Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rammstein: impossibility of authentic connection, part 1

This was the first theme I dealt with. For me, it is the übertheme (would Germans permit that linguistic crossfertilization?). I’m relying on the lyrics rather than the videos, interviews, etc.


The impossibility of authentic connection with another appears with regard to just about every relationship: creator/creature in “Mutter,” country/country in “Amerika,” lover/beloved in “Heirate mich” and “Stein um Stein,” artist/audience in “Links 234,” self/self in “Zwitter,” self/other in “Eifersucht,” among family members in “Tier” and “Spiel mit mir,” dead/living (and perhaps even human/divine) in “Engel” and “Heirate mich”…I am stopping at this point because there’s plenty to talk about with these few songs.

The balancing act that’s required to convey these ideas is tricky. The narrator of a given song generally has a fair level of self-knowledge, yet at the same time possess a certain blindness about his condition. Sometimes that blindness is self-imposed, sometimes it comes from without. For instance, the creature in “Mutter” has no way of finding authentic connections with relatives because he has none, yet he is nevertheless a human being. (NB: By “creature” I mean “one who is created,” not “a horror to be avoided.”) He lacks the most fundamental assumption of existence. How, then, does one in such a position define oneself? Does this represent the ultimate state of freedom? If so, how do we respond to the creature’s reaction to that freedom?

As with most Rammstein songs, “Mutter” is internalized, i.e., it comes from the center (but perhaps not the core) of the narrator’s consciousness. However, “Amerika” is on the macroconscious scale. (I’m not sure that’s a word, but I like it and it’s coming with me.) The stanza that switches to first person is telling:

This is not a love song
This is not a love song
I don't sing my mother tongue
No, this is not a love song

When every country has been homogenized into the cultural puree that is America, there is no motherland, no mother tongue. English becomes the mother tongue that smothers, just as American culture is the culture that assimilates. Without a sense of political individuality, when political identity has been imposed from without, authentic self-awareness becomes impossible. The “I” in this stanza appears long enough to say what it is not saying (an interesting notion), then melts back into the “we.”

Even normal, garden-variety relationships become impossible. In “Stein um Stein,” the lover’s desire to possess the beloved drives him to wall her in. Note that she makes no attempt to resist; this is the ultimate conclusion to the romantic-relationship-cum-rape-fantasy that American culture insists is the norm. The lyrical richness comes from its blend of fairy-tale imagery and modern bodice-ripper sensibilities, along with a healthy dose of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” There is similar richness, albeit from different sources, in “Heirate mich.”

“Heirate mich” holds a special place for me for a couple of reasons: One, because the mind of the narrator is so fully present in the lyrics, and two, because of the etymology of the title. The latter is of interest here. Those of you who have had a little Greek or who have studied linguistics will see similarities between hieros ‘sacred’ and heiraten ‘to marry,’ i.e., to consecrate through marriage (though the path from Athens to Berlin seems to pass through the Gothic term heiwa ‘household’). The narrator of “Heirate mich” has driven himself mad hanging around the grave of his fiancée, who, if I’m interpreting things correctly, died on their wedding day. She is buried in sacred ground (“dort bei den Glocken”), she wears the vestments of her sacred role as bride (“im schönsten Kleid”), yet none of this is enough to save the lover. He becomes more profane the longer he is around the sacred, until he blends the two by having sex with his beloved. There can be nothing sacred, and at the same time nothing profane, so long as there is such alienation.

By the way, the song playing while I wrote that last bit was “Happy Together” by Lovin’ Spoonful.

No comments: