Basler Zeitung: Missunderstood

Till Lindemann, vocalist of Rammstein, has published a fascinating book of poetry. A visit to an artist, who seems to have fallen out of time.

Our civilization is a thin veneer on top of an old anarchy, or so many believe. And if it cracks, the evil Lindemann could get us, if he felt like it. This threat is constantly looming in the air during the concerts of Rammstein, to which tens of thousands make pilgrimages. Till Lindemann is the singer of this, the most notorious of all metal bands.

Lindemann acts like a wounded warrior out of Grimmelhausen’s novel “Simplicissimus”, which tells the tale of the cutthroat horrors of the 1630s. “Most of my poems could just as well have been written a few hundred years ago,” he says, speaking very softly. The meeting takes place in a lounge near Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Lindemann is wearing baggy, yellow, riding breeches, has blond-dyed hair and dark shadows under watery-blue eyes. His face is a little puffy. He’s beefy, but smaller than expected.

The Nightingale must die.

Violent fantasies, many suspiciously similar to those of Rammstein, are to be found in Lindemann’s new book of poems, ‘In Silent Nights’. In vast quantities, even: in ‘Marie Antoinette’, there’s a beheading, in ‘Das Experiment’ [The Experiment], a university is set ablaze, in ‘Das Messer’ [The Knife], there’s a “heart being tarnished”. Drawings made by the graphic artist, and Lindemann’s friend, Matthias Mattheis, illustrate the book, and they are also most commonly cruel and often pornographic.

Lindemann’s violence isn’t triumphant or self-glorifying, though, but rather pitiful, sickening – born out of misunderstanding, out of distress, failure or despair and often ends up in self-torture. Lindemann’s lyrical “I”, is reminiscing of the giant of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, who wanted to cuddle a puppy but choked it trying. Or of ‘Edward Scissorhands’. It is the same tragedy. Sex should resolve the aggression but it always ends up in disappointment: “I found flesh on the bed/It had a face/I thought it was love/But it was not” (‘Fleisch’) [‘Flesh’].

Once again, the fact torments, that this love has no reliable code of interaction: “I love life/But life does not love me/Kicks me in the testicles/Beats me in the face”, it reads in ‘Ich bin nicht böse’ [I’m not evil]. Lindemann’s best poems are born out of pain; hypersensitive, pathetic, but nonetheless laconic pieces like ‘Nein’ [‘No’] or ‘Ich liebe dich’ [‘I Love You’]. Cheerful, they are not, and not even the melancholic idyll is safe from the intrusion of violence. The threat of a sudden plunge into the extreme, is looming throughout. The nightingale sings only briefly for Lindemann, and soon tragedy strikes: “Once I heard a Nightingale/In the day I hear her complain/I throw a well-aimed stone /The fowl is slain”, the first verse of ‘Nachtigall’ [‘Nightingale’] reads. The rest is mourning and demise in clean, euphonious rhymes.

Or: “Happiness and joy are followed by pain/For all you have to pay/What I love/Must die”, reads the typical ending of ‘Was ich liebe’ [What I Love]. Out of love comes the rejection, out of wrath comes the madness. The 97 poems in ‘In Silent Nights’ have a psychotic tension and an alarm, which is rarely found in contemporary poetry. This is poetry in the spirit of the brutal, late Romantics, and you read it with fascination and discomfort.

Lindemann, the author of this little book, wants absolutely nothing to do with psychoanalysis. He quickly dismisses the flamboyant. He doesn’t even wants to hear of Nietzsche, because of the supposed psychoanalysis. He writes from his gut, he says. Now the questions are literally piling up: Where did all these extremes come from? This immediate coexistence of brutal rage and excruciating sensitivity? Why the escapism?

Swimming for the GDR

His biography allows for some conclusions to be drawn as to why Lindemann today, not only in his poetry but also in conversation, feels like an anachronism. He evolved between the systems, his story is one of crossing borders. He emphasizes how fundamentally different he experienced socialism and capitalism. He was born into the former, about 50 years ago, in Leipzig. But as he became more self-aware, the impending collapse was almost tangible.

The proletarian- and farming-state never became homely for Lindemann – the library of his parents (the 40 years older, very distant father, a children’s book author; the mother, a cultural journalist) put an end to that: it contained what the censorship just barely permitted.

Lindemann was a rascal and a drifter in his youth, and as he himself admits, absolutely not an exemplary socialist boy. For discipline, he was sent off to swimming school. And he grew with his task, even in the very tangible, physical sense. The role as the vigorous leader of Rammstein could not possibly be filled by Lindemann, if he had not been exposed to the impositions and toils of the East German swimming sport.

He did very well for himself and was even mustered for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He learned what struggle was at that time, Lindemann says, and he sounds thoughtful and not proud, in all probability his soul was already broken by then. After a suspension – Lindemann had sneaked out from the team’s hotel and gotten into trouble with the officials – and an injury, Lindemann’s sports career ended even before the games were over. After that, he trained to be a carpenter.

Alienated from the republic

The fall of the wall also meant for Lindemann a big, influential breaking point, identity-wise. The young East German, yearning for soft treats, at once bought oodles of candy with his Western money — “until I felt sick”. But while most of his friends were chasing after lucrative jobs, Lindemann remained, somewhat clueless, back in the East. Although he tried to become a drummer, and not a singer, Rammstein was founded in 1994.

Till Lindemann does not understand the capitalist world he lives in. His sparse, tentative overtures fail miserably even in these new poems, as when he attempts to be the cultural cynic and, hardly original, mocks cosmetic surgery (‘Größer, Schöner, Härter’) [‘Larger, More beautiful, Stronger’].

He, who lives on a farmstead in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, is an escapist from the bottom of his heart and, consequently, keeps the Romantic Joseph von Eichendorff as his admitted hero. Contemporary poetry does not interest him, he says. In his longing for the old forms and by the unleashing of emotions and instincts he has, much like Ernst Jünger’s ‘Anarch’[The Anarchist’], alienated himself from the conservative BDR. Therefore, irritation and fierce criticism has always struck against him and his band. The unfounded accusations of neo-Nazism, igniting at the end of the ‘90s, were the most obvious manifestation of that.

Lindemann does not understand the world, and the world doesn’t understand him. “Do you understand me?” he shouts at the crowds of mechanics, students and neo-Nazis alike, when Rammstein plays their song ‘Ich will’ [‘I want’]. And the echo comes back, ten-thousand-fold: “We understand you!” Lindemann knows that it is a ten-thousand-fold lie. “The poems are band aids for my wounds,” he says and you suspect: it’s not easy, being a Lindemann.

Basler Zeitung, Linus Schöpfer – Berlin
Photo: EPA/Axel Heimken
Translated by Maya Aster
Edited by Murray
Original source: Basler Zeitung

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