Spieluhr – Rammstein Biography by Alexander Gorkow

Excuse me, this is not a story from the east, but from the west. Or is it? We will see. The story begins in the 1960s. It is about a child. It jumps a little back and forth, this story, through time and space, and in the end – like a dented spaceship – it will land in the west in the 1960s, when the child was born.

1121In the 1960s all the summers were splendid. Whoever claims the opposite, does not tell the truth. Summer after summer, by late afternoon, when the last rays of the sun smacked their lips, the child’s parents would take a Sérgio Mendes record from the record sleeve. They would place it on the turntable of a Thorens record player, the record player was inside an antique bureau. Well, either the Mendes record or Frank Sinatra’s and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Bossa Nova record with the arrangement of the Munich Orchestra conductor Claus Ogerman. Very carefully the parents would close the old bureau’s lid. It would crackle from the oak-wooden speakers on the book shelf, then the sounds would interweave with the evening light in the garden, and Germany, a garden close to the river Rhine, was now in Brazil; my country, my wave and my beach. The child would sit on the meadow, play with a steel tractor, inside the house Mendes would play, Sinatra would sing of the summer wind, the world, the west, would never again be as gentle, and so the child was happy. Time went by, only a few years, gentle as the wind.

The child had an elder sister, whom he loved very much. One day, when a couple more years had passed, the parents went on a trip. The sister took her own records to the living room. She carefully lifted Sérgio Mendes and Frank Sinatra and – by the way – also Duke Ellington’s Africa Suite from the turntable. In their stead, the child now heard a beautiful song, which made him sad. The song was I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, the singer on the cover looked like one of those brave women from the West, who kept the ranch in order and did the laundry, while the men outside on their horses had to be on the look-out. The singer was blond, she had slightly big teeth, wore a dress with a checkered pattern, her name was Lynn Anderson. The child noticed that this was not a loud song, but a dangerous, a sinister one. He also felt he had to help Lynn Anderson, for even though Lynn was laughing on the record sleeve, she certainly only did that, because she was so brave. There had to be a reason for Lynn’s mournful voice.

Lynn Anderson’s song was an overture for a yet more sinister song, which the sister listened to over and over again, placing the needle to the beginning, over and over. The song could have been an early RAMMSTEIN song, one that someone might have found in the attic of an old house, in a heap of tapes, the dust blown off, and there on the box it reads:
RAMMSTEIN/1970, Demo of An einem dieser Tage zerschneide ich Dich in kleine Stücke. Today the song seems to me like the RAMMSTEIN blueprint, let’s say: the black-and-white era. I know, I have to deal with this assessment alone. Not a single journalist will share this opinion. But you often have to deal with things alone, we will come back to that later. So the song’s title was One Of These Days, and it was by Pink Floyd. It consists, roughly, of two instrumental parts and a single, distortedly spoken sentence in the middle. In the first half, Roger Waters takes apart his bass. In the second, David Gilmour takes apart his guitar. The sentence in the middle goes like this: One Of These Days I Am Going Toth Cut You Into Little Pieces.

Long after the time with Lynn Anderson and Pink Floyd and my sister at my parents’ record player, I quickly got the hook of punk rock and had no objections at all. But wasn’t One Of These Days punk rock? (With this opinion I am also alone. Supposedly punk rock was invented to do away with Pink Floyd. But others can have this debate.) Back then in the 1980s, in my old home town of Düsseldorf there was a punk band by the name of KFC, which was short for Kriminalitätsförderungsclub (Club for the Promotion of Crime). I liked this club, and even more than the KFC I liked – end of the 1980s, early 1990s – former KFC singer, Tommi Stumpff and his computer terror record Ultra. Tommi Stumpff had his hair dyed blond, wore a black leather jacket. He loved the grand French chansons, however, onstage accompanied by roaring, milling, ringing synthesizers, he yelled: blood, brain, massacre. Or: Lobotomie (Lobotomy). Attending these shows felt like standing in the university hospital’s very loud operating room. Back then I would go to nice, loud Tommi Stumpff shows, and if someone had asked me about Lynn Anderson and her song of the rose garden, I would have said that Lynn and Tommi were singing about the same problem, so to speak. Unfortunately, other than myself not very many people attended Tommi Stumpff’s shows. Once I brought a girl that I liked. And while Tommi Stumpff told stories of massacres, the girl yelled into my ear.
She: What’s up with him? Why is he so pissed?I: Did you say anything?She: Why is he telling such evil stories?I: Because they exist.She: Blood? Brains? Massacre?I: Yes.She: Where? In the war maybe…I: And at peoples’ homes.She: Where??I: At peoples’ homes.She: Here? In Düsseldorf?I: Exactly.She: Can we go?

Today I am convinced that Tommi Stumpff did everything, at least most things, right. But he came a few years too early with his music. Bad luck. Sometimes I would have a beer with my buddy Karl Bartos. Karl, who had been with Kraftwerk, told me one day, that Kraftwerk made the best out of the fact that the Beatles no longer existed. The most beautiful melodies were used up since the 1970, he said. Karl can get a very mischievous look when he says such fatalistic things. The yearning of Kraftwerk’s robots, which we loved so much: so it was the yearning in a time after the grand melodies.

I discovered RAMMSTEIN very late, missing the first years. When Herzeleid was released in 1995, I didn’t see six burning hearts on that cover. Instead I saw six men with naked torsos in front of a calyx. I thought: okay, gay. And besides, they call themselves RAMMSTEIN: they must be totally nuts. There’s not always someone there to lend you a helping hand, and my sister was living in another town then. I also missed Sehnsucht, totally crazy, such a beautiful, such an important record, so lyrically radiant as are the two opening songs Sehnsucht and Engel. So the year 1997 passed as well.

Only years later, in late autumn of the year 2001, did I happen to hear Mutter. I remember driving alone from Munich to Paris at night, and putting in the CD, because in the record store I liked the cover and the title. I recall, how, in the morning on Boulevard Raspail, I listened to the record for about the tenth time over. I recall waiting in front of the Lutetia Hotel until Spieluhr was done, and how I only then went in and to the reception. Since the room wasn’t ready yet, I went back to the car to fetch the CD. I sat down in a café across the Lutetia, for hours, CD in hand, which I stared at, weighed, opened, closed, took from the case, put it back into the case, on which there was no group of men in front of a calyx this time, but the face of a dead fetus, its tiny hands on the back of the cover. Hoppe, hoppe Reiter, mein Herz schlägt nicht mehr weiter, (hopp, hopp, horseman, my heart stopped beating) I murmured to myself, very very quietly. I went to the kiosk in front of the café and bought newspapers, I actually still remember that I bought the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and a French glossy magazine with the photograph of the divine Francoise Hardy on the cover (as beautiful as ever) and, for info on upcoming events: Le Monde. I read the papers, for a long time, and when I put them aside, I said again: Hoppe, hoppe Reiter, mein Herz schlägt nicht mehr weiter. Then: Mein Herz brennt (My Heart burns), although at this point – if I remember correctly – my voice broke. I had to draw a deep breath. What was up with that? When I leafed through the booklet, I had to laugh, on a morning in Paris; what was the garcon to think, an old buffer with an evelly wiggling moustache. I read in the booklet and quietly repeated: Ich bin der Reiter, Du bist das Ross / Ich hab den Schlüssel, Du hast das Schloss / Die Tür geht auf, ich trete ein / Das Leben kann so prachtvoll sein (I am the horseman, you are the horse / I hold the key, you are the lock / the door opens, I enter / life can be so magnificent.)

What kind of nonsense was this? Pray, what business has this rampant, exulting copulation rubbish on the same album as Mein Herz Brennt, Spieluhr, Sonne and Mutter? When my hotel room was ready, I lay down and slept. It was evening when I woke up, I stared into the dark room, wondering where I was and then I whispered: Hoppe, hoppe Reiter. I remember waking up like you wake up the morning after a grand concert. As if something had been implanted in you. An organ of light, illuminating everything by the memory of a car-ride through the darkness. That evening I met with my French friends in a brasserie and told them, I had discovered this new band. It was embarrassing, it made my friends laugh. Funny, the German, who finally got it. They knew long passages from Mutter more or less by heart – not only the song, but the entire album! Isch ab där Schlüssäl, Du ast där Schloss, Rrrrein, rrrraus, my shy friend Caroline sang. And then all of them sang along.

Someone else may explain RAMMSTEIN. In all those years since 2001 I never wrote a single line about RAMMSTEIN. I read many lines about RAMMSTEIN in all those years, though, among them a couple of smart and really brilliant essays, one of which wrote my wonderful fellow journalist Andrian Kreye here in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, at a time when German authorities opined that the album Liebe ist für alle da (Love is there for everyone) should not be distributed, since it were liable to corrupt the young. It was then that we thought the time had come to try and explain RAMMSTEIN to the people. Most of what was written about RAMMSTEIN was a mystery to me, I was even amused about what I read:Apparently journalists on principle smelled danger when it came to RAMMSTEIN. There was always a sense of panic they could fall for that band. Constantly questions tumbled between the lines of those articles, questions such as: Why are they doing this? Are they taking the piss out of us? Do they think this is funny? Can’t they behave? The actual question it all came down to, however, was this: DO THEY HAVE LEAVE TO DO THIS?

A lot of people associate RAMMSTEIN with sex, maybe even more with violence, at least with obsessions. Me, RAMMSTEIN makes me think of paradise, and that the day will come when we will fall out of this paradise with a long and piecing shriek. This is why I keep thinking of the child that I was. Re-reading all those ill-humored articles on RAMMSTEIN makes me think of the child that I was as well – and therefore of our mean janitor Kapulski. Who would wait behind his door’s peephole until he’d spot one of us children. Then Kapulski would rip open the door and yell: fucking turds, stop messing up the house! I’ll beat you to death! Things like that. Once he came after me, hammer in hand. Kapulski yelled: I’ll smash your head in. If he’d gotten hold of me that too would have been a form of censorship. I believe, the authorities censoring records in this beautiful old house named Germany, are for RAMMSTEIN what janitor Kapulski was for us children.We enjoyed sneaking up on his flat, quiet, quiet, then bang hard against the peephole, yelling Fuck you, Kapulski!If I’m not mistaken, this is RAMMSTEIN’s approach: sneak up and then bang real hard against the peephole.

As mentioned before: I’m sure others can explain RAMMSTEIN better, I don’t feel apt to do that. In joy as in sorrow I consider myself biased. So all I can do, is tell this story. And all I want to say with this story is: Mein Herz brennt (My Heart burns). Many years later in that night on my way to Paris RAMMSTEIN unearthed this child’s heart, which mourned for the rose garden. Just like the child’s heart was unearthed in Spieluhr: Da haben sie es ausgebettet / Und so das Herz im Kind gerettet (So they unearthed it / and saved the heart in the child). RAMMSTEIN touch on the earliest black-box memories. It’s not about listening, feeling and singing along. There’s that too, for sure. But there is more. It’s a laughter, howling, shrieking, ducking away, peeking, clinging and falling over from being scared – just as in the first theater experiences, those incredible days, when the puppet theater came to town, when the black curtain slid aside and revealed a bright, square universe of light, colors and figures, all this in a pitch-dark room full of trembling children. Up there on the little box-shaped stage, Kasper (popular German hand puppet) in the light asked if we were all there, and we screamed YES!! as was the custom, and then the YES became a shrill NOOOOO!, we enthusiastically yelled this NO, because the fucking crocodile already grinned behind the Kasper’s back.

If you watch one of the most beautiful concert movies of recent pop history, that is RAMMSTEIN’s Völkerball-DVD recorded in Nimes, you will not see pop fans in an antique theater. You will see children, welcoming Kasper, singing along with him, warning him and embracing him. You will not find a hooting audience in this theater. You will find an awed and touched audience. And it would seem that most of those touching French folks, who sing along each and every line in German, have not been besides themselves like this since their childhood days.

RAMMSTEIN place the child back in front of the antique bureau, RAMMSTEIN send the parents away, RAMMSTEIN take the Bossa Nova record off the Thorens record player, RAMMSTEIN play their own music. It is – by the way – a very beautiful music. It is sometimes cheerful, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes desperate, and every second of it points at a burning flowery meadow; it shows Kasper in constant danger. My country, my wave and my beach, this no longer is paradise. It is the first song on this latest album, this passionate and bitterly angry hymn, it tells of nothing less than the expulsion from this paradise. Again and again, it comes running, the asshole with the flag in his hand. And all of a sudden this latest new RAMMSTEIN song appears to represent the DNA of this band. Not a bad idea, to open this album, which re-tells the big RAMMSTEIN theater in chapters, with this so far unheard expulsion from paradise. For that is what it has always been to me, from the first second of that night trip to Paris: theater, half stage, half cinema.
Why it is acceptable to explore violence in sex and/or abusive relationships in every second subsidized small town theater play, however, the same should be objectionable in a non-subsidized RAMMSTEIN show, I will never get. Maybe it is because the members of RAMMSTEIN prefer to point out in interview that they take great pains so their music sounds dull. This may be an amusing information, but it somehow reminds me of my own infantile Fuck you, Kapulski!

But I don’t believe them a word anyway: Dear ones, your music may sound edgy, but not at all dull.
Kasper’s theater play back then, it was exciting, it was funny, it was also edgy, but above all it was affecting. The roughly carved hero in his square tater box was not capable of those grimaces, that so many mediocre TV show actors employ to cheat themselves through their careers. The puppet was a splendid projection screen, precisely because it was so roughly carved, it wasn’t able to make faces. For a very long time I didn’t scream in a theater as I did when I watched dear, crude Kasper. But I did many years later: in the theater of dear, crude Till. RAMMSTEIN’s stage box is larger than Kasper’s, oh yes, I am larger too than the child. And why does he tell such nasty tales? Because they exist.

No, this music is not dull. But what is it? To me it seems like a weird kind of cluster bomb; it contains pathos, a lot of energy, cabaret, gasoline and – of course – Flake’s fantastic, valentinesque Minimal Art. The band succeeds in something amazing, and that is to impregnate the German vocabulary with something which may be called groove. RAMMSTEIN are not Slayer. RAMMSTEIN are an intriguing combination of tragedy and comedy, and time and again I think that Till Lindemann and Flake Lorenz perfectly personify this combination, a great duopoly of pop history: something like this on a stage, such a skinny super-clown and this beefy bloke right from a fairy-tale, you’ll see that nevermore. I imagine work in the studio with this band as very difficult, with all these visions; I anticipate Flake’s ideals of thrift, a yearning for grand opera on Schneider’s, Lander’s, Kruspe’s and Riedel’’s side. (Grand opera? Did I mention Pink Floyd yet? No? Yes? Anyway.) I see Lindemann, standing there with his poems that even after the first few tones sound as if they had been carved from ice in a cold cold night. When I first saw Lindemann on-stage, not only had the carved Kasper returned. I not only heard Lynn Anderson sing of the rose garden way from the back. I also was reminded of the beloved monster of my childhood days: King Kong, a nice enough buddy, but too big and too heavy for this world, and his way of loving women – no, sorry, of crushing them. When did one last scream like the child when the crocodile crept up from behind on Kasper? When did one last cry like the child when they shot King Kong from that sky-scraper?

A couple more words on Till Lindemann, please? I know, the monster RAMMSTEIN is only such a beautiful monster because of its individual components. Take away one of them – and you no longer have this exact theater, but something different. I am sure that RAMMSTEIN will die in the very moment when just one of those hearts starts beating somewhere else. The groove will be missing, the groove which brings Munich’s Olympic Hall to a boil just as it does Madison Square Garden in New York. Till Lindemann, however, is also a poet, and much more so than all those who, as such, roam the arts scene and for decades have been filling that scene to the brim with their croaking, with their anemic town clerk sentences. Till Lindemann’s language is music even without music. And the pictures he draws with that language in their archaic, explosive ambiguity often seem so crystal unclear as a painting by Gerhard Richter. His humor takes away my breath; his sadness sometimes robs me of my sleep. It makes me happy that so many people in North America, South America, Spain, France, England and I don’t know where learn German with Till Lindemann. It is particularly funny, I think, that the German arts scene has not noticed this yet.

Where did Till Lindemann get that language from? Who wants to know? It seduces me to consent to a speechless and – gladly – Dionysian agreement: It is better to stand with one like him on a burnt flowery meadow and not say a word, than to wander about paradise alone. Till Lindemann’s language seems to me a language which comes about in the country, in seclusion, beneath an endless sky. And, remarkable, despite RAMMSTEIN’s enormous volume, despite the abysses in RAMMSTEIN’s songs: it is a language which I believe comes from a peace of mind, from exact observation, it is a vibrating language, yet one in the sleepwalker’s even breathing rhythm. Influences? Gottfried Benn? Of course. Conrad Ferdinand Meyer? Of course, him as well, I believe. Recently I read a poem by C.F. Meyer and thought of Lindemann when I read this:
Der schöne Tag:
Zwei Knaben und ein ledig Boot –Sie sprangen jauchzend in das Bad.Der eine taucht gekühlt empor.Der andre steigt nicht wieder auf.
(The beautiful day:
Two boys and an empty boat –they jumped into the water, cheering.The one emerges, cooled.The other one will never rise again.)

And Brecht and his socialist flat cap? Yes, yes, alright: that too. Maybe Till Lindemann took some ingredients of his language from his late father, the author of children’s and young adults’ literature, Werner Lindemann? It’s only a guess. After all, in the early 1980s Werner Lindemann wrote a novel about life with his son Till, whose name he only slightly altered to Timm. The book was published in 1988 and goes by the title (which seems superbly disturbing today): Mike Oldfield im Schaukelstuhl (Mike Oldfield in a Rocking Chair). In this novel the father describes how he found a box of poems, written by the son when he was nine years old. If I’m not mistaken, these short rhymes anticipate the smiling fatalism of grown-up Till Lindemann, in this terrible world of terrors. One of the child’s poems is called Der Nussknacker (The Nutcracker), and it goes like this:
Er knackt ganz einfachjede Nuss,und die nicht will,muss.(He cracks quite simply every nut,
And that which does not want still must.)

The second poem is about a woodpecker:
Da steht ein alter Baum,In ihm ein hohler Raum.Darinnen wohnt ein Specht.Mir ist’s recht.
(There stands an old tree,In it a hollow.Therein lives a woodpecker.That’s alright by me.)
My little daughter, one and a half years old, by the way, loves Werner Lindemann’s beautiful book Was Tiere essen (What animals eat). And even if it seems a bit far-fetched, this could have been – under the term New Realism – the title for a RAMMSTEIN song, wouldn’t it? Was Tiere essen.

Glory comes, glory goes. Language remains. Moments remain. More about moments – in a moment. On language: So far literature criticism completely missed out on Till Lindemann’s language. That doesn’t matter. There will be a time, when not just a few will bend over his texts, and they will talk about this country and this time, then there will be – splendid – the Great Commented Lindemann Edition. Title: Empire Burlesque, Volumes 1 – 10. There will also be experts, finally those as well. But for now it is a language for fans only, and that’s best. It is, occasionally, a burlesque and infamous and laugh-out-loud funny language. A number of wiseacres spend a lot of time trying to insinuate that RAMMSTEIN have too close ties with German myths and Germany’s past objections. Maybe these people should waste even more time on their pretentious theories. They could, for example use the song Pussy to test those theories. That would be fun. I’d love to read those essays. Actually, all in all, Till Lindemann’s language is a stunningly beautiful, a tender language, crystal clear. On the one side it’s a boxer’s language, but it is also always a language which digs into the depths of our children’s souls for grand old songs, for those songs, to which we once, maybe, finally fell asleep in the deep green grass, on a summer afternoon in the garden. Back then, when paradise still existed, at our beach, our waves, our sand. Long after One Of These Days Pink Floyd sang:
The grass was greener / The light was brighter / The taste was sweeter.

And today? Tagsüber laufe ich der Nacht hinterher (During the day, I run after the night), Till Lindemann sings. So simple yet so great a sentence. Later on, someone whistles a catchy little tune, it evokes memories of a Sergio Leone wild west movie, Leone could have come up with this melody. I hear it in the song Engel (Angel), which basically tells us that there are no angels – and even if there were angels, they’d have to cling to the stars in order to not fall from the sky. And since I was talking about moments: those remain long after: no topis has been abused as often in the history of civilization as that of the angel – RAMMSTEIN had to come along to breathe new life into the matter: Lindemann up there on the stage, with his burning wings of steel, I think I never ever saw anything as gorgeous on a stage as this super-angel in anguish.

Lindemann’s language, however, is, in a refined sense, a quite simple language, which takes great care not to betray itself. If angels have to cling to stars, so they don’t fall from the sky, who else but a child, in the shape of a brawny man would sing about it, with a voice, that builds up in front of him, like a massive wall? The world is up in flames, and since RAMMSTEIN map the world and ourselves in this world, the shows, it must be said, will always be scorching. But that’s the way it can be expected, after man fell from paradise. Time went by, only a few years, as light as the wind. I made a promise, and so this little story touches down in the manner of a dented spacecraft after a long journey through time and space, touches down in memento. Is it, as mentioned in the beginning, a story from the west? It doesn’t matter any longer. One day all children will fall from paradise, those from the west and those from the east. Brave Lynn Anderson never promised a rose garden. Pink Floyd make the monster say: One Of These Days I Am Going To Cut You Into Little Pieces. Kapulski wants to smash the child’s head with a hammer. The child is faster: Fuck you, Kapulski. Tommi Stumpff screams: Lobotomy. Karl Bartos programs a song. King Kong dies. Kasper gets off cheaply. The child from the garden grows up to be a man – and on a day in summer, all of a sudden, the sister passes away.

It is a day long after those days, when all the summers were beautiful, a day long after Sergio Mendes, Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington. First the sister falls into a coma, and then she’s dead. Things like that happen everywhere in the world, every day, so it’s not unusual. The man has nothing to say to this. Words, as you say, fail the man. A different kind of language is needed, different words, the man thinks. The mute man sees the world in flames. He just wishes for a few simple words, a clear, pleasant story and with it a redemptive melody. Lynn Anderson never promised a rose garden, that had been such a story, a melody in the wind, brave Lynn in her checkered dress.

Spieluhr/Music Box? The little heart awoke then. The former child takes a deep breath – and the grown-up man exhales. He sings hoppe, hoppe Reiter. There is the nice little story he was looking for, and a redemptive melody to go with it. May the world go up in flames, he drives through the night again. All the way to Paris.

Alexander Gorkow, Munich, September 2011

Original source: Universal Music DE
By Alexander Gorkow. Novermber 3, 2011
Photo: Olaf Heine
Translation by Brigitte Sautter.

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