Childhood Memories

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1939 – 1956

Karel was born in the summer in 1939, in a Pilsner in the maternity hospital as the only child of the married couple of Karel and Marie Gott, and he lived here with them until the end of the world war, when a bomb managed to destroy their house (1945). After that, the family has lived on the countryside for about three years, until they found a flat in Prague (1948). Karel Gott remembered his childhood in Pilsen and during the war period and during the first years after the liberation:

“If I had a passion in my early childhood, it was funerals. I was really looking forward to a funeral of anyone, except for my relatives and I accompanied all of them to the hole in the ground, where the priest was having the funeral speech, which I did not understand. But it touched me to tears. I always wanted to console a crying woman or a child, but I did not know how to to that really and I think I still bear an unfilled duty against them in me. When there hasn´t been any funeral for a long time, I found a cat killed by a car or a frozen crow and I arranged a glorius last journey for them.

I always exercised eagerly “playing the trumpet” and I will never forget it, because I always got a slap on the head and a reprehension: stop it or your teeth will remain outside this way.. My parents and relatives were embarrased and the most radical uncle was looking at me with a sort of sacred respect, because he thought I was not normal, and nothing like this happened in the family so far. I have to admit, that until the moment when our house was destroyed by a bomb and until we moved to my grandmother to the countryside, I was a well-behaved and obedient child, rather very emotional against his surroundings. Always stroken on the head for good grades and clean teeth… the years spent at my grandmother´s were one of the nicest periods in my life (editor´s note: a memory of this period is represented in the hit Babička from the album Meine Lieder ’79).

My mother taught me the first songs, which she was silently singing in the while I was able to accept educational influences. And she was telling me about how she visited a concert, where R.A.Dvorský perfomed in a white tuxedo and that he was wearing mustache under his nose and singing in front of a sold-out audience… So my mother meant the world for me, this was not damaged by screaming of fooball fans, or electric motor principles and I also own her the faith, that I don´t always have to stay where the fate brought me one day… Mother raised me with a strict hand, I was looking at my father with respect and a sort of amazement, because he brought me to football and he was screaming as much as he could at the gentlemen, who were running on the green playground.

But the sport match did not wake any emotions for me. And it was just the same way for my father´s other hobbies, which he wanted to bring me to already during my early childhood. On my night table I gathered presents such as: How to be Edison in five lessons or Statical electricity or Ebonit stick and fox coat… but they remained there without any notice, because the thing I call “everything inside of me” stood against the journey my good father wanted to estimate for me.”

During the communist revolution period, Gott family bought a flat in Prague, where they moved. During 1948-1954, Karel continued his ground school lessons here and painting becomes his biggest hobby:

“In Prague I began to visit the fourth grade fo the ground school, where the banks were full of lively elements, which I never met in Pilsen and that´s why they started to impress me. My best friend was a guy from the third bank sitting close to the door, a certain Olda, who I admired because of his defiance agains the teachers and his intractability, which I could not manage to reach. Then the school got meanless for me and the lectures in front of the blackboard seemed dry and useless. Shortly before I reached puberty, I started to long for an “artistic” painting. The first “theme” I wanted to bring to the oil canvas, was a huge funeral. I thought the picture was succeeded. There was a crowd of crying women and children following the coffin and I was standing at the wall and played flugelhorn as much as I could. But my father did not like my work at all.

First of all, to paint a funeral and the second thing was the painting itself. My mother stroke me on my head and she brought me a book with reproductions of famous painters some days later, which I have been copying for some moths. So I started to consider the painting very seriously. I went out to nature every sunday, with a cardboard and colours. I imagined myself as a famous nature painter. At home, I had a bunch of my paintings in the drawer and oil paintings behind the wardrobe. Even my father has realised and slowly accepted the thought that I would “become” a painter, and he tried to see any sense in my paintings.” (More under the menu Gallery / Paitings).

In 1954 Karel finishes the ground school with average grades. During this period, he decides to apply to the Artistic-industrial school in Prague, he has not been admitted to this school, but soon he finds a huge hobby in music as well. He begins the training at ČKD, as electrician. First in Cheb, but one year later (1955) he caught a flu and got sick with his kidneys in a very serious way and the director of the Cheb boarding house decided about his replacement because of health reasons to Prague, ČKD Stalingrad.

“I spent my days in Prague again in the arms of my home, in the signs of house-made cuisine and favourite records, which I was listening to until late in the night on an old grammophone of the label Supraphon. I not only kept this bad habit, but it got into such dimensions, that my parents did not go to bed without ear props.. All of the records I liked, I was trying to learn to play on guitar and I started to sing them as well. The time has taken away any problems with changes of the voice and suddenly I felt, that the singing makes me feel happy. So it came to a period where I started to sing expresionally everywhere. On the street, in the bathroom, in the factory.

And there I first got an invitation to perform in front of an audience for the first time ever. My new colleagues changed every saturday in the cloakroom from dirty practicants into gentlemen on highheels and weared hats and they started to talk in a way I did not understand, because they were talking in slang, such as potlach, osada and Luka pod Mednikem. I had during this time (1956) a daily repertoire from my first LP-record I got from someone. It was a record with songs of Luis Armb and Ella Fitzgerald and I was able to mime them both exactly. When the shade fell and everybody was gathered around the fire, guitars and harmonicas appeared. A program lasting for several hours began.

I listened to dozens of beautiful songs which touched me. When it was my turn, I stood up in the middle of the crowd and sang and sang. For the first time, I felt that all of the eyes were starring only at me, nobody said a word to hear me sing. I felt so good about it and when I got the b applause afterwards I wished to repeat my performance on and on. For the whole week in the factory, I could not think of anything else… And during this time, I already belonged among permanent visitors of Café Vltava…”

Reviewed according to: Karel Gott – I Say It With a Song, 1968