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Ich Liebe Rammstein

When I say that Rammstein is my idol, I mean it in the Biblical sense.


My husband has bought me the best wedding anniversary gift I could possibly imagine. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of our wedding, this May...

WE WILL SEE RAMMSTEIN IN THE DIRTY! That's right--my prayers to the gods of Metal have been answered, and Rammstein will come to Detroit (OK, a suburb of Detroit because that's where the big stadium is), which is totally the MOST METAL city in the United States of America, on May 6--the night of the full moon, one day after our wedding anniversary!

If you know me in real life or have ever read my blog, you might wonder how a bookish, environmentalist feminist who enjoys domestic life and fine art could become a crazed fan of a heavy metal group that poses in promotional materials as woman-butchering cannibals and is almost entirely responsible for global warming with their 23 trucks full of pyrotechnics.

Please, I can explain!

Rammstein's most provocative antics are flares to draw an audience to their art--and not just that, but also tools for shattering preconceptions to open the mind to an unusual perspective. Often they backfire, drawing harsh criticism and accusations ranging from Nazi sympathies to the promotion of unsafe sex, accusations that eclipse and distract from what the band is trying to show or say. And they do have a lot to say, musically and lyrically, which separates them from the average shock-rock show. I write this in complete seriousness.

One of the band's favorite music video directors, Jonas Akerlund (who also works for chart-topping pop performers like Lady Gaga) has commented on the band members' particular brand of innocence--they tend to react with genuine hurt and dismay when their artfully crafted songs, videos, and stage acts are received with offense. The band members' shared background, growing up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, imbues them with a strange quality of being simultaneously naive and jaded. Their aesthetic style is intense and nightmarish; the themes of their works are sophisticated and nuanced; and their surprise at being misunderstood is frankly childish. They regularly underestimate the public's sensitivity to violent, sexual, and dark imagery, and at the same time they overestimate the average schmo's capacity to appreciate poetry, satire, wordplay, musical inventiveness, and stagecraft.

Even so, after many years of futzing around as Soviet gutter punks and dive-bar performers, then decades as nervous and bewildered contracted artists, the men of Rammstein are now middle-aged uber-rockstars with a massive global following and a live show that intelligent life forms in other galaxies can probably enjoy through binoculars.

Oh Rammstein! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

As a heterosexual woman, Rammstein engenders in me both a violent attraction and shock waves of cognitive dissonance. The band members, singer and lyricist Till Lindemann in particular, exude a supersaturation of testosterone. Till's voice makes my ovaries drool. On the other hand, my cortex waves little red flags whenever violence against women is used in any form of art. I'm tired of domination over women used as a way to express masculinity, and I'm disgusted by dehumanizing portrayals of women. And even when I know that that isn't really what Rammstein is doing, my eyes can't help rolling at the band's assumption that most consumers will even notice the deeper meaning beneath the antagonizing face value of their images and words. With their latest album's artwork featuring Rubenesque nudes being spanked and presented like meat on a dinner table and a first single called "P*ssy" with a video featuring porn stars in action, offense will be taken, whether that was the main intent or not.

Are the members of Rammstein responsible artists? Does their work instill good or bad values? Does most of their audience "get" what they do? I can't answer those questions or vouch for Rammstein's moral value. What I can say with conviction is that they are, in all seriousness, deeply thoughtful individuals, highly professional entertainers, brave and groundbreaking artists, and highly disciplined workers in the service of a pure and focused aesthetic. Rammstein may not be about goodness or correctness, but it is certainly about integrity.

I also believe that Rammstein is not an amoral band. They certainly don't offer moral leadership, but that doesn't mean they are careless about their messages or that they promote evils. Their artistic values are strong, and their social and political values, while generally expressed only in the negative, show through, intentionally or not.

Maybe that's why I can't help loving them!

My husband isn't just a romantic and excellent gift-giver for anniversaries; last month was the second Christmas I received a Rammstein Super Deluxe Limited Edition Box Set. The first time it was the notorious Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da lockbox I wrote about in my post Sex, Babies, and Rock 'n Roll, and this time it was the best-of collection, Made in Germany, which includes DVDs of all the band's videos and "Making-Of" or commentary videos about each one. Some of the band members and the directors of their videos touch on Rammstein's distinct kind of integrity and the surprisingly sensitive men behind the fire-breathing acts. I get the impression from the words of lead guitarist Richard Kruspe, singer Till Lindemann, and others that they are absolutely compelled to serve their aesthetic vision, what they know is artistically right, even though it clearly disturbs and worries them when people take it the wrong way. I think the problem is often a difference between the ways in which different people survive trauma.

Where some people develop an itchy scab that begs to be picked, others have a sore spot that can't tolerate the lightest touch.

Who could forget the controversy over the video for their cover of Depeche Mode's Stripped, composed of footage by Leni Riefenstahl? Till claims he did not know where the clips of athletes came from when the director chose them; Richard conveys ambivalence but ultimate approval of the video in the band's recent official commentary. Shortly after the video's release, several of the band members expressed regret about using the footage, which is completely non-offensive in itself (simply clips of athletes exercising) but just so happened to have been used as Nazi propaganda! This was not the first time Rammstein had been accused of using Nazi or white supremacist imagery; the look of their first album cover and music video, showing the band members shirtless with a bright flower, was compared to white power imagery. The band seemed confused and dismayed by these comparisons--again, there is that funny combination of being both naive and jaded. Behind the Iron Curtain, they were inundated with many of the aesthetics that most people now associate with Naziism, Fascism, or the Soviet Bloc. They were so used to seeing such images--athletes performing in formations, half-naked and well-muscled bodies, and so on--sometimes used in Right-wing political propaganda and sometimes not, that it would not have necessarily occurred to them that the outside world would perceive such clear connotations. But those unfortunately charged images, coupled with the band's hard and militaristic musical sound, was a recipe for culture clash. Not many of those who jumped to a Right-wing conclusion--whether they took offense or approved--bothered to listen to the lyrics and discover that they had nothing to do with white power or politics at all.

In a rare direct response to political accusations, Rammstein wrote the song "Links 2 3 4" describing how their hearts beat "on the Left" and that "the envious have not understood it" (my translation, which may not be perfect). The song is one of their hardest and most militaristic sounding pieces, demonstrating that power, heavy metal, and badassery are not owned by the Right. End of discussion!

With the other notable exception of "Amerika," Rammstein usually shies away from political statements. Sometimes they spoof themselves with hilarious creativity, like when they donned fat suits in the video for "Keine Lust," illustrating their overindulgence in material things that did not make them happy.

But much of the time, the lyrics of Rammstein's songs are presented not as their own real perspectives but as a dramatization of horror. What Rammstein does with evil and frightening themes reminds me of what Mexicans do with the concept of death in Day of the Dead celebrations. (And interestingly, Mexico is one of Rammstein's favorite places in the world.) They lift up unspeakable horrors to mockery and ridiculous exaggeration, but they manage to do so with a weightiness that preserves respect and awe. It is a tricky razor's edge to walk, but they do it with gusto.

Many of their songs are written as first-person narratives from the perspective of a murderer, rapist, child molester, or other evil or sick character. When asked why he sings these lyrics in first person, Till Lindemann has explained that to sing about such a figure in the third person would be cowardly. It does not seem to occur to him not to sing about these topics at all. Similarly, when Till was asked why he simulated sado-masochistic anal sex with keyboardist Flake onstage in Chicago, for which they were subsequently arrested, he replied only that buggering an inanimate object like the keyboard itself would have been cold and unfeeling, not even considering that he might not have humped anyone or anything at all. "If you're going to do it, overdo it" seems to be a motto for Rammstein. And if memory serves, I think drummer Christoph Schneider may have stated that in about as many words.

Does Rammstein glorify violence even as they mock and satirize it? I find it interesting that their video for "Mein Teil," a song about a murderer and cannibal, was accused of trivializing the murder case and also of glamorizing violence and perversion. Art is subjective, and Rammstein videos are certainly no exception. In my opinion, the song and video are far too terrifying and forceful to communicate any kind of triviality. And I believe that any attention at all drawn to a topic, positive or negative, in some way glamorizes it--as Rammstein explicitly showed in their video for "Ich Will," about the media's fascination with criminal behavior. Rammstein glorifies the evils they taunt as much as so-called witches were glamorized by immolation.


In interviews about "Mein Teil," the band has talked about how they were all shocked by the news stories about murderer Armin Meiwes and could not understand how a human being could do the things he did. Because the case shocked and disturbed them, they were moved to explore it artistically. 

I get the feeling that many of Rammstein's scarier songs are amplified whistles in the dark. They don't just write songs about violence, tyranny, pain, and fear. They put on costumes and out-act the evil. They possess their demons; they embody their own nightmares and set them on fire.


Rammstein's performances feel, to me, cathartic and cleansing. I can see how they aren't to everyone's taste. People who don't like thinking about the ugly and disturbing elements of life and who are good at blocking them out--and there are many people like that, people who are quite content--would not find any pleasure in what Rammstein does. But for people like me, people who can't turn away from the train wreck, people who can't ignore the shadows at the periphery of their vision, people who get so deeply disturbed by injustices and absurdities of life that they worry them raw in their minds, Rammstein offers a baptism by fire. They pull monsters out of their dens, inflate them to ridiculous proportions, and blow them up. They intensify moments of pain to maximum sensory capacity and burn them out. They eat toxicity and breathe out fire.

And for whatever reason, this matters to me: Rammstein's temperature is always hot. There is no cold-blooded cruelty, no desensitized numbness in what they do. Emotions are always heightened, not dulled.

In their video for "Du Hast," the hit song with lyrics that invert traditional German wedding vows, a man meets a group of other men in a sinister rendezvous, leaving his love interest in the car. At the end of the video, a decision is made, and the man joins with the group of other men and blows up the car. What separates this video from other heinous "killing the b*tch" film sequences, for me, is the care the band and director took to humanize the woman. Instead of using a bombshell model, they went out of their way to cast a famous, respected actress. Plenty of screen time is focused on her facial expressions and postures as she waits for her man by the car and tension builds. There is no graphic depiction of her death (leaving some to question whether she "really" dies in the video--which I think is kind of moot, because the intent to kill her is clear), and the "brotherhood" is depicted as unstable and threatening. Inspiration for the video was drawn from Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs, and the theme of sacrificing romantic partnership for a problematic all-male gang reflects some of the band members' struggles in placing the band over their own personal relationships.

While the "Du Hast" video is certainly not feminist in any way that I can argue, and while I do feel discomfort about any depiction of violence against women, I do not see Rammstein or their work in general as anti-woman either. Most of their heterosexual kinky songs and videos feature female domination of males (see the delightful fairy tale-themed videos for "Rosenrot" and "Sonne"). In each portrayal of male violence against a woman, the violent male is presented as evil or sick. Man-on-woman sexual violence in their song lyrics is abstract and not very graphic, and usually it is explicitly voiced as fantasy (as in "Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da"). Graphic sexual violence and even graphic sexual domination of the kinky sort is reserved for man-on-man action.

Misogyny tends to go hand-in-hand with homophobia. Heterosexual males who feel their sexuality threatened by the presence of different genders or sexual orientations tend to scorn women and gay men both, if not in the exact same ways. Rammstein is unique among popular heavy metal bands for regularly grappling with the topic of male homosexuality. They are much more often accused of being gay than of mocking gays, and those accusations have not stopped them from carrying out their man-on-man shows of affection onstage.

I already mentioned Till and Flake's infamous bondage sex bit for the live performance of "Buck Dich" ("Bend Over"), but the gayest Rammstein song of all has to be "Mann Gegen Mann." The lyrics are from the perspective of a tormented, lusty gay man who suffers rejection from his family and society. In the video, Till wears a costume in the style of a sexual submissive, while the rest of the band plays in the nude. The hard-driving instrumentation and epic vocals are set off by clips of gleaming, wet, muscled male bodies writhing together. The whole production is about as testosterone-driven as is humanly possible. There isn't anything "nancy-boy" or silly about it. This video made me understand why some straight guys like to watch two women go at it together--if girl-on-girl fun is the ultimate in soft, sensual femininity, then Mann Gegen Mann is the most masculine video ever crafted. The director was Jonas Akerlund, who was supremely impressed by Rammstein's bravery during the filming. Homophobic dudes don't get naked and wet together and sing songs about feelings amidst naked wrestlers--just to make fun of gays. As if confirmation of this was needed, Till (who wrote the lyrics, which feature artful triple entendres, slick turns of phrase, and graphically sensual poetry) stated that he hoped the song would be played in gay clubs and talked about how he personally admired gay men.

The second single released from LIFAD, "Ich tu dir weh" ("I Hurt You"), is their most brutal expression of sado-masochistic kink, and its lyrics got the album censored in Germany. The words describe sexual acts between two men. I think the point of all this is that sexual brutality is most hard and "metal" when it's between two men. Testosterone plus testosterone equals maximum testosterone. If dominating a woman makes a man look powerful or manly, dominating a man makes him look even more manly. I think this is a very interesting twist on traditional conceptions of gender and power dynamics. While it certainly doesn't offer any righteous moral guidance, it does rock the foundations of misogynist and homophobic conceptions of masculinity, which I think is pretty brave and pretty cool.

The private lives of the members of Rammstein are well-guarded. Though they are internationally worshiped rock stars, they manage to keep their personal lives mostly hidden from the media. I find this amazing and admirable. But like any good fan girl, I do find every scrap of information available in English or any other language that I can half-understand and snort it like crack.

Suffice it for me to say that many of them have highly respected wives (or even highly respected ex-wives who remain friends), cherished daughters, and close relationships with their mothers. Two of the band members have adopted the last names of their wives, and one of them continues to use his first wife's last name even though he has divorced and remarried. One of them divorced his wife and then married her again.

Till Lindemann is notorious for philandering with a steady stream of beautiful, young women and impregnating several entire generations of German women--always or almost always with daughters. Yet he is a devoted and engaged father and a loving son to his mother. After the end of a brief marriage in his youth, Till had sole custody and care of his first daughter for many years. My favorite, teasingly mysterious story about the band's personal affairs is this: A few years after Till's daughter was born and a few years before Rammstein formed, Richard Kruspe had a daughter with Till's ex-wife. Rumor has it that Till raised both girls together in one happy family. So, it's kind of like Till and Richard have a love-child. Weird! But kind of awesome! Way to work things out. The whole band seems to have a very special bond that is often described as a marriage-like union.

It's pretty hot when you think about it.

Anyway...

Part of the reason I love Rammstein is that, based on the little breadcrumbs they offer to the media, I like the members of the band as people. In a follow-up to this post, I will give my thoughts on each member of the band and why each one of them gives me the warm snugglies.

In the meantime, my anticipation of seeing them all in real life in May (through binoculars probably, but whatever!) burns like a flame-thrower of joy within me.

Schalte ein!

Comments

  1. I think that's the risk of any artist. The more complex or layered the meaning, the less likely it becomes that people will understand what you are exploring. Unless you want to be blatantly obvious about what any areas you're expressing (and it might not even work then!) you risk people misinterpreting your work. Probably doubly so for controversial subject matter!

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  2. Well said, Mrs. Waxx. Maybe professional artists of all kinds should be made to write those one-page written statements they make you post by your work in grad school.

    I wonder if I could get one of those from your husband about his portrait of my rear. Hahaha!

    P.S. Nux Gallica is using one of your yellow-green bricks from your big art installation as a piggy bank. She has also stolen her daddy's custom leather bracelet for a toy. And the hat you knitted is the only winter hat she will wear. She still has some trouble verbalizing her opinions, but I can already tell she has good taste.

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    1. I know a lot of artists who think people will 'get' their work because THEY get it. I have never thought that most people (normal people without advanced art degrees or a whole lot of interest in art) even think or have reason to think there IS something beyond the obvious doing on in any kind of art.

      Mr. Waxx has never written an artist statement, so that would be a good one for a first time around!

      I never thought of those bricks as a piggy bank, excellent use for them! Glad she likes the hat too...let me know if she gets too big for it and I can make her another. Glad to hear you have a stylish baby!

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  3. I love your passion for their passion!

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  4. Hey thank you for writing this article. I've returned to Rammstein some 10 years older than i was when i first heard them and was hooked and in my fangirlish haste to learn all i could about the band that amuses me so much was disturbed not so much with some of the imagery Rammstein puts out, but the misogynistic and violent comments made about them and around them in forums (wasn't looking at forums specifically , but one comes across them very quickly in google). And as i listened more and read english translations grew a little uncomfortable with them re reconciling my feminism. Which is kinda hypocritical because i also like Nick Cave (famous for his murder ballads) whom i have no problem with (also a philanderer and was into drugs in the past) and Woven Hand (who are kind of .... Christian... ) and probably would not agree with my liberal feminism, pro diversity stance. I've been thinking hard about this over the last few days because i was having so much fun when i rediscovered them and your article has helped me put order to my thoughts. Also in the past i have listened to Metallica (i imagine you have seen Some Kind of Monster and if not, i recommend) and in comparison, Rammstein are so much more self-aware in their lyrics, in their performance.

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    1. oh yeh, and i forgot to say that you bum is hot and i like the bows. very cute. I am so jealous.
      kelpietree.

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    2. Hi, Kelpie! Can you believe the dearth of articles on Rammstein and feminism online?? (I say this only half jokingly.) Rammstein is a perfect-pitch mix of balls-out glitzy entertainment with underlying deep meaty goodness. The extremes to which they take those two aspects set them apart from any other act. I'm happy to "meet" a fellow lady-fan who shares these concerns and interests! And thanks about the bum love--haha--I am thinking about wearing this getup to the concert, but on the other hand I'm kind of scared to do it. We'll see.

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  5. "Till's voice makes my ovaries drool" ~You sure got that right!! Thanks for the article, VERY interesting. I can't wait to read your others. Oh, and great pic, btw! I wish I could pull that off!
    ~Molly

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by on your way to the kickoff U.S. MiG concert!!!

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  6. If anybody has wisdom to add, gossip, corrections, or anything else, I will continuously update and add to the band member posts. Squee!

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  7. Great blog, Jeannie - I love this entry, and all of your Rammstein-related posts :o)

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  8. Maybe you'll change your mind after Till's explanation of Du Riechst So Gut at 32:00

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK8EQqH1IM8

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    1. Ooh, nice blast from the past! I think I might understand what you're saying--that Till's lyrics are not just satires of evil, they're also inspired by the torturous pleasure of his own amorous love. The pain and horror and fear--all the negative emotions--are always backlit by the fire of Till's own lust, hunger, and desire for connection--and in my opinion, that's what makes them so goose-pimply, because even when addressing an evil person, there's a deeply empathetic exploration. (By the way, I friggin' DIE every time at that moment in the original Du Riechst video when he smells his own armpit. *Shudders with sensucht.*)

      I touched on that idea with these words: "And for whatever reason, this matters to me: Rammstein's temperature is always hot. There is no cold-blooded cruelty, no desensitized numbness in what they do. Emotions are always heightened, not dulled." And I explored it further in my post all about Till: http://blog.magicnutshell.com/2012/04/ich-liebe-rammstein-till.html

      Delete

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