November 18th, 2005

Bars and Clubs Special: The Jimmy Zámbó Memorial Club

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Regular readers will know that Magyar star culture is alive and kicking, even after the fall of one of its leading lights. We are of course talking about gypsy schmaltz phenomenon Jimmy Zámbó – Hungary’s király of pop – who passed on way back in January 2000. And like all true pop heroes should (are you listening Christina Aguilera?), the crooner left the stage under spectacularly fishy circumstances involving an automatic handgun and a noisy neighborhood rooster. Thankfully, his legacy lives on in an appropriately weird venue. Our professional and morbid curiosity led us to the Zámbó Jimmy Emlékhely Klub, a family-run festival of kitsch dedicated to Hungary’s number one late great.

But first, let’s try to shed some light on Jimmy’s final solo. The story accepted by the police is that the singer took a pot shot at the irritating bird, removed the clip, put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. It would have been a good gag, but for the unfortunate fact that the weapon had automatically loaded the chamber with a fresh bullet. If you are one for lame puns, you could call it the biggest cock up in pop history. But the kind of cheap, deplorable humor that followed the tragedy (we remember something about bullets and mental arithmetic) has never been our style. Instead, we prefer to worship at his alter – the Jimmy Zámbó Memorial Club.

So here we are. From a purely cultural point of view, this bizarre establishment reveals as much about Hungary as the House of Terror installation/museum on Andrássy út. It may not be a horror show in the same league, but curly mullets on high, it is pretty hard to enjoy a cold beer and a pleasant chat with huge images of the expired star, who was never known for his looks, eyeing you up from all angles. The mountains of memorabilia, including life-sized portraits and an enormous wood carving make Graceland look low-key. Add a grieving family and it all becomes almost too much to bear. And wait till you see the shrine downstairs!

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It is clear from talking to Jimmy’s widow Edit, and she will talk, that the family is still bitter about the storm of media publicity and speculation surrounding his death. She suggests with a somber look that there is more to the story than what you read in the papers. His televised funeral, which attracted thousands of mourning fans, continues to rankle as nothing more than a tasteless money-making exercise on the part of RTL. They also seem mystified by the lack of interest in their District VIII Zámbó temple, which must have swallowed a good wedge of what Jimmy left behind already, and is still making today.

If you really want to get to the bottom of some of the darkest corners of the Hungarian psyche, this could be the place to start. Jimmy was undoubtedly a hugely talented performer, but his obvious image problems (he was about as extravagantly far from being cool as you can imagine) make it difficult not to poke fun (and plenty of Hungarians do). And what were his family thinking when they opened this pub? Make the pilgrimage to Köztársaság tér 12 and try to find out. – Adrian Courage

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