The singer of the German band Rammstein Till Lindemann has published a book of poetry. A walk with the world star.
It begins in the deep East of Berlin: on Karl Marx Allee, in between modular houses and Stalin’s Proletarian Palaces from 1953: drizzling rain. The lead singer of the German band Rammstein, who’s just introduced his book of poems, “In Silent Nights”, on the tenth floor of the tower at Frankfurter Tor, is trying to hail a taxi on the street. We are standing inside the shelter at the night bus’ stop and Till Lindemann, who is known to be a terse and ill-tempered man when it comes to interviews, says that everything went relatively well today: “We had agreed on that no questions should be about Rammstein, only about my poetry. That was good.”
Now, after the interviews are done with, the more pleasant part of Till’s evening begins, so ask away, but please, not too demanding questions. Later, he wants to have dinner at the Steakhouse Grill Royal, and then he’s off to a gallery opening. Considering that it is raining, and no taxis come due to the light showers, Till utters a solemn but, at the same time quite peculiar, sentence: “Somehow, I’m not really satisfied.”
An unsupervised question to the rock singer, who has spent the last four years almost entirely on world tour, and whose lyrics are screamed along by 30.000 people in the American Stadiums: Is he an East German?
“Inside and out.” And the Easterner explains: “When I have to go to the Apple Store at Ku’damm [Kurfürstendamm, an avenue in Berlin], I say: ‘I’m going to the West’.”
Till Lindemann points to the glowing blue sign in front of Frankfurter Tor [here: subway station in Berlin]: “Come, let’s take the subway.” Really? Is that possible? Can you ride the subway in Berlin with the singer of Rammstein, just like that? We’re already running down the ramp, and he is smiling, because of course he knows that he, with this, is offering the reporter a juicy story: the rock star insists on us riding without a ticket.
Up there, in the interview lounge on the tenth floor, it all began rather uptight: Wide, wonderful views of the modular concrete houses. How do you talk about a book of poetry surfacing in 2013? When was the last time poems in Germany had any significance, or a wide readership? With Bertold Brecht? Ah, maybe with Enzensberger and Robert Gernhardt?
His body emanates its own unique text, regardless of what is said, and it is enough to make one intimidated by the 50-year old Till Lindemann, who gives the impression of a very strong, powerfully large appearance. He looks like a rock star capable of throwing bauta-stones. Bleached-blond hair, eyebrow piercings. But at second glance, you notice that his body radiates a confident, Baloo-the-Bear-kind of friendliness. And now for the voice shock: he does not speak in the somber, forced tone the fans know from stage, but with an unusually gentle, open voice. The evilest voice in rock’n roll could just as well narrate radio plays for children. Is it clear to him, that he has two, such entirely different, voices? The tolerant interviewee Till Lindemann: “There’s the professional bass. And this is my normal, everyday baritone.”
Interview with Till Lindemann. Why is it such an uncomfortable thing to speak to this rock star? The most obvious explanation: The band Rammstein has, during the past twenty years, so effectively and successfully created such a grandiose stage show – therefore it is not easy to discern, behind all the spectacle of fire and smoke and pounding guitar walls, the man that is Till Lindemann. He’s the rock star with the rolling ‘R’. He’s the rock star with the blazing angel’s wings. He’s the rock star, who enters an antique arena in Southern France marching, wearing knickerbockers and slicked-back hair. The travesty-theater of Rammstein remains, for the middle class kids who grew up in the cities of West Germany, to be the toughest of aesthetic challenges. The whole dark-gloom-goth-burning-crosses-S/M-latex-and-leather-shit that they throw down on Moscow, Tokyo and Buenos Aires – oh, sweet heaven. The negligent allegations of Rammstein perhaps being a right-wing band has tapered off in recent years: Nazis do not like rock stars who wear pink fur coats (to quote the philosopher Slavoj Žižek: “Rammstein sabotages the fascist utopia in an obscene manner”).
May I here just briefly tell you how I got to know the music of Rammstein? It was in 1997, in Santa Barbara, a rich ghetto in Los Angeles, where I interviewed the, at the time, very famous model Guinivere Van Seenus. The model was taking a Ford Mustang for a spin and she shoved the Rammstein song, which had just appeared on the soundtrack for David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’, into the tape recorder. “What? You don’t know this?” the model asked. “This is Rammstein – big, big rock from Germany.” Model, Ford Mustang, California, rock music from East Germany: can’t be all that bad.
Poetry is fun
And now to the small, black book of poetry, ‘In Stillen Nächten’. It consists of just short of a hundred poems with titles like, “Sinn” [Sense], “Angst” [Fear], “Die Hure” [The Whore], “Zur See” [To the Sea] and “Nachtigall” [Nightingale]. Lindemann is known to be solely responsible for writing Rammstein’s lyrics. Anyone who’s familiar with the texts of Rammstein, is in for a little surprise. You’ll recognize some of the obsessions from their bigger hits: that desire cannot exist without pain. You could say, Till Lindemann, the poet, constantly deals with his own body, wanting to do nasty or very nasty or even completely perverse things. A bit of sex-change, ‘Größer, Schöner, Härter’ [Larger, More beautiful, Harder], and of necrophilia, ‘Tierfreund’ [Animal Friend] are there too. Of course, a good song lyric is not the same as a good poem. At times, Lindemann is very devoted to the shock principle of rock’n roll — the poet wants to be a bad boy. In the poem, ‘Elegie für Marie Antoinette’ [Elegy for Marie Antoinette] – oh dear, oh dear – oral sex with a severed head is demanded. And, of course, love: just as in Rammstein’s songs, there’s a lot of sadness in Lindemann’s poetry.
If modern poetry is the voice of doubt, even having a problematic relationship with language and content, then these verses are distancing themselves from the contemporary or even the avant-garde. Here is, as if there was nothing to it, the classical manner spoken. (But, wait: Do we deceive ourselves? Isn’t there a glimpse of irony? Is this, for our time, so unusual German, maybe not always meant to be taken so seriously?) One of Lindemann’s favorite words is “Herz” [heart], and it reoccurs in every other poem (other favored words are: pain, blood, soul, knife, love, child, tears). The author is also not afraid to use the vocabulary of the Brothers Grimm, such as, for example, “Sternlein” [little star/starlet] or “Ränzlein” [little knapsack]. When he opens a poem with the phrase, “Ich bin ein trefflig Schusterjung” [I am a marvelous orphan], it reminds the reader of the poems by Bretano, Eichendorff and the Romantics. But when Lindemann dissects bodies, or describes an indefinite loneliness, then, of course, you will think of Gottfried Benn. Perhaps is Lindemann, the poet, is at his strongest in his three or four lines-long epigrams. For example: ‘In Stillen Nächten weint ein Mann/Weil er sich erinnern kann‘ [In silent nights a man cries/Because he can remember]. Isn’t this – as it becomes a lyricist rock star – not just touching and, simply, good?
Now, at Grill Royal, he orders a nice meal with Tartar as the appetizer and a steak, without any side dishes, as the main course. Strange: how Lindemann, the guest, deals with the waiters – with normal friendliness, without any of that fake chumminess stars otherwise are so fond of – shows that his rock star career hasn’t corrupted him. He has kept an appealing modesty. Does he see himself as a poet? It was late, in his thirties, when he began making notes of small ideas for words and phrases. The poet is now reflecting on whether there is such a thing, as a trained basket weaver becoming a master of the language.
Lindemann, the son of a children’s book author and a cultural journalist, spent his childhood amongst the books in a village near Schwerin (“In the East, television had no impact”). He mentions Hemingway, Salinger and the East German provocateur Stephen Heim, Joachim Seypella, Christa Wolf as the literature of his youth. At the Lindemann household, painters, sculptors and writers came and went. Does he like the concept of the cultured bourgeoisie?
“I have no idea. I’m just a rather simple guy from an intellectual home.” Is it true that the poets in the GDR had a relatively high social standing? Indeed, Till’s father led, in the GDR, the study circle of Writing Workers. “There were people from all social standings, white collars and blue collars, and they all wrote poetry under the guidance of my father.”
As a song lyricist and poet, Lindemann is still under the influence of the GDR: “It was forbidden to speak openly against the state, so literature and poetry used different allegories. The imprint of that the language only hinted at, but never pronounced, the things that mustn’t be uttered, sticks — for a lifetime.”
What distinguishes Rammstein-lyrics from Lindemann-poetry? “Poetry is fun, because I do it for me. Writing lyrics is a nightmare.” And Lindemann describes the process of writing lyrics: he writes text to instrumental music on topics suggested by the band, for as long as it takes for all six band members to become content: that can take time. Poems, on the other hand: They have simply come to him over the years – at airports, in tour buses and hotel rooms. “In order to write prose, I have to be moving. In Berlin, oddly enough, I have no access to my muse.” Could we expect that one of the poems in this black edition will be turned into a Rammstein song? “That is very plausible. Some of the poems are already hanging on the wall in the rehearsal room.”
The ideal place for winding down and for finding the right words, is how Lindemann describes his country house in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, two hours north of Berlin. Two more glasses of red wine and the question about the lyrical ‘I’: Is it he, who speaks in the poems? Or is the poet, like the rock star, a fictional character? Hesitation. “Some poems are autobiographical, others aren’t.” Help, what else should the poet say? The poet speaks, “I write something, I leave it be, I sit down with it again, until it sits, and then I get terribly worried: Help, that’s me!” Now begins – and this is also possible – a verbose rapture about Lindemann’s favorite poem, ‘Restless Nights’, by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer instead. Beautiful.
At the gallery opening on Auguststraße. Plenty of greetings, hugs, toasts. Here old friends meet. The gallery is owned by an old pal who, back in the days of Schwerin, Till played with in a punk band. The concept of the exhibition is for friends to show their friends what kind of art hangs in their homes. (Till has contributed with works by Gottfried Helvaya and Marcus Lyupertsa). Ingrain wallpaper. A juggler with an acoustic guitar is singing Neil Young songs. Oddly enough, the atmosphere in the gallery halls is reminiscent of 1990, in the middle of dealing with a unique vibe of optimism: How can we preserve the utopian spirit of the German Democratic Republic before the evil Western money destroys everything for us? Till Lindemann’s girlfriend, actress Sophia Thomalla, is there, too. The gallery owner recounts what a badass Lindemann was back in 1983, when he receives a text message from the singer: “I’m on my way to the beautiful north. See ya.”
BY Moritz Von Uslar.
Translated by Maya Aster.
Edited by Murray.
Original Source Zeit Online