Koos Kombuis

A Lesson from the Thin White Duke of Cabaret

2014-01-30 11:49
Ever since hearing that line in the Peter Sarstedd song "you go to all the embassy parties", I have wondered what an embassy party was, and what it would be like to go to one. And though I don’t speak Russian or Greek, I had the privilege of attending just such a party a few evenings ago, when the Dutch Consul General, Bonnie Horbach, invited me to a get-together to welcome the well-known performer Herman van Veen to South Africa.

I must admit, it was a wonderful experience. There I was, being attended to by attentive waiters on a large balcony overlooking Cape Town, nibbling complicated snacks, drinking marvelous drinks and talking to interesting people. What a blast!

Meeting the man himself – Herman van Veen – was certainly the highlight of the evening. Here is this guy, sixty-eight years old, with these incredible piercing eyes and penetrating voice, the kind of guy who really looks straight at you when he talks to you as if you are the most significant person he had ever met. Man, it made me feel less sorry that I had missed the Bruce Springsteen concerts.

Indeed if Springsteen can be described as the quintessential blue-collar rocker, Van Veen gives new meaning to Bowie’s term "the thin white duke". There’s something about this man – this very tall man, with the very strange hairstyle (the wisps of very very white hair flanking his face reminds one of a Boeing about to take off) – that defies stereotyping. He clearly loves his work, he clearly loves meeting people, he clearly loves performing in South Africa, and, best of all, he clearly doesn’t act his age.

Just talking to Herman van Veen for five minutes taught me a personal lesson in anti-ageism. Ever since I bade goodbye to the rock’n roll scene last year, I must admit I had been at a kind of loose end with my own music career. What does one do after fifty, anyway? I had sort of assumed that it would all go slowly downhill from then on, I’d do a solo gig or a collaboration here and there, strum a few chords, and hopefully die peacefully in my sleep when it was all done.

Herman van Veen showed me that, even at the age of sixty-eight, one can still have the enthusiasm and creativity of a young performer. After meeting this guy, I went back to watch a lot of his YouTube video’s. He is still coming out with new material all the time. He has brought a lot of diverse elements together in his concerts, ranging from folkish tunes to stand-up comedy and cabaret interludes. Who said the dinosaurs were extinct?

I’m mighty glad I went to that embassy party. And not just because of the amazing drinks, the complicated snacks and fantastic view from the balcony.

I’m glad I had the privilege of meeting this great man face to face, and being inspired by him.    

Herman van Veen’s Gauteng shows are over, unfortunately, but you can still catch him on Friday, 31 January and Saturday, 1 February 2014, as part of the Hope@Paul Cluver summer concert series at Elgin.

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