As we get older, family and friends may pass away or leave us somehow, but for many of us creativity can be our solace. (Yes, it could also make us immortal, like Bach or Shakespeare, but we won’t be around to find out.) In the case of nonagenarian Inge Ginsberg that has been the case in the unlikeliest of outlets: death metal.
This charming New York Times documentary by Leah Galant details the unlikely team-up between Ginsberg–who spends her time between Switzerland and New York City–and the young musicians who became her friends and got her into performing her poems live with full death metal accompaniment.
Half earnest and half good-natured stunt, the center of it all is Ginsberg’s poems, which she has been writing for years, and only a tiny glimpse of which we get to hear. The poems take on heavy subjects of mortality, our destruction of the earth, loneliness. At one point Ginsberg was writing these with no audience, and, as she says in the doc, society is not interested in hearing from the elderly (especially when it’s this dark.) It took her younger friends to make the connection between her poems and the usual preoccupations of death metal and insist Ginsberg perform them in that hectoring, doom laden-style of the genre. She was game.
Galant’s mini doc rewinds history halfway through to explain Ginsberg’s upbringing: a “Jewish princess” who survived the Holocaust, fled to America, and wound up writing songs with her husband (Dean Martin’s “Try Me” was one of their hits). Tired of the war, they moved back to Zurich, and, well, fast forward three husbands and several decades later, Ginsberg was back in the spotlight, performing on the Swiss version of America’s Got Talent.
We won’t spoil the ending of the doc, as the band try to get Ginsberg to try out for the actual America’s Got Talent, because we’ve already said enough. But we’ll leave you with this quote from the singer herself: “My concept of heaven and hell is that in the moment of death you realize your life was full and good–that is heaven. And if you think, ‘Oh, I should have done this or that,’ I think that’s hell.”
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.