The Gypsy Life For We
Picciotto book explores boundless experience
Danielle de Picciotto is a prolific multimedia artist who often works in collaboration with her husband Alexander Hacke, whom she sometimes refers to as a “famous rockstar.” He's the bass player for the industrial punk band Einstürzende Neubauten. They write film scores and soundtracks independently and together and Picciotto is a prolific documentary film maker. Her first memoir, The Beauty of Transgression, records her experience in Berlin's unique underground art and music scene during the ‘80s and ‘90s. In a Wire magazine interview, Danielle de Picciotto says she decided to start writing memoirs because she “was forgetting things that she'd never thought she'd forget.” We Are Gypsies Now is a graphic memoir that chronicles the years 2011-2012, when she and her husband decided to hit the road for what was to be an 18 month stint, an adventure that turned into five solid years as “nomads.”
A good bit of Picciotto's drawings and anecdotes capture the frustration and fun of touring as a musician. Her band, Hitman's Heel, opened for the legendary Einstürzende Neubauten during their “30 years EN” tour, and We Are Gypsies Now incidentally provides a glimpse into the world of this renowned experimental rock band. They stay at the best hotels. They despise bootleggers but have learned to pick their battles. Like any successful band, EN attracts their own particular kind of groupie and Picciotto's depictions of these backstage scenes captures the catty bullshit that is a part of rock and roll. Picciotto is not a part of these rituals, but is an acute observer. Getting the stink eye from these groupies makes her think it's “embarrassing when women act this way. The musicians notice of course and laugh about them. When are women going to learn to support each other?” As for her own band's performance on tour, she humbly admits that things often go wrong, occasionally due to a drunk Aussie drummer who will live forever in her illustrated diary as a werewolf with great bushy eyebrows.
One of the strongest images in the book depicts an anxiety-driven dream in which Picciotto is unable to perform because one of her arms has grown into a sedentary clown and the other has turned into a a creature with two legs and a head but no body, a “Kopffuessler” in German.
We Are Gypsies Now is more than just a tour diary, however. Much of the book contains Picciotto's musings on the world we live in and how difficult it can be to lead the life one desires. Picciotto and Hacke visit a dizzying number of cities and places in a short period of time, and in navigating each, Picciotto realizes that her economic and spiritual difficulties were not uniquely tied to her long time home in Berlin. There are pros and cons to Vienna, Copenhagen, Athens, Los Angeles; after a stay in NYC they fly to Tulum, Mexico where they inadvertently piss of tourists while trying to film around the pyramids there.
Nowhere is perfect, but knowing that they are always going to be moving on to another place seems to increase her ability to enjoy the good things about a particular abode and avoid getting hung up on the inevitable bad aspects. Take the Meet Factory, an artist's colony in Prague, situated between some train tracks and a highway. There, Picciotto and her husband created an installation on the theme of how time relates to happiness and were able to enjoy the amenities of their living quarters while knowing the heart attack-inducing train horn and noise was only temporary, not a permanent, source of dread. One “advantage” to being a nomad is that nothing is ever the same.
Fundamentally, Picciotto answers her own question: one doesn't find happiness in any one place. There are beautiful and giving people found in equal amounts to the corruption and usury available everywhere. Leaving a home in Berlin doesn't leave Picciotto and Hacke with any less of themselves or their art. The world is sophisticated yet crude and sinking into a morass of shit that grows wider every day. Being a full-time artist is something that Picciotto knows is tenuous. Navigating the world in that capacity is not an easy proposition, but it's no harder a task as a nomad. In fact it may be simpler. Picciotto told the Alibi that the search for a permanent home is “difficult because gentrification is conquering almost all the cities and making them more and more expensive.” Small towns often can't sustain artists. The wealth of individuals and creative types—patrons and clients that exist in any and every city—is what sustains artists. “Now it feels as if we have multiple new homes,” she says. Without the restrictions that come with a house and home, Picciotto and Hacke have found a greater flexibility to perform, create and think—not to mention benefiting from the variety of inspiration found in new places that become available by simply being “unstuck.”