The frontman of the band Rammstein on his childhood in the GDR, his favorite writers and the film adaptations of their works.
The lead singer of the band Rammstein, Till Lindemann, is one of the most famous and popular rock musicians of our day. Recently, he visited St. Petersburg for a signing session. Pavel Sokolov, the editor-in-chief at eksmo.ru, had the opportunity to meet with Till for an interview.
You were born and grew up in the GDR. Could you tell us about your life in this country? After all, for people born in the current century, it is difficult to imagine what it was like for your generation.
First of all, there was this oppressive atmosphere and the inability to leave the country as you felt that you were constantly being watched. The Stasi in the GDR was no better than the KGB. Secondly, there was this strict regulation of life — the same kind of pioneer organization in which it was necessary to be involved. In general, exactly like in the Soviet Union. But on the other side, there was a sense of brotherhood and solidarity.
If we talk about life in the USSR: due to the Iron Curtain, it was very difficult to get a hold of records and cassettes by Western performers. I specifically use the verb “to get”. Was it as difficult to get records of Western musicians in the GDR?
There were only two ways to get the precious records. The first was to persuade an old woman, kneeling, to bring them to you from West Germany (elderly people were still allowed to travel to West Germany), but to ferry them across the border was quite difficult. There were suitcases with a double bottom and, if a person was caught with contraband, he/she could get into serious troubles. The other, of course, was the black market… but there, for one record, you had to give up half of the average monthly salary.
Which was your first Western album?
“Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper.
In the USSR, there was a powerful underground rock movement in the ‘80s. When did you find out about its existence and what Soviet rock bands did you hear first?
If we’re talking about Soviet music: my mother really loved the songs of Vladimir Vysotsky. We had his records at home. It was my first encounter with high-quality Soviet music. I visited the USSR for the first time at the age of 10 on the exchange program for junior athletes in the Olympic reserve: Novosibirsk, Kiev. We learned specifically about rock musicians only after the Perestroika and after the fall of the Iron Curtain — about such groups as “Aria” and “Mummy Troll”.
But after the Turning, the winds of freedom and change were blowing. Of course, we initially focused on Western rock music. Like most German musicians back then, we tried to copy Kurt Cobain, Pink Floyd… we sang in English and copied their poses. But then we realized that it was all too vulgar and banal and decided to sing in German, in order to find our own voice in our native language.
In fact, the same thing happened with some Soviet and post-Soviet rock bands.
It’s important to keep in touch with your roots. Copying other people’s styles, even the best ones, is not the right way. In the end, you can simply lose yourself, your uniqueness, and your connection with your people and your language.
Let’s move on from music to books. Which books did you love the most when you were young?
My father was a writer. He had a large library with literature from various countries: from Iran to Kazakhstan. I was forced to read the classics – the same “And Quiet Flows the Don” by Sholokhov, and “War and Peace” by Tolstoy. But I did not like that at all. After all, I was a child. At the age of 13, I read “Catcher in the Rye” by Salinger, and I was amazed. I also liked the books by Chingiz Aitmatov — his work was very different from all the official Soviet literature, which was translated and published in our country at the time. He was beyond ideology. The story, “Early Cranes”, is my favorite piece of his. The writer described the life of ordinary people, at the same collective farms, but how skillfully he did this! Without demagoguery and stereotypes. So Chingiz Aitmatov is my favorite Soviet writer.
He died in 2008 in Nuremberg.
How old was he?
About 80 years old. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He definitely deserved it. He needs to have a monument built in his honor. That’s for sure.
There is one erected at his birthplace in Kyrgyzstan. And, continuing with the literary theme, could you name five of your favorite writers?
I like the novels by Michel Houellebecq, the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht, the work of the Swiss writer of Hungarian origin, Agota Kristof, and the novels “Natura Morta” and “Graveyard of Bitter Oranges” by the Austrian author Josef Winkler. And, of course, “Lolita”, by Vladimir Nabokov. I also love the novel, “Homo Faber”, by Max Frisch. From modern American literature, I like Bret Easton Ellis’s, “American Psycho”, the most. When I read it, I had goose bumps…
In Russia, the film adaptation with Christian Bale in the leading role is more well-known.
This film is complete garbage. It is impossible to make a film from this novel. In this film, they tried to copy Frank Sinatra, but it all turned out to be quite vulgar. There are things that are better not to adapt into film. Let’s just say a legend must remain a legend.
So how do you feel about Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita”?
It is impossible to convey in the film the depth of the experience of the protagonist. Kubrick emphasized the pedophilic moments and this made the film coarse and vulgar.
We turn to the final question asked by all your fans. Will there be a new album by Rammstein. And if so, when?
We’ll finish it by summer or fall this year. We are working on it now.
And will there be any songs based on poems from your book, “On Quiet Nights”?
Just two quatrains.
Are you planning on touring any major Russian cities with Rammstein? (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, etc.)
We’ve been trying to plan such a tour for ten years now. It’s not just 3-4 days. We need to somehow combine everything because we play concerts in Europe and Germany fairly often. But we need to set aside time just for Russia.
So, theoretically, such a tour is actually possible?
And practically, too!
And the final question: last year, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Bob Dylan. If this award were given to you, what would be your reaction?
To be honest, I’m surprised that I haven’t already been awarded the Nobel Prize!
By Pavel Sokolov
Translation: Sarah Dinhofer / Lee Murray