A graphic novel debut for Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, One Model Nation (Titan Books) is a rock ‘n’ roll blend of tall tale and cultural history set in late seventies Berlin. Centered on an art-rock German called One Model Nation (the name recalls Brit post-punkers New Model Army, but the sound is apparently more Kraftwerk-ian), the story is written as a flashback to 1977, where the Baader-Meinhof Gang was still actively engaged in terrorism. Taylor-Taylor plays fast-and-loose with the timeline here—the better to connect his synth-y band to the era’s would-be revolutionaries—but this doesn’t interfere with his engaging look at the ways that art and politics can both feed off and work against each other.
German authorities, seeing groups like OMN as reflective of the “Terrorist Generation,” crack down on the band’s concerts. As their story opens, we see one of the police’s violent interruptions of one of these get-togethers, which is heavily attended by members of the Red Army Faction. To the authorities, this is proof that the band has ties to the self-proclaimed communist terrorists, and as the story progresses we discover that some within the OMN’s circle are indeed with aligned with the bomb planters. While the musicians themselves remain contemptuous of politics, they still retain a potent political image, in part due to their faux military dress.
Taylor-Taylor moves between the musicians in his largely indistinguishable band (the one exception being keyboardist Sebastian, who briefly leaves the group for an idyllic stay at his father’s farm) and the acts of political terrorism that shadow them. He even restages Ulricke Meinhof’s violent rescue of Andreas Baader from imprisonment, as act that would play as totally unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened. In addition to the period’s political figures, Taylor-Taylor also sneaks a real-life rock star into the tale: David Bowie appears during a party sequence, more strikingly colored than the muted members of the band, on the verge of recording his Berlin albums. He makes an offer to work in OMN’s studio, but, unfortunately the facilities have been trashed by the cops. Performance artist Klaus Nomi also has a one-panel cameo during a concert scene, but unfortunately only serves as window dressing.
Artist Jim Rugg does a dandy job capturing the mood and look of the era. If he seems at times more visually invested in the terrorist sequences than he does the chattier moments, well, who can blame him? If forced to choose between dissertations on art versus politics and things getting blowed up real good, who wouldn’t go for the big bang? Still, as a look at a creatively and political volatile time, One Model Nation is a treat for those of us who still cherish our copies of Heroes and Trans-Europe Express..
(And for those wondering exactly what this fake band’s brand of art-noise sounded like, the ever clever Taylor-Taylor has put together a faux-greatest hits disc entitled Totalwerks 1: 1969-1977.)