Friday, August 22, 2008

Hungarian Cheese Plate (1)

On August 20th, singing sensation Zséda, gave a free concert in Erzsébet park. Like most 'singing sensations', Zséda' gets by on palatable, predictable songs and an alluring stage presence. In other words, it's hard not to like her, even when she is earnestly mangling the lyrics to Imagine. Zséda is but one of the front-runners vying for the audience left behind when 'the king' exited stage left after an alleged self-inflicted shot to head with a beretta. Zámbó Jimmy - Hungary's answer to Liberace (also of Eastern European descent) remains irreplaceable, over eight years after his death. How many other artists have had their albums hold all top ten spots on the charts? Guinness agrees, it is a world record. In a country where 5,000 records sold garners gold status, Jimmy's albums have all gone platinum by western standards - in a country with but ten million potential customers. Per-capita, it makes Thriller look like the Spin Doctors' second album.

Jimmy's life has been well-chronicled in the Hungarian media, and has even garnered a native-English-written wiki entry, but here are a few facts about Jimmy you might not know:

1. He was mistakenly deemed one of the ugliest women in the world by a mean-spirited site dedicated to spot-lighting unattractive people.

2. His coffin is shaped like an upright grand piano and was chiseled from over a ton of Italian marble.

3. He was a proud resident of industrial Csepel Island.

4. There is a Zámbó Jimmy Pub deep in District VIII, where his mother sometimes works the door.

5. Jimmy did time on cruise ships and in Las Vegas honing his act, before returning to Hungary.

It can't be denied that Jimmy has a powerful, if not beautiful singing voice, but that cannot alone account for the sheer mania for his music within the borders of Hungary, particularly amongst working-class and country people. To attribute it to schmaltz would be underestimating mass taste, nor can it be chalked up to his lyrics - which are by-and-large forgettable love songs. Jimmy just had something more concrete than charisma; he was a character (not unlike one of Jim Henson's more successful creations), and possessed a demigod-like belief in his own entitlement to fame. Only from this plasma of misguided self confidence, and an exuberant love of entertaining people, can something as ultimately bizarre and compelling as Jimmy emerge.

Indeed, there are many new faces trying to take the mantle from Jimmy, including his own brother Árpi, who had a short-lived career lip-syncing to Jimmy songs. The likes of him, Zséda, and a few other up-and-coming Hungarian pop stars can try, but there can only be one king. And like the song goes, the king is gone but he is not forgotten.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.

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