Post 204

He Was Sly and He Was Grim(m)

Franz Reuther liked to sing. He liked to sing the way black people did. But he was white, not black, so he wasn’t as popular a singer as he wanted to be.

I suppose he was as popular as the word ‘black’ is these days, when used to describe skin colour.

Black, white and in between. Yellow, red, brown, olive and beige. Shorthand for paragraphs of adjectives and descriptions.

Is it okay?

For now, let’s say that it is.

In the alternative, when you see me type ‘black,’ understand that I mean ‘African-American’ — even though we’re talking about Germany — and when you see me type ‘white,’ understand that I mean ‘not African-American.’


If we’re not going to use the word ‘black’ anymore, then we need a more handy replacement. We need a word to describe skin colour which isn’t tied to geography and which isn’t seven syllables.

Oh well, to continue, Franz, being an observant fellow, noticed how popularity as a musician was linked to physical appearance. Looking a certain way was, in his view, critical to success.

But Frank (somewhere along the way he changed his name to Frank Farian) continued in the music business, writing songs and singing behind the scenes. He felt that he didn’t have the ‘look’ that he needed, and so when he started a band called Boney M and sang in the black style that he liked, he structured things in such a way that the listeners associated the singing with the black performers. He didn’t, for example, have himself photographed on the album covers.

Frank became a producer as well. He knew how to use technology to mix together and manipulate various audio tracks to yield different results. He often considered himself the real genius behind the songs that he produced.

His reputation grew and he worked on various projects. Then came the day that he decided to proceed with an idea that he had. He recorded a few different singers individually. Each vocalist attended at the studio to make a recording, but this was done one vocalist at a time, and the sessions often occurred at odd hours, and even at night. This meant that the individual singers did not know each others’ identity.

The vocalists were paid ordinary rates for their singing and by the time the project was done, there were quite a few tracks recorded. Meanwhile, Frank met two black German men, aged 22, who were beginning careers in music. Robert Pilatus was German-born, but Fabrice Morvan had been born in France and arrived in Germany at the age of 18. It is unclear how Frank happened to meet them, and it is also unclear what kinds of lives they had prior to meeting with Frank. Did they work at McDonald’s or were they working as clerks in a store? They were both handsome and well built; they had modelled in the past. Since Frank had a history of pulling in dancer/model types for his enterprises, I imagine the process followed along the same lines.

In any case, Robert and Fabrice weren’t well off and they were green. They would have been no match, as bargainers, against Frank, accustomed as he was to considering all angles of various show-biz situations.

You see, Frank had decided that Robert and Fabrice, who liked to sing and dance, would be perfect as the ‘face’ of a new pop group. He had already begun producing the tracks, and all he needed to do was to convince Robert and Fabian to pretend they were singing.

He wanted them to synchronize their lips to the music that was being played. They would lip-synch.

Was it easy or was it difficult for Frank to convince them to go along with this idea?

Eager unknown people are often ready to do almost anything for a chance at fame, but on the other hand, perhaps Robert and Fabrice had a high opinion of themselves and bargained harder than Frank expected from two 22-year-olds.

But even if this were the case, Frank’s version of events, where he says that Robert and Fabrice were the ones who came up with the scheme, is not believable. In one interview, he said they offered to lip sync if he had good music, and that they had made a similar offer to someone else six months previous. This whopper falls apart once you learn that it was Frank who had a history of this unique type of deceit, and when you listen to him regret that he hadn’t done it differently (shoulda had the real singers on stage too . . . shoulda disclosed from the beginning), and when you listen to him defend the plan and attack those who criticize what he did. If it were not his plan and his style, he would not be so defensive about it.

Indeed, Frank was the one who introduced the concept and encouraged its implementation by Robert and Fabrice.

I don’t know what words he used, but how endless are the words that people use to persuade other people to do things! Did he give them visions of the things they could buy with the money he would offer? Did he tell them that his deal was the fulfillment of their hopes for success as a musical duo? Did he tell them they would be the envy of all their friends and former rivals? Did he compliment them on their appearance and ability? Did he tell them it would be easy? Did he tell them it was just a ‘stepping stone’ or a temporary measure of sorts?

How many things did he tell them before they agreed? How much money did he throw into the pot?

One version that I heard was that Frank supplied them with money for clothing and when they tried to back out, Frank said that in order to cancel the deal, they would need to return the money. By then, they had already spent it — so the argument is that they were trapped. That version of events goes too far the other way.

Fabrice and Robert would not have been trapped. That would be an oversimplification of everyone’s motives and would not explain their cooperation with the hoax for as long as it lasted.

But more importantly, there is no situation in which a person can be forced to go along with something that is wrong.

You can always object. You can always refuse.

And as for the hypothetical situation that you’ve just invented, where someone has you at gunpoint, you can still refuse.

Don’t worry — God won’t allow you to be put into that situation without giving you the nerve to go through with your refusal. You probably won’t die, but even if you do, that’s on everyone’s bucket list. We’ll all get to it sooner or later.

And if you leave this planet because you refused to do something wrong, you’re martyr material, and that’s called Leaving In Style.

Robert and Fabrice would have known, just as well as Frank, that it was wrong to pretend that they were the singers for those songs. It was deceitful to take credit for work that they hadn’t done.

And for that matter, every single participant in the Milli Vanilli story who acted against his or her own conscience did something wrong. If, for instance, Gina Mohammed felt that there was something fishy about being asked to record back-up vocals under Highly Unusual Circumstances, then she bears personal responsibility for her choices. It does not matter that it later turned out that she didn’t get the credit that most back-up singers receive. It doesn’t matter that she was only eighteen. If she knew something was wrong, then she should not have gone along.

God would have rewarded her for standing her ground. She would have lost the first opportunity, but gained something better, both on earth and afterwards. That’s how it works.

I do not believe that any of the participants in the Milli Vanilli scandal were guiltless, though of course the amount of personal culpability varied, depending on the amount of knowledge that each accomplice had. There were many back-up singers on the albums, and they would have had less knowledge than the primary vocalists, but they knew enough to refuse to be involved in Frank’s plans.

They knew enough.

In God’s goodness, he would not have allowed a truly well-intentioned and innocent person to be tarnished in pop-music’s most infamous of events. While conceding that innocent people suffer when they have no personal fault, I maintain that the participants in this notorious scandal would not have been caught up in it unless they had personally chosen to participate in the scheme or to be willfully blind about those aspects of the scheme which came to their attention.

I watched part of an interview with Jodie Rocco, one of the back-up singers; she justified her actions. She looked uncomfortable as she did, but she expressed no remorse. She said that in the music industry, you don’t ‘spit in the wind,’ meaning that you must be careful who you cross, because you may discover that you’ve injured your prospects by opposing someone.

But hold on and wait a minute. The problem here is that some people, who are or who consider themselves “Insiders” in the let’s-make-a-song factories, want the rest of us to believe that the laws of morality are Rather Suspended in that world.

Do you know what I’m saying?

If you say that the music business is corrupt, that’s a start, not the end.

It’s not okay to say, “It’s corrupt; c’est la vie.” It’s not okay to use the corruptness of an industry to excuse your own cooperation with immoral behaviour. “That’s how it is,” they tell you, almost implying that if you were in the same industry — if you were as talented as they were and allowed admittance into the Insider’s Club — then you’d Be in the Know; you’d Understand; you’d Do It Too.

I repeat: if you say the music business is corrupt, that’s a start, but not the end. This acknowledgment doesn’t let you off the hook. Knowing that it is corrupt and saying so to the world on an Oprah show doesn’t excuse what you did. Some people want to leave the impression that immorality is just the price of success. Oh well, they say. They shrug their shoulders. “What can you do?”

But that’s just not okay. It’s not okay, at any time, to lower your standards of morality. Truth, beauty and goodness aren’t part-time propositions, to be considered only when things are easy and when they cost you nothing.

Truth matters most when you are surrounded by lies; beauty matters most when you are surrounded by ugliness and goodness matters most when you are surrounded by evil.

Don’t compromise, and don’t believe the lie that in order to succeed, you MUST compromise.

Don’t believe the lie that in order to get into the game, you may have to be ready to bend the rules and play along with immorality. Don’t believe that everyone who ever got a start in show business or any other type of ‘big leagues’ did it by lying and cheating and sleeping around. That’s not true. Don’t believe that keeping your integrity and your principles is a luxury reserved only for those who have already succeeded. Don’t believe that you can be good only when you can call the shots. That’s false. Ask those who have succeeded, who are considered the victors of the game — they’ll be able to tell you that the temptations to sell out are just as present, and in fact worse, for those who are considered stars. Those who are at the top of the ladder are surrounded by ill-intentioned folks who want to use them for their own ends. Those who are at the top of the ladder are too often desperate to maintain their position; they see competitors everywhere they look and they frantically attempt to reinvent and repackage themselves to compete with every new face arriving in town.

Consider the song “Can’t Go For That” — it was written as a commentary on the people in the music industry. The point was that there was pressure to compromise. This is from Wikipedia, regarding “Can’t Go for That”:

Speaking about the meaning of the lyrics, John Oates has stated that while many listeners may assume the lyrics are about a relationship, in reality, the song “is about the music business. That song is really about not being pushed around by big labels, managers, and agents and being told what to do, and being true to yourself creatively.” This was done intentionally, he explained, to universalize the topic of the song into something everyone could relate to and ascribe personal meaning to in their own way. Naming “Maneater” as another example, he revealed that this was a common theme for the group’s songs.

So anyway, to continue with my story, Rob and Fab were dealing with someone sly and grim, but even a simpleton can hold on to what’s right. Even a simpleton can maintain his grip on what’s good, even if he can’t maintain a grip on anything else.

And at the end of the day, Goodness is the only life raft you need.

Frank provided Rob and Fab with wigs and had them photographed. He ensured that they didn’t know the identity of the real singers of the songs, and I find it to be a bittersweet story that when John Davis, one of the real singers, requested an autograph from Rob, Rob didn’t know or recognize him. John Davis, of course, knew their true relationship. As for the back-up singers, they knew less, and initially were not told that Rob and Fab hadn’t done the lead vocals.

The lead singers were Brad Howell, John Davis and Charles Shaw. They became increasingly unhappy with the situation as Milli Vanilli became extremely popular, and when they heard of their lavish spending while on tour. They were unhappy when Rob and Fab did not acknowledge or thank others when accepting a Grammy award. (But I am hardly surprised that they didn’t thank anyone else. How could they? It would have weighed heavily upon them in such a moment that there were several people behind the scenes, and in their guilty minds, it would have been far easier to avoid the subject altogether.)

One of the singers, Charles Shaw, began telling people that he had sung the vocals, and this was true, but of course Frank wanted him to be silent. Frank purchased Charles’ silence for $155,000. This was another bad deal. Charles Shaw should not have agreed to be silent. I cannot think of any situation in which a person should accept money in exchange for silence about things that are true. All such deals are morally invalid.

The problem for Frank was that his plan was too successful. Milli Vanilli was wildly popular and during the tours that they did, the tape skipped, making it obvious that the vocals were prerecorded. As WiseOne puts it, their success cost them their success.

When the truth came out, the record company added a sticker to the albums, indicating that the vocals had been done by Brad Howell, John David, Charles Shaw and Gina Mohammed.

Frank Fabian promptly built another group called “The Real Milli Vanilli” and gathered together many of the singers and back-up singers that had sung on the first album. He did not include Charles Shaw, however. The photograph of the group is interesting, because you can see that Frank was once again aiming for visual appeal. He has the tall twenty-five year old Ray Horton in the middle wearing a red jacket while the others are in black, and he has him wearing the same kind of wig that Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan used to wear.

In interviews, Howell and Davis were highly critical of Rob and Fab, but they said nothing critical of Frank, even though it was his plan that was such a success and such a failure at the same time, creating a huge gap between those who were the face and those who were the voice.

I think that’s a shame, and shows that they still bow before someone who used them to deceive the public. They now gang up, with Frank, against others who were also once vulnerable, due to lack of experience and money.

I think it’s also unfortunate that Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan were saddled so utterly with infamy while Frank is allowed to scoff at both them and others such as Charles Shaw.

Frank was the weasel-minded trickster who came up with the scheme in the first place! He was the one who planned, from the start, to deceive.

Reading interviews, he seems to slip and slide all over the place, with the take-home message that there’s nothing wrong with what he did. You get the impression that he has no remorse for what he did, but that he is unhappy to have gotten caught. He has one excuse after another, but it is no excuse to say that nowadays sometimes singers prerecord their voices when performing their songs. It was deceitful, and it is no excuse to say that so and so was paid such and such, according to this contract or that.

He seems to love money, speaking about it in an openly crass way that reminds me of a villain in a fairy-tale. You feel like he’s the type who’d turn people into dollar bills if he could just figure out a way. The German Brothers Grimm tale of Rumpelstiltskin (it’s called Rumpelstilzchen in German) comes to mind. He was a deal-maker who would arrange things all to his own advantage. He rubbed his hands together at his cleverness, and his clever deals that were calculated so far in advance. Oh, but how angry he was when things didn’t go according to plan! Everything fell apart for that nasty little fellow when the heroine was able to find out his real name.

He wasn’t Fair at all. No indeed — neither Fair nor Farian.

She called it like it was — she knew he was none other than the ruthless Franz Reuther.