Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Complete First Edition: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes, illustrated by Andrea Dezso

FINALLY! More than two hundred years after its initial publication, someone (Jack Zipes, bless you) has translated the document (and a summary of the scholarly notes) into English!

I am in GEEKSTASY over here.

I received this book as a gift from Krampus over the holidays for being... a good girl? A bad girl?

After all, the moralism of these early versions of the tales, while certainly present, is inconsistent and... let us say, of a less Victorian bent than Wilhelm's commercialized seventh edition tales with which the world is so familiar.

Many of these stories are wild, wooly, and weird, reading much like dream sequences or episodes of Adventure Time. While the plots are a hot mess compared to those of literary stories (lending them an authentic flavor of informal, oral tradition), the characters are vivacious, juicy, and earthy, showing a surprising range of personalities and emotions.

These stories feature loads of premarital sex, deals with the devil that turn out awesome, appearances of Mary/Jesus/God that are clearly re-cast roles written for sinister fairy creatures, trickster princesses, whip-smart children, cannibals, hermaphroditic giants with magic breastmilk, and evil unicorns that terrorize the forests until they are exterminated like pests.

There is less coldblooded violence in these first-edition tales, and yet there is more excitement--there's more weeping, laughing, lusting, and loving. Humor, from dry to silly, graces the action and dialogue. Along with increased bawdiness, there is also more kindness and compassion here; Snow White's huntsman (like all the servants ordered to kill children in the many tales in which this happens) never even considers carrying out the order, and wronged heroes don't always seek gruesome revenge against their enemies. Stories of couples rarely end with marriage and "happily ever after"; there are many interesting problems to work out in the relationship after the wedding--sometimes even after the children are grown.

Many of the tales in this collection have never been translated to English before at all, and so there are some I've just had the pleasure of reading for the first time. One of my favorites is "Simple Hans," based on old stories along the lines of Straparola's 16th century "Pietro Pazzo," but the version presented here is the most amusing I've read. It is no wonder that this tale about a magic fool who can think a woman pregnant didn't make it through Wilhelm Grimm's Victorian cutting room.

Other tales were changed in surprising ways that I had not anticipated. "Donkeyskin" is apparently a gender-reversed version of the older "Little Donkey" story, which seems to descend from Straparola's "Pig King" with its implication of bestiality.

Speaking of Italian variants, this document stands self-evidently (to me, if not to the Grimm brothers themselves) as a demonstration of how German folklore blends seamlessly out of and into the folk traditions of surrounding linguistic groups near and far as well as generating endless variation within itself through standard tropes mixed, fragmented, and recombined in myriad combinations. The idea of a "fragmented fairy tale" seems absurd to me after reading this collection; all folk tales are cobbled together from the fragments of other tales, which tumble and flow organically through time and social space.

This book is a snapshot of diverse middle-class and working-class German cultural beliefs and fantasies at a brief moment in time, filtered through the lens of one family with many fascinating social and academic connections. Read through as a whole, the stories reveal the chaos and motion of a living tradition of storytelling, so much warmer and livelier than their pinned-and-dried, stripped down, tidied up, censored and daintily dressed versions that became the Western world's fairy tale Bible.

The cut-paper illustrations by Andrea Dezso exquisitely capture the delicate, elaborate folk art of storytelling and help, as Jack Zipes writes in his foreword, to reveal some of the hidden meanings in the tales. This is a gorgeous and important book that I am so happy to keep on my shelf as an inspiring resource, a thing of beauty, and a pleasure to explore again and again on cozy nights at home.

My gratitude and appreciation to Jack Zipes for translating this marvelous collection into English and offering it to the world in such a lovely form!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Screw

 2015 is here! I thought about choosing the word SERENITY as a mantra for my new year, but I have a preschooler, so screw that--happily!

Last year, in lieu of resolutions, I chose the word SHAMELESS to focus my energies for the year 2014. I feel satisfied with how that word loosened up the worst of my psychic shame baggage with a little irreverent humor. The symptoms of my anxiety disorder have been drastically reduced, and I feel calmer and more resilient. I feel like a less anxious, more affectionate, more effectively loving mother.

So now I'm ready to move on to the next level of self-improvement (which is not a step toward a final, ultimate goal--I hope to never run out of the will to improve myself as long as I live!). I thought of the word SERENITY first because I thought of my shame as a mucky cloud that fogged my emotions and reasoning. Reducing those shame feelings gave me a sense of clarity, of peaceful emptiness. I felt the space to breathe, to move, to be free of self-censorship, to see with unclouded vision my values, purpose, and goals in every area of my life.

SERENITY sounds pretty awesome. I haven't given up on it. But at this time of life, with a boisterous little girl turning four this winter, I'm not so sure serenity is in the cards for me just yet.

But Mama, it's a HAPPY mess.

And I'm not ashamed to, as my daughter's Elsa doll--a very merry Christmas gift from Nonna--keeps blasting out in her battery-powered screech, "Let it go" for now.

Speaking of machine-made joys, a commercially-generated "art installation" advertising a product is what, I am not ashamed to say, inspired my choice for a 2015 mantra: HAPPY SCREW.

36445+1screw:) from Yuma Kano on Vimeo.

This piece delighted me because so many people took pleasure in the game of finding the smiley face screw and expressed joy upon finding it. There was no prize, no useful purpose in it. The finding of the happy screw did not evoke joy in spite of the difficulty but because of the challenge.

Winston Churchill supposedly said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Sometimes that "opportunity" is simply the chance to experience a whimsical moment of joy. 

A smiley face screw is not a very practical object. A regular screw would be much more helpful for building or fixing something. But frankly, I am weary of the "fix it or f***k it" attitude that sucks all the joy out of parenting, romantic relationships, and working for peace and justice--and just living life in general. 

Al Gore has lamented that when educating the public about the apocalyptic issue of global climate change, people tend to jump straight from denial to despair. For many people, there is no joy in the challenge of climate change--the task is too big, the consequences of failing too dire to process without hysterics. I have found this to be true over the years I have worked with environmental justice activists--There are some very strong people who love the work and celebrate important successes along the way, but the privileged folks that I usually work with--middle class or wealthy, educated white people--tend to have more perfectionist mindsets that crumble with a quickness beneath the heavy issue of environmental harm. These high-minded, wannabe leaders tend to disintegrate into despair and angry whining, choosing to share their own misery rather than accept their small part in working toward solutions. 

I never want my daughter to see me become that person.

And I think, ironically, that one key to finding joy in life is to accept that WE ARE ALL SCREWED. Not a single one of us, no matter how privileged or special or smart or talented, can swoop in with our Fix-It Felix hammer and undo climate change. Or create world peace. Or end global poverty. 

And even if we could--even if we all prayed the rosary and sang Kumbaya and fed all the starving children organic vegetables and stopped using fossil fuels and cleaned up all the oceans and recycled all the plastic and saved all the whales--even then, we know that one day a giant asteroid will cross our path, or a volcano will set off a deadly ice age, and eventually the sun itself will explode and vaporize the earth and everything on it, and EVERYTHING WILL DIE. 

Is environmental justice a waste of time then? NO! If we aren't doing it for some highfalutin' goal of pristine, eternal salvation (impossible) and instead focus on the real children and families and human beings and fuzzy creatures who benefit from our loving attentions right now and in the near future, then the value of our work is clear. Each life is worth it--but some people can't see it that way. Some people can't appreciate precious, individual trees within the forests they are trying to save. Hubris can blind us to the little things that aren't so little, the real things that truly matter.

Even if humans settle on other planets--successfully--and populate the orbits around many stars, younger stars, one day the whole universe will implode--or fly to pieces--or fall down a black hole--or the Ragnarok will come--and EVERYTHING WILL DIE.

Permanence is an illusion. Eternal salvation is an escape fantasy for those who cannot accept mortality.

Or maybe it isn't, and we will all be saved in the end by an ever-loving God no matter what.

Either way, there is no use in whining and moaning during our unknown span of time in this life.

Until we die, each one of us has an unknown number of chances to find the happy screw.

Years ago, I spent some time learning some amazing things about life while providing slave labor for a graduate school laboratory at UC Berkeley. The different outlooks on life expressed by students from various cultures around the world gave me some insight about the culture in which I have grown up. I believe that our American-dream perfectionism and idealism are as poisonous as processed sugar. A little is fun--a little can brighten your day--but using it as a staple will get us in the end.

One day, I met a dour, gloomy young woman from a former Soviet country who, though never cheerful, never seemed to get her knickers in a bunch either. We walked to lunch with a group of students, and someone started fussing and fretting that if we crossed a (totally pedestrian-friendly, not busy) street, we could all be run over and killed by a car. The dour European shrugged and said, "If you die it is no problem. Is only problem if you get hit by car and live."

Perversely, this nugget of clarity shook up my expectations and worries and made me think about life from a different perspective. What is the point of all the good things we experience if they only serve to torment us with worries about losing them? What would be so bad about the loss of worry, the loss of pain, the loss of struggle?

And, more importantly, what's good? Death? The absence of all suffering?

That, too, feels wrong and sad. Relief and thrill can be found in extremes--the finishing touch on a flawless project, a near-death experience. But lasting contentment is never found in the attainment of perfection (so devastatingly empty for anyone who has been unlucky enough to experience it) or in giving up on everything. Happiness is not a static condition like permanent enlightenment or death. Searching for that kind of happiness will never provide fulfillment.

Joy is found in micro-happinesses, over and over again, surprising us each day with a little something new. It is discovered by learning to see the world with eyes of wonder, the eyes of a child.

This new year, I want to re-train my brain to only focus on fixing the things that are worth lifting up--things that will bring joy or pleasure to a real, living being.

That doesn't always mean fixing all of someone's problems. As my father-in-law used to say, "You can do without many necessities if you have the right luxuries."

I want to let go of the idea of alleviating every pain and fixing every problem. Eliminating all the world's pain is a sad, hopeless goal, one I do not wish to pass along, subconsciously or otherwise, to my child. Instead, I want to teach my gentle fingertips to find the little opportunity for joy in each field of screws.

Instead of letting the enormity of a problem flatten us with despair, I want that enormity to lift up our smallest efforts as heroic and beautiful. I want to raise a daughter who, as Sister Simone Campbell (of Nuns on the Bus fame) says, is not afraid to "walk toward trouble." I want to be a family that rises to challenge instead of bowing down beneath it. I want to work smarter, not harder, to enjoy life while we have it, and to share that joy with anyone who is receptive to it.

Life itself is movement, struggle, transformation. We can choose to either wallow in what isn't or take pleasure in what is. We can lose ourselves in unattainable, snowy white pipe dreams, or we can imagine all the colors of what truly could be.

In the end we are all screwed... So let's make it a happy screw.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ich Liebe Rammstein: Till

EPIC UPDATE 2015: Happy birthday, Till! Rammstein's frontman has gone rogue with the impending release of his new music project LINDEMANN, announced to the world with this Facebook page--Follow along for details as they come! Also, a new documentary about Rammstein is in the works, and soon we may be able to find out which of my RAMMblings have hit their marks and which are full of crap. Happy 2015!

Till Lindemann

Till Lindemann is the only living human who could kick Chuck Norris's ass, but he doesn't, because they go on emo hunting trips together. The source of this fact, Urban Dictionary, also provides the following essential details: "Till Lindemann is the anthropomorphic personification of pure masculinity who invented the often-lethal dance move: The Till Hammer..." "He challenges the definition of masculine..." "Every German fertility clinic features a cardboard cutout of Till Lindemann choking a shark with one hand, whilst cradling a kitten in his other, looking directly at the stirrups in the insemination room. To this day they have a 100% success rate."

To the chagrin of most of the band, including Till himself, Rammstein is, for many fans, the Cult of Till. The band's lead singer is the physical (oh, so physical) embodiment of Rammstein's burning question, "What does it mean to be a man?" Till is a caricature and a parody of manhood. He calls into question the very definition of masculinity, and he exemplifies "spending his whole life trying to get back in" while accusations of Oedipal complexes bounce off of his powerful persona like the showers of sparks he sings beneath onstage. To say that women want him and men want to be him is as understated as bringing a lighter to a Rammstein concert.

Till's ceaseless font of testosterone is both his superpower and his greatest torment. He loves women (lots of women) almost as much as women love him, and his constant and catastrophic failures in romantic relationships make him completely miserable. His epic stage charisma masks exhausting introversion. He is a poet, a dreamer, a romantic, a jock, a hunter, and a minefield of rage and desire. He finds pleasure, inspiration, and release in physical pain. He harbors what video director Jonas Akerlund calls a true "place of darkness" within him. His deadliest sins are Lust and Wrath.

Like most of his bandmates, Till is a private person. Little is published about him in English, and he dislikes talking about his personal life or drawing unnecessary attention to himself. Lucky for you, dear fellow Rammstein enthusiasts, I've obsessively gathered scraps of information from sources in several languages, with the help of friends abroad, to piece together an almost coherent portrait of this maddeningly elusive deity of rock.

Legend has it that like several of his bandmates, Till grew up in conflict with a father figure. The truth of this is unclear and certainly complicated. Till was raised in the countryside near Schwerin by two loving parents who decided to live in separate locations during Till's childhood due to considerations that included work and Till's sister's schooling. Till's father was children's author Werner Lindemann, who encouraged Till to write poetry from an early age but struggled with alcoholism and with his relationship with his tempestuous son. These struggles with alcohol and father-son relations probably have been exaggerated in the media; Werner's autobiographical book of short stories describes some fiery clashes but also generous shows of affection among Till and both of his parents. Till lived with his mother, journalist Brigitte "Gitta" Lindemann, until his late teens, when he was expelled from boarding school. At that time, some say that Gitta had divorced Till's father and remarried a man who did not get along with Till, but some fans argue that this is untrue, and I have found no primary sources to confirm it. When Till went to live with his father in the country, the two sometimes argued about Till's lifestyle that included getting into some lady trouble with multiple girlfriends. Till left his father's house after less than a year, but he and his mother stayed by Werner's bedside as the author died of stomach cancer in the early '90s.

Till's youth appears to have been a patchwork of messy, strong, and varied emotions, perhaps even more so than most youths. I can only guess at how Till felt to have his awkward teenage years presented to the world lovingly--but publicly--in his father's book, and then to have those stories warped and distorted by tabloids and confused rumors. Suffice it to say that Till must have had, and probably still does have, complex emotions about his father.

From a very young age, Till's life was characterized by tension between ardent devotion to performance and ungovernable passions. From ages 11 to 14, he attended a sporting school and became an elite competitive swimmer. Though he never liked the sporting school, he tried hard to tame his wild impulses. When he was 14, on a swim trip to France, young Till snuck out at night to explore the city--and perhaps buy a porno magazine--which was irresistible to a curious and hot-blooded East German boy who grew up deprived of culture--and booby pictures.

He was caught and promptly shipped off to boarding school. He continued swimming and was soon shortlisted for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but he tore an abdominal muscle and took the opportunity to quit the sport. Till has continued swimming all his life for fitness and relaxation, free from the pressure of competition.

After school, when service in the East German military was required of all young men, Till told the military to eat scheise. Unlike the other members of Rammstein who also skipped out on their mandatory service, Till did not become itinerant or go underground to avoid enrollment. He simply stared at the authorities with the same facial expression that Chuck Norris uses to avoid paying taxes. (I'm guessing here, but I think it's a safe bet.) In any case, Till did not complete his military service, nor was he imprisoned.

He spent his twenties wandering through a life that Dr. Evil might describe as quite ordinary. He tried his hand at carpentry, peat cutting, working as a gallery technician, and basket weaving. Meanwhile, he made space in his house and heart for a punk band studio. He played drums and occasionally bass for a band with the homoerotic moniker First Arsch, which guest-starred guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers. The first record he ever bought (in East Germany, where records were hard to find on the black market) was by Alice Cooper.

Till had a daughter named Nele in his early twenties and married the girl's mother, a lovely woman named Mareike, but the marriage did not last long, and Till raised Nele himself for about seven years. Mareike later dated Richard Kruspe, which is likely how Richard was introduced to Till's band. About a decade after Nele's birth, Richard also had a daughter with Mareike, another girl given the last name of Lindemann because Mareike had kept her married name. Richard and Mareike parted ways soon afterward, and Till and Richard bonded as they supported each other in raising the half-sisters. Thus began the start of the six-man Rammstein family, which would prove more enduring than any of its members' marriages to women. To date, Rammstein has been creating together for almost 20 years.

In those early days, Till wrote poetry, which eventually led to the publication of his poetry book Messer in 2002. But he never sang, preferring the detachment of the drum kit in the background. Only when Richard decided to start a new band, something that would unite the themes of men and machinery, was Till convinced to step up to the microphone. Richard found it difficult to write music and lyrics and also front the band as lead guitarist and lead singer, and one day he overheard Till singing to himself in his beautiful bass tones as he worked on some task--perhaps weaving a basket--and recruited him as lead singer and lyricist. This was a cataclysmic move, as Till would become one of the most brilliant lyricists and iconic singers in rock history.

Together with Richard's roommates, bassist Oliver Riedel and drummer Christoph Schneider, a proto-Rammstein group recorded a demo tape and entered it into a government contest. They won, and the prize was access to a real studio. After hearing the demo tape, Paul Landers, who played in First Arsch with Till and Richard and also in the underground punk band Feeling B with Schneider, jumped on board and, with some difficulty, pressed his roommate and Feeling B keyboardist Flake Lorenz to join, completing the iconic sound of Rammstein.

The band's early success powered a fast and fiery evolution. Till was ambivalent about his role out front, and it must be said that spotlight-loving Richard has also struggled with the dynamic he designed. Till was all but paralyzed by stage fright and insecurity at their first shows, and so he quickly turned to pyrotechnics to give him something to show the audience onstage. With the same passion that compelled him to dive headfirst into all his other youthful interests, Till became a professional pyrotechnician. One of his first stunts has become an all-time classic; the flaming jacket he wears with his arms outstretched has been tweaked over the decades to burn bigger, brighter, and longer. Till has learned the hard way, from countless burns and a few accidents involving audience members, to refine his use of fire onstage. As the Rammstein repertoire and budget has expanded, Till has handed the torch to pyrotechnics experts, part of Rammstein's 100-plus team of Klokateers--er, crew members.

The "Till Hammer," Till's signature headbanging/knee pounding move, developed by accident. Till has a bum kneecap that often slips out of place. One time, this happened onstage, and he squatted down and pounded it back into place with his fist. Paul told him it looked really cool and that he should do it more often, and so he has added it to his collection of stage tricks that keep him from having to interact directly with the audience. The only "audience participation" type song Till has ever written is "Ich will," which deals ironically with his bewilderment about the excitement of his audiences. It goes like this (translated from the German):
Till: Can you hear me?
Audience: We hear you!
Till: Can you see me?
Audience: We see you!
Till: Can you feel me?
Audience: We feel you!
Till: I don't understand you.

Till has a love-hate relationship with fame. It has given free reign to all his desires--to amass wealth, travel the world, do drugs, meet beautiful women, drive fast cars, and put on "the biggest fireworks show in the world"--and this hasn't been entirely good for him. Till is an introverted man who is exhausted by being the center of attention. He has a short temper in the heat of the spotlight, and his bandmates and crew have learned to get out of his way in a hurry in the event of an equipment failure. When the flamethrowers don't light, Paul says that only thing that calms Till down enough to continue is to go behind the scenes and smash something. Till needs extensive downtime to rest after a tour; while he loves to travel, especially to the jungles of Latin America where he does super metal stuff like hunting anacondas, he finds touring to be hard work. He prefers to develop his vocal technique in the sanctuary of a recording studio.

He and his mates learned early on that doing a lot of cocaine and other drugs didn't mix well with their intense touring schedules and proximity to explosives onstage, and they have also learned together about the disappointment of losing their sense of luxury in the collection of material things and losing true intimacy in the crush of groupie lust. The song "Keine Lust" and its video describe the malaise that follows overindulgence.

In spite of a rockstar lifestyle spanning two decades, Till's testosterone-driven desires remain inexhaustible. Till has impregnated at least 40% of Germany's population of gorgeous blondes under 25. (This estimate is based on a rigorous scientific inquiry of my own.) The Fatherland is liberally sprinkled with Till's progeny, mostly adorable little girls, with whom he enjoys relaxing in the countryside.

I once read an account of a female fan who met Till in the '90s, which fills me with envy. He autographed her boobies with pure ennui and suggested they watch a Nine Inch Nails videotape. She said she expected him to smell bad after a few hours sweating amidst the stage lights and fiery explosions, but on the contrary, Till's sweaty body smelled "so gut" that, in her words, "I wanted to roll around on him like a dog who finds a pile of maggots in the yard."

In contrast to his hard-partying ways, Till is a hopeless romantic. Either that or he is adorably delusional. He says things over and over like, "I have finally found a woman I can spend the rest of my life with," even though he's clearly incapable of going more than a few weeks or months without banging a hotter, younger blonde and unleashing the wrath of Hera from his ex.

In the late '90s, during the height of Till's poetry writing, he settled down with a young blonde named Anja Köseling and had a daughter named Marie Louise (who is now a teenager known to leak her dad's videos online--oops!). The same year Till attended Richard's ill-fated wedding in 1999, he split with Anja and allegedly sought shelter from her fury in the arms of a younger, blonder actress and model named Jenny Elvers. It is not clear whether a relationship with Jenny actually took place or whether Jenny simply used the press to exaggerate her own infatuation--something that would become a pattern in Till's supposed love life. Till showed a little variation in his tastes when he next dated a Spanish designer named Esperanza. He stayed with her for quite some time; some fans and reporters believed that they were married. It is said that she helped him write lyrics for a song, which I assume to be "Te quiero, puta." In 2004, Till told a radio interviewer that he planned to retire when he turned 50 to spend more time with Esperanza and his children. Happily for the fans, this was not to be. Soon after his break with Esperanza, which coincided with the writing of the deeply personal ballad "Ohne Dich" ("Without You,") Till stumbled upon a barely-legal, heavily tattooed pinup model named Lexy Hell, continuing the cycle of passion and heartbreak--which Till thanks, Nathan Explosion-style, for fueling his pain-filled lyrics.

Currently Till is dating an even younger, more gorgeous model and TV actress, Sophia Tomalla, daughter of a famous German actress (who, I believe, is also younger than Till and has accompanied Till to several events, sparking many juicy soap opera-style speculations). Since hooking up with Till, Sophia has shaved half of her head, styled her hair in pinup fashions reminiscent of Lexy, and had at least two tattoos in his honor--one of his name on the back of her neck, and another, of his face, strangely positioned on her arm beside an image of her mother's face. In the strange early stages of the relationship, when Sophia was gushing to the press--while admitting she didn't even know where Till was on any given day and wasn't in touch with him on tour--as Till's people asserted they didn't know anything about any such relationship--Lexy criticized it as a fraud, and some fans drew comparisons to Till's possibly-fabricated tryst with Jenny Elvers. However, the pair is now a long-established couple. Although Till has complained that his girlfriend, the youngest and blondest and richest and most famous of a long line of rich, blonde, famous young lovers, is just one instead of the pack of groupies he had enjoyed in his youth, and that she will "soon leave him" as he ages, the relationship appears to be remarkably stable--and fuels many fans' Beauty and the Beast fantasies.

After all, it is no mystery why either one of them is attracted to the other. Sophia is a modern pin-up, and Till's Übermenschliness is like a crazy-potion that makes himself and everyone around him lose control. You don't even need to smell his pheromones to be affected. Just watch the two videos below and try not to become obsessed. The first is the official video for the song "Ich tu dir weh," offering the full thrust of Till's performance art. (Yes, there is a dildo on his microphone, and yes, he is singing about shoving barbed wire into a male sexual partner's urethra, and yes, there is an LED light wired through his face. And still I want to have his next 400 babies.) The second is his Anakonda im Netz interview, showing his humorous and sensitive sides.

What Till lacks in his romantic life he makes up for in dedication to his art. He uses the pain of his personal failures and traumas to inspire his work, and he finds comfort in mixing artistic expression with physical pain. He often suffers bodily harm in the service of Rammstein, and burns from the pyrotechnics are just the beginning. In the video for "Rosenrot," Till clasps a long-stemmed rose handed to him by his lover. With vicious delight, the girl squeezes his hands into the rose thorns, making them run with blood. This scene was done without special effects; the blood and expression of hurt are real. The whole band enacted a self-flagellation scene in the same video and found it an interesting experience, though they weren't as excited about bloodying themselves as Till. Onstage, Till endures burns and run-ins with various stage effects. Once Flake ran into him with a Segway, re-injuring his bad knee. For the "Ich tu dir weh" video and the Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da tour, Till bored and maintained a festering hole in his left cheek so he could sing with a light in his mouth. The other guys discouraged Till from doing it, suggesting they wire the light around the front of his mouth, but Till had his way. He had fun with it for as long as he could, squirting liquor out of the hole in his face as a party trick. During the brutal Made in Germany tour, Till acquired a set of deep, jagged slashes across his chest and shoulders that were rumored to have occurred as he helped tear down a set in Vancouver--but which Till has credited to his onstage antics with keyboardist Flake.

Till pushes his bandmates to take risks with him and often teases Flake, the smallest member of the band and Till's partner for sado-masochistic stunts at live shows. Till calls Flake "an amateur masochist" in the "Making of Engel" video, pokes fun at him for having a hard time dragging Till up a mountainside in the "Making of Ohne dich" video, and mocks Flake's very serious injuries from the crowd-surfing boat stunt in his Anakonda interview (above).

Till and Flake famously served some jail time in the United States in the '90s for their performance of "Buch dich" that involved simulated anal sex and a fake penis that sprayed fluid all over the audience. Till and Flake didn't have much of a sense of humor about it at the time; they were appalled that with all the violence and smut on American television, some prudish authorities had the gall to arrest artists performing a scene of consensual sex. Till complained that American pop stars are allowed to gyrate against their backup dancers in explicitly sexual ways, but he couldn't rub up on his keyboardist without being imprisoned overnight with drunks and crackheads.

Till has always been brave and adventurous about using homoerotic and homosexual themes in his songs and performances. It fits stylistically with his exaggerated man's-man image and the band's exploration of masculinity. What could be more testosterone-pumped than "Mann gegen Mann?" Till has said that he admires the lifestyle of a gay man who can walk into a bar and pick up a partner for a purely sexual encounter, no strings attached. He exhibits a lot of conflict about his overpowering desires for women and his guilt about hurting or using them.

Till is a complex man full of contradictions. For all his problems with women, he loves his mother and cherishes his daughters. The director of the video for "Mein Teil," Zoran Bihać, played on this internal conflict for Till's role. In the video, Bihać used secrecy and improvisation with each of the band members. They were not allowed to know anything about what the others would be doing or the details of what they themselves would do beforehand. The shoot was like a sort of kink therapy, fetishizing each man's inner demons. Till had to engage in sex acts (which Bihać claims were real) with a prostitute and then kill her and drag her body off-screen. He looked relieved but a little sick after filming it and said, "I did something I didn't want to do. I hope  my mother doesn't find out about it." In the chorus of the song that Till sings in that scene, he roars (translated), "You are what you eat!" in reference to the German man who had recently made the news for attempting to eat his own genitals before he bled to death. "This is what you are," Bihać seemed to be telling Till. "Now eat it."

Till's discomfort with his own boundary-pushing art became outright regret when his young daughter, "dearest one to my heart," as he called her, once asked if he was in a Nazi band. He admits the band went "too far" by using imagery associated with Nazi propaganda. And he has explained in interviews that when he sings from the perspectives of men who hurt women or children, he is exploring the monsters that populate his own worst nightmares.

But as protective as he is about his own family, Till is an incorrigible consumer of women (and girls). He has an untameable shadow side teeming with sex and violence. His sensitive and thoughtful mind is encased in the body of a seething caveman--a body that cries out to the cavewoman in us ladies to find a stable, supportive mate, and then ditch him for a spin on Till's tour bus. The cover art for the band's latest album, Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da, combined with the cover art for the first single off that album, makes me think again of the saying "You are what you eat." The album art shows the band wielding meat cleavers over stylized female nudes, and the single art depicts the band with their arms, shoulders, and heads superimposed on naked women's bodies. Till's, of course, is pregnant.

Till Lindemann is a cultural icon and a true artist who inflates masculinity to such an extreme that he explodes tired conceptions of maleness. He transforms his fears and internal struggles into pure metal in the forge of his creative potency, and he has forever changed the world of rock and shattered cliched assumptions about what it means to be a man.

Ich liebe dich, Till!

This information is entirely based upon "facts" from Wikipedia, trashy tabloids, dorky fan forums, Urban Dictionary, social media, and official interviews and videos released by the band in several languages and nations. These are not American or British celebrities; the paparazzi do not camp in their shrubberies, perch atop their tour bus, bug their underpants, or otherwise have a regular, intrusive presence in these men's lives. These personal impressions of mine are gathered from many sources and true to the best of my knowledge.

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