a separate entry. She is discovered by a photographer and a career as photo-model is launched.
Around 1967 Neil Landon from the hastily assembled The Flower Pot Men has a more than casual interest and he invites her to swinging London but she leaves as soon as she finds out about his jealous streaks. Back in Germany she doesn't fit in everyday society any more. She joins the alternative Amon Düül commune, following drummer Peter Leopold, and she makes it on a few of their jam-session albums as a maracas player.
Through Amon Düül she falls in love with Rainer Langhans from Kommune 1 (K1). The Berlin communards live by a strict Marxism-Leninism doctrine where everything belongs to the group and everyday family life is forbidden. Individualism is totally annihilated at a point that even the toilet has its doors removed and telephone conversations need to be done with the speaker on. Good-looking Rainer and cover-girl Uschi become a media-hyped alternative couple, the German John and Yoko avant la lettre. She is by then Germany's most wanted, and some say: best paid, photo-model and as such not accepted by the community hardliners. Drinking cola or smoking menthol cigarettes is considered counter-revolutionary.
In January 1969 Uschi hears that Jimi Hendrix is in town and they meet for some quality time (short clip on YouTube). He visits the commune which gives it another popularity boost. Despite its utopian rules the communards have their intrigues, jealousies and hidden agendas, it becomes a heroin den and when one of the more extremist inhabitants hides a bomb in the house the place is raided by the police. Later that year the commune disbands. (It was also found out that the bomb was planted by an infiltrator, spying for the police.)
The couple moves for a while into the Munich Frauenkommune (women's commune), where their bourgeois manners and star allures aren't appreciated either, but you won't read that in Obermaier's memories. Movie director Katrin Seybold:
Do you remember when Uschi Meier and Rainer Langhans stayed with us? They really moved in at our place, like residents. And while the person who happened to have money normally bought twenty yoghurts for all of us, they bought the double for themselves and hid it in their room. They were a narrow-minded philistine couple within our community. They were not a bit generous. (Katrin Seybold and Mona Winter in Frauenkommune: Angstlust der Männer. Translation by FA.)
Leaving the all-women group in 1970 the couple starts the High-Fish (a pun on German Haifisch, or shark) commune, this time not a communist but a hedonistic group where sex, drugs and rock'n roll are combined into art happenings and/or sold as porn movies. The mansion may well have been the German equivalent of London's 101 Cromwell Road, which was some kind of LSD temple and the place where Syd Barrett used to live with some 'heavy, loony, messianic acid freaks', to quote Pete Jenner. (See also: An innerview with Peter Jenner )
The Munich Incident
In March 1970 the High-Fish commune was the centre of a rock'n roll tragedy if we may believe some accounts. In vintage Fleetwood Mac circles the event is better known as the Munich Incident. Ultimate Classic Rock:
“It was a hippie commune sort of thing,” said Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer. “We arrived there, and [road manager] Dennis Keane comes up to me shaking and says, “It’s so weird, don’t go down there. Pete [Green] is weirding out big time and the vibes are just horrible.” Green was already set to leave the band, but this was, as [Mick] Fleetwood put it, “the final nail in the coffin.” Friends say Green was never the same after the Munich incident. (Taken from: 38 Years Ago: Fleetwood Mac Founder Peter Green Arrested for Pulling Shotgun on His Accountant.)
Jeremy Spencer, at Fleetwood Mac community The Ledge, continues:
It's true that we, or more accurately, Pete [Green] was met at Munich airport by a very beautiful girl [Uschi Obermaier] and a strange guy in a black cape [Rainer Langhans]. Their focus was definitely Pete for some reason. The rest of us didn't get it, but we discussed the weird vibes. We were invited to their mansion in the Munich forest that night. Pete was already jamming down in the basement (…) when I arrived with Mick [Fleetwood]. Dennis Keane [road manager] met us in the driveway, ashen faced and freaking out over the bad vibes and how weird Pete was going. I don't think Dennis was stoned, he just wanted to get out. (…) Anyway the house (more like a mansion) was a rich hippy crash pad. And it was spooky. There was some weird stuff going on in the different rooms. (Taken from: The Munich accident.)
Road manager Dennis Keane maintains they were spiked:
When we went inside there was a party of about 20 people sat around, we were offered a glass of wine, and the next thing I knew all hell broke loose in my head - we'd been drugged. Nobody had offered us any tablets; they just went and spiked us. (Taken from: Celmins, Martin: Peter Green: The Authorised Biography, Sanctuary, 2003)
Over the years the Munich Incident may have been exaggerated and Rainer Langhans, in his (free) autobiography, tries to bring the incident back to its true proportions:
After the performance of Fleetwood Mac in Munich, at the Deutsche Museum, the band went to the hotel. Peter Green came along with us, with the High-Fish people. (...) I quickly befriended him but he did not talk much. We were both, in a way, soul mates. A soft, vulnerable and loving man. Uschi had no special connection with him. She did not find him physically attractive. He was too hairy, she said, and also the music of Fleetwood Mac was too soft and not 'rocky' enough, while I found it very beautiful. We spent the night together with him, tripping, jamming and floating through the rooms on LSD. (...)
We met him twice in London in the next couple of weeks. It was him who brought us in contact with the Stones and Uschi was able to fulfill her dream of finally starting an affair with Jagger. With Fleetwood Mac everything seemed to be fine, but then Peter Green suddenly dropped out of the band. We heard he was so disgusted with the music business that he no longer wanted to be there. Much later the band put the responsibility on the night he was with us in Munich and claimed his trip with us had completely changed him. (Translated from German to English by FA.)
Peter Green's decline and retreat from the music industry is often compared to Syd Barrett's 1967 breakdown and although his descend into madness can't be linked to one single event, just as in the Barrett case, the gargantuan trip at the High-Fish community may have pushed him closer to the edge.
Conveniently Uschi Obermaier's excellent memory suddenly fails her when it comes to the Munich Incident. There is not a single word about it in her autobiography, but the Frauenkommune testimony from above already shows she can be rather discrete if she wants to.
With their days of Marxist collectivism gone, she and Langhans are thinking of organising a German Woodstock festival. Peter Green does what is asked of him and a few days later the couple is standing in a London studio where Mick Jagger is working on Sticky Fingers. It is satisfaction at first sight and a treat for the paparazzi.
But German Woodstock never happens, the relation with Rainer Langhans comes to an end and Uschi, now an international photo-model, jumps back into the Munich nightlife, replacing the diet of Champagne and Quaaludes with the trendier heroin. In Hamburg she meets Dieter Bockhorn, who is officially an eccentric Reeperbahn strip-club owner and they start a turbulent relationship. When the Rolling Stones are in Germany for some recordings she gradually replaces Mick Jagger for Keith Richards, following them on a European tour and joining them in the USA. Bockhorn is not amused.
From then on she will have a bizarre love triangle: everyday life with Dieter and meeting Keith whenever his touring schedule allows him. She will always have a soft spot for Richards: “The most honourable bad boy I knew – and I knew some.”
In the mid-seventies Obermaier and Bockhorn, who has made the move to heroin as well, follow the hippie trail to Asia in a converted bus. It will be a trip through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India that takes 622 days, 55141 kilometres with many weird, unbelievable adventures and a few narrow escapes. German press, as always, is interested in the adventures of Germany's baddest Kultpaar (cult couple) and they are regularly interviewed and photographed 'on the road'.
Back in Hamburg Uschi obviously returns to modelling but the couple fails to adapt to the western world and their relationship suffers gravely. She remarks that the hippie days are over and that punks have taken over the street. Bockhorn's business has suffered from the 20 months they were abroad and he struggles with monetary, legal and not quite so legal problems. They make plans to leave for America as soon as they can afford to leave.
In November 1980 they arrive in the USA where they will do a Kerouac, heroine free after an obliged detox boat journey. In summer they roam the continent and for three consecutive winters they stay in an alternative hippies and bikers camp in Baja California (Mexico). It is in Cabo San Lucas that Keith Richards arrives one day, carrying a guitar under the arm and giving a one man campfire gig on the beach, much to the amazement of the stoned onlookers. In the third year money has run out and the dharma bum life, with loads of alcohol, 'grass' and promiscuity, weighs heavily on both of them. On the last day of 1983 a drunk Dieter Bockhorn crashes his motorcycle on a truck ending his wild life.
For a while a depressed Uschi Obermaier feels that she has achieved nothing in her life and that she only got there through her pretty face. One of her pastimes is scrimshaw and she starts designing jewellery that she sells through the exclusive Maxfield store in Los Angeles, where Madonna and Jack Nicholson buy their trinkets. While she is certainly not an airhead and may have talent as an artist it can't be denied that her career is a case of, what the Germans amusingly describe as, Hurenglück.
On top of that the Krauts simply can't have enough of her. The story of her life as a groupie, a junkie, a starlet, her relations with a communist rebel, some Rolling Stones and a Reeperbahn crook who thought he was the Hamburg equivalent of Ronnie Kray make her autobiography Mein Wildes Leben (literally: my wild life) a page-turning bestseller.
It is followed by a biopic Das Wilde Leben, a home-country hit, but not abroad where it is baptised Eight Miles High. Reviews vary, but in our opinion it is a pretty average movie, with uneven and often caricatural scenes (check the Mick vs Keith scene for a ROTFL) and frankly Natalia Avelon's gorgeous cleavage has more depth than the script.
Back To Barrett
But to finally get back to the initial subject of this post, because in fine Church tradition we seem to have gone astray for a while.
Did Uschi Obermaier have a love-interest in Syd Barrett?
Did they meet at Formentera?
Did he hit her when he had hysteria attacks?
We're afraid the answer is a triple no.
Doesn't Mein Wildes Lebens mention Syd Barrett at all?
Yes, his name is dropped once. He is mentioned in a comparison between Swinging London and 'its psychedelic music scene from early Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett' and the grey, conservative atmosphere in Germany where girls in miniskirts were insulted on the street.
Could Uschi have met Syd Barrett in Germany?
No. Vintage Pink Floyd, with Barrett in the band, never played Germany. A gig for the TV show Music For Young People in Hamburg, on the first and second of August 1967 was cancelled.
How about Syd hitting her?
The Barrett - Obermaier hysteria attack rumour is probably a mix-up from Syd's alleged violence towards his girlfriends and the tumultuous relationship between Obermaier and Bockhorn, who once pointed a gun at her and pulled the trigger (luckily the weapon jammed).
So how about Uschi Obermaier hiding her precious body behind a red veil on Formentera in the summer of 1969?
She writes that she visited Ibiza (the island next to Formentera) on the day Mick Jagger married Bianca, so that places the event in May 1971, nearly two years after Syd's Formentera picture. When Barrett was strolling on the beach Uschi was either at K1 in Berlin or at the Frauenkommune in Munich.
Well, I'm still not convinced until Uschi Obermaier herself tells us it never happened.
Why didn't you ask before, because we did. We managed to pass Uschi Obermaier the question through a mutual contact and we even got an answer back. Uschi Obermaier on the first of February 2015:
They are right, this is NOT me, they researched right. I was at this time either in Berlin or back in Munich.
Case closed then. Unless Sarah Sky wants to come forward, obviously.
Many thanks to: Bianca Corrodi, John Davies, Little Queenies, Nina,
Uschi Obermaier, Jenny Spires.
This is, more or less, an update of a previous article that can be found here: Formentera Lady.
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2013, p. 28, 83.
Langhans, Rainer: Ich Bin's, pdf version, 2008, p 39.
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 38.
Povey, Glenn: Echoes, the complete history of Pink Floyd, 3C Publishing, 2008, p. 67.
Sedgwick, Nick: Light Blue With Bulges, Fourth estate, London, 1989, p. 37.
Coffee Bar - YouTube - 8:19, a 1959 Look At Life documentary about the British 'coffee bar boom' in London.
The Munich LSD Party Incident - YouTube - 7:41 (interviews with Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer, John McVie, Dennis Keane, Peter Green, Clifford Davis).
Von wegen Liebe: Das schoenste Paar der APO - YouTube - 43:50, German documentary from Christa Ritter about Rainer Langhans, Uschi Obermaier and Kommune 1.
Jimi Hendrix with Uschi Obermaier in Berlin, January 1969 - YouTube - 0:35.