Attempting to discuss music: Deutschland, Numan

People will criticize–because people always criticize–but I see Rammstein grappling with a difficult thing: identity.

The song–intense, burning–glorifies and repudiates. At times Germania is strong; at times she is devoured; at times she is lovely; at times she is brutal. In one scene, the band members, dressed as concentration camp victims, shoot her in the face. In another, Germania makes out with a band member’s decapitated head.

Modern identities in countries experiencing massive change–technological, demographic–are fraught, particularly so in a place like Germany, whose history is so controversial:

Germany
My heart in flames
Want to love you
Want to damn you

Some will criticize the band’s decision to represent Germany as a black woman. (If you didn’t catch that before, go back and re-watch. The black woman is Germania, Germany.) Controversial, yes. But it makes her much easier to spot and thus the video easier to understand.

Others will criticize the band members’ decision to dress themselves as Holocaust victims. This is, for many, a no-go; they cannot watch or find peace with such depictions. But the band is in no way glorifying the Holocaust. I do not think they are trivializing it, nor merely trying to capitalize on it for money. They are artists dealing with a very difficult subject–German identity–and the Holocaust is part of that. It is a history that has to be dealt with, even if by shooting it in the face. If someone manages to depict the holocaust in a way that isn’t horrifying, something has gone wrong.

We should not criticize art simply because the artist is good enough at art that they get paid for it.

The lyrics are minimal; QankHD on Reddit did a nice job of translating them (I have included their notes):

You have cried a lot
In the mind apart
In the heart united

We have been together for a very long time
Your breath is cold
The heart in flames
You, I, Us, You (plural)

Germany
My heart in flames
Want to love you
Want to damn you
Germany
Your breath is cold
so young
and yet so old
Germany

I never want to leave you
One want to love you
And want to hate you
Overbearing (arrogant)
Superior
To take over (I think this is the only proper way to translate this in context here)
To surrender (giving away, can also be read as throwing up)
Surprising
To attack (to assault, raid, invade)
Germany Germany over everyone

 [some repetition]

Superior (super powerful)
Needless (dispensable, a waste)
Übermenschen 
Sick of (tired, bored)
The higher you climb, the farther you fall
Germany Germany over everyone

[repetition]

Germany
Your love is a curse and a blessing
Germany
My love I cannot give to you
Germany

Many people will mistakenly accuse Rammstein of being fascist reactionaries simply because they sound like angry Germans. No honest reading of the song supports this; everything from the lyrics to the casting of a black woman as Germania indicates pure leftism. Rammstein’s industrial beats, no matter how intense, come out of an era when the shocking was still primarily in support of liberalism.

Most songs deal with love in some way. Pop songs are about falling in love, rap about sex, goth about how the singer’s love has died and he will never love again. In Rammstein, love is death:

Du Hast (You Have) depicts the band members kidnapping and murdering a man, apparently on behalf of a woman (perhaps someone he has harmed).

The core of Du Hast:

You have asked me and I have said nothing
Do you want to be faithful for eternity
Until death parts you?

No! No!

In Rosenrot, a monk is seduced by a young woman, who convinces him to murder her husband. She then betrays him, and he is burned at the stake, the young woman throwing the first flaming torch onto his pyre.

In the lyrics, a young man falls to his death attempting to bring a red rose to his love.

Sonne (Sun) depicts the band members as the Seven Dwarves, enslaved to Snow White, who forces them to toil in the mines all day to keep her supplied with gold and drugs.

Love is a conflicted emotion for these guys; nationalism no less so. Anyone who criticizes Rammstein for being shocking has missed the entire point of the band. These are guys who regularly perform with flamethrowers and incorporate jackhammers into their songs. One band member had his cheeks pierced so he could perform with a light inside his mouth. Shock and horror are an integral part of what the band does.

The song itself, played without the video, doesn’t stand out to me. Engel combines innovative sounds (whistling) plus the high pitch of a woman’s voice against the industrial steel. Du Hast carries you on its rhythm with an intensity that makes English speakers mistranslate “have” as “hate.” Of course, songs often become more loved with repetition (which is why I listened to the song 5 or 6 times before writing this); part of the joy of music is the joy of counting without realizing it, of expectations fulfilled (repetition of the chorus) and violated–the introduction of new instruments, alteration of previous chords.

Deutschland doesn’t stand out musically to me; the song is almost just background music to the video, with sections lifted from previous works–most notably the ending, when Germania, having given birth to… a litter of puppies? is finally sent to space, in Snow White’s glass coffin, while the instrumental music from Sonne (the Snow White song) plays quietly. It is peaceful in space. The lyrics of Sonne, if you know them, translate to “Here comes the sun;” I interpret the ending as hopeful. Germania is asleep, but a new day is dawning, perhaps a better day.

In contrast to Deutschland, Gary Numan’s Basement cover of “Are Friends Electric?” was an immediate emotional punch to the gut:

The video itself is not much–mostly the band performing in a damp basement–but the song is haunting and atmospheric. The basement is decayed, almost crypt-like. Water drips, forming stalactites and puddles. Piano notes in discordant tones.

It’s cold outside–and a puff of breath in the air, damp claminess.

Words are whispered, almost inaudible. The instruments take over. The song is transformed. Loneliness. Emptiness. Hearts burst. Feelings explode. The instruments are like sirens in the night.

In the end, we are alone. Are friends electric? Mine’s still broken.

I don’t have nearly as much to say about this video, but I love the song.

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Feel Something

My Name is Ruin, by Gary Numan

Me: In my zone, listening to music
Husband: Look at this dumb shit someone said on the internet
Me: What? Brains?

So far, everything I have listened to on this album is excellent.

By the way, Mongolia still isn’t sorry–The Hu, Yuve Yuve Yu

Mongolia is going to fuck your shit up and take your women, apparently.

Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Guys, I have discovered the point of music. It’s sex.

Alice in Chains: Them Bones

In retrospect, I guess it’s not a surprise that a lot grunge musicians died of drugs or suicide.

Smashing Pumpkins: Bullet with Butterfly Wings

As long as you can still scream, you can still feel.

I don’t know if we can scream anymore.

Placebo–literally, “I please”–Sucker Love:

Their lead singer is a good example of a male playing up his effeminate qualities in order to get laid.
Husband: You can’t just say that without explanation.
Me: Have you seen the lead singer? I guarantee he gets tons of sex.
Husband: Is he gay?
Me: Whatever he’s into, he gets plenty of it.

There’s a lesson here for effeminate men thinking “Hey, would it be easier for me if I became a girl?”

No. It wouldn’t. Be you. Own who you are and find the people who are attracted to you.

AFI: Miss Murder

Gary Numan aside, it seems like the music scene has changed in fundamental ways over the past few decades. I don’t think there is anyone in the business today whose suicide would affect teens like Kurt Cobain’s, just because there is no one that widely loved. It’s not that society is more divided (though perhaps it is); we just don’t listen to music like we used to.

Of course popular music is still around, and still of varying (usually low) quality.

To hazard a guess, if music is really about reproducing, then the change in music is related to the decline in birth rates. A typical modern human mating ritual involves going to a club, listening to a band or some very loud recorded music, getting drunk, and meeting someone you’d like to have sex with. These clubs also provide a place for new bands to get started. But if fewer people go out, clubs close, people meet fewer other people, people are lonelier, birth rates drop, and new bands have a harder time getting noticed, and the industry changes.

On a final note:

This is why certain traits persist in the population.