Simone Silvestroni’s grandfather was one of those abducted by fascists and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He survived because his trade, that of a shoemaker, was one the Nazis valued more highly than they valued their hatred of whatever quality led to his imprisonment as a “skinny boy”: the first track in After 1989: A Trip to Freedom by Simone Silvestroni recording as Minutes to Midnight.
I listened to this using files downloaded after purchasing the CD through Bandcamp; Simone was kind enough to tell me via email there’d be a delay in shipping because he was out of town and didn’t have any copies on hand.
This is a concept album, but unlike many of those listed by Rolling Stone as the “greatest of all time” After 1989 isn’t a rock opera or an auditory science fantasy adventure. It isn’t even a horror story like the one with which Alice Cooper began his solo recording career.
It’s a 32 minute portrait of his grandfather surviving Sachsenhausen, living through the Cold War and dying but a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The former concentration camp, where the SS first experimented with methods of mass murder that have made Auschwitz and Dachau synonyms for industrial-scale atrocity, is now a memorial to the dead and a warning to the living that it could happen again if fascism were ever again allowed to take root.
After 1989 is also a portrait of the artist’s own journey to retrace his grandfather’s path and find his own way to a sense of freedom. As totalitarianism imprisoned his grandfather, so too was Simone Silvestroni imprisoned during the Cold War by East vs. West propaganda. As he told me via email:
My train trip to Berlin in 1991 is somehow replicated in 2017, this time travelling from Berlin to Sachsenhausen, with each station symbolising a moment in my reflection over WWII and the Cold War. The freedom in the title is twofold.
Knowing and understanding all of this, it feels almost sacriligious to review the album as if it were a mere half hour’s entertainment. This is a piece of a man’s soul and the history of his family set to music, and the craftsmanship and musicianship are worthy of much more prominent bands.
The first track in particular reminds me of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, though in this album we are not asked to empathize with a self-isolating rock musician who uses drugs to cope with unresolved childhood trauma. Simone Silvestroni plays a mean bass, and unlike many albums his bass and piano don’t get buried in the mix.
Even if this wasn’t excellent music, I would still recommend it. As the horrors of the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the all-pervading existential terror of the Cold War fade from living memory, it falls to artists to keep that history alive for future generations lest it be repeated.
Listen. This happened to somebody. It could happen again, if we allow it. It could happen to us. This is where we come in.