Richard Z. Kruspe
Legend has it that Richard has a lovechild with lead singer Till Lindeman. The myth is based in complicated facts and figures, including one unconventional love triangle. Circa 1990, Richard and Till were in a band together (along with future Rammstein rhythm guitarist Paul Landers) with the cheeky name First Arsch. Till, the drummer, was a single father of a little girl at the time, the issue of a short-lived, youthful shotgun wedding--to Richard's current girlfriend. When "Mrs. Lindemann," who had never changed her name after divorcing Till, had a child with Richard, the girl also carried the last name of Lindemann. Richard's relationship with the girls' mother also ended after a short time, and Till and Richard bonded over the parenting of the half-sisters. Till has said in old interviews that the girls' mother became more involved with the children when Till and Richard began touring with Rammstein. As a teen, Khira Li Lindemann, Richard's biological daughter with Till's family name, has performed with the band and recorded backing vocals on at least one track.
In my lascivious imagination, Rammstein is a big, hot, polyamorous man-marriage with Richard and Till as the nucleus. The pair of them are probably the most recognizable and crushed-on members of the band, and they make a nuclear duo. Richard and Till share many fundamental characteristics, but in other ways they are total opposites. Richard is a city boy who loves Berlin and New York while Till prefers the East German countryside. Both have been married once and divorced, with angry accusations of rampant cheating. Both of them have experienced childhood traumas and the loss of their fathers in different ways, but Till is close to his mother, while Richard feels rejected by his own. After filming a video portraying sexual violence, Till muttered with a nauseous look, "I hope my mother doesn't see this." After the release of another raunchy video, Richard joked, "My mother thought it was good, which was disappointing."
Richard is the one who founded Rammstein and recruited Till as the lead singer and lyricist, but both of them have been ambivalent about sharing the spotlight. Till was extremely uncomfortable with being at the front of the band from the start, while Richard craves attention. Till has famously said, "I don't like to be stared at" and describes how he uses flashy stagecraft to distract from his person, while Richard revels in personal connection with the audience. Richard has said, "eye contact helps me to put on a good show."
If you have ever been in the pit at a Rammstein show and felt like Richard was looking right at you, you may be right--especially if you are an attractive young woman. Richard plugs into the energy of the audience by choosing one beautiful face to focus on, like an electrical contact to draw the power of the fans into his performance.
Both Till and Richard seem to oscillate between mania and depression, drawing upon inner darkness and pain to fuel their creativity. They have both admitted to enjoying physical pain--Till has been known to exercise to exhaustion or injury and to beat and mutilate himself in the service of his performances, and Richard smiles when he describes the blistering burns he sometimes receives from Rammstein's pyrotechnics. Till is quiet about his own demons in public, but Richard, who spent years living in New York City, finds release in Freudian talk therapy--both in clinical settings and in televised interviews.
For many years, Richard has spoken publicly about his ongoing depression and low self esteem, which has spawned many addictions, including an addiction to onstage performance. He describes playing his music in front of an adoring audience as a cocaine-like high that leaves a chasm of despair and self-loathing in its wake. He is constantly seeking a way to "come down" from live shows in a healthy way, without much success. He describes the good feelings of adoration by the fans as "self-deception," but he still uses performance to get that rush, for lack of finding a real solution to his problems. "I've found a way to live," he shrugs in his Anakonda im Netz interview. He admits, "...the fans want their star. You have to understand that they don't really want you... You are no god." The feeling of being loved and wanted by the fans leaves as soon as the lights go down; it does not sustain or fulfill him but acts more like a drug in that he needs "more and more" to achieve the same feeling of newness and redemption, the assurance that he is worthy of living. Richard often ends these heart-rending confessions with a charmingly boyish smile and the hope that he can either keep the heat on forever--or find a cure before the comet of Rammstein burns out.
In a tear-jerking interview given a few years ago, Richard discusses at length his cycles of addiction and depression and, in true NYC psychotherapy fashion, traces all of his woes back to childhood rejection by his mother. He talks about being a middle child who was never favored by his mother. When he was a young boy, his parents divorced, and his father disappeared from his life. Oddly enough, Richard blames not his father for abandonment but his mother for not telling him "where he went." Regardless of the details of what happened, it seems that Richard was failed by every parental figure in his life. When his mother remarried, her next husband physically abused Richard, and the boy spent long, lonely days locked alone in his room, friendless and unloved.
Richard found solace in violent, aggressive music, which gave expression to the feelings inside him and came to feel "like a friend." When he was 12 years old, his step-father tore a KISS poster off his bedroom wall and tore it up; Richard spent all night putting it back together. The next year, Richard started running away. The Soviet world outside proved no more welcoming than his mother's home; he spent nights sleeping on hard benches in the November rain, and once as a young man, he emerged from a subway station to find himself in the middle of a political protest and was beaten and jailed for six days. After that incident, he fled Germany and eventually bought a guitar in Prague, which he learned to play quickly when he realized how much girls liked it.
Richard's late teens and early twenties were lonely years during which he wrote and recorded music by himself, with his own guitar and drum kit. Richard's travels did not take him far; he skirted the Berlin Wall and crossed into West Germany, where he stayed until the Wall fell the next year. Then he circled back home to Schwerin, where he settled with classically trained musicians Ollie Riedel and Christoph Schneider to live la vie bohème, playing jazz guitar in his early East German punk bands--and raising children with bandmate Till!
In his second life in Schwerin, Richard finally made connections that provided him with friendship and creative expression. But Richard's emotional dysfunction did not leave him, and his pain has been both elemental and also dangerous to Rammstein's radioactive core. Richard started the band to ignite a flare that would bring him more creative freedom and satisfaction than than his previous two bands, First Arsch and Orgasm Death Gimmick. He had a vague idea about creating something that would unite rock music and machinery. It might have been easy for him to enlist the help of his easygoing and musically adventurous roommates Ollie and Christoph, but he was mired in frustration when he attempted to take on the songwriting, guitar playing, lyrics, and singing by himself.
During that time, Till's interests apart from music included basket weaving and poetry. He was a quiet man with the look of a big, lumbering jock, but Richard must have known him as intensely creative and thoughtful. Richard heard Till singing to himself as he worked one day, and somehow he and his roommates convinced Till to step up from the drum set and come to the mic.
The four buddies recorded a demo tape and entered an East German contest for new bands. They won, and first prize was time in a real studio. Paul Landers, a guitarist in First Arsch, heard the tape and asked to be involved. Paul dragged along his own roommate, the recalcitrant Christian "Flake" Lorenz, who was just the sort of funky-punky keyboardist Richard was seeking for his "machine" sound. The rest, as they say, is history.
After the rocket-powered rise of Rammstein, Richard met another rockstar-loving lady, South African model/actress/musician Caron Berstein, who had dated David Lee Roth and Axl Rose. The starry-eyed lovers married in 1999, in a Jewish ceremony for which Richard wrote the music. Richard hyphenated his last name to Kruspe-Bernstein.
The early years of Richard's marriage coincide with the writing and recording of Mutter, an emotionally charged and rather Freudian-themed album that nearly tore the band apart. Creative and personal differences came to a head with the filming of the video for the song "Mutter"; as a result of conflicts and miscommunications, it is the only Rammstein video that features none of the band members except Till. The band members decided to take a break to cool off and think about whether they wanted to continue together.
In Rammstein's Made in Germany retrospective "Making Of" commentary for this video, I find it telling that many of the band members, interviewed separately, speak in generalities of this time with acute sadness and discomfort--including Till, who has often gone to great lengths to do what needs to be done for the band but doesn't like being singled out in the media. He referenced "others" who take issue with the lead singer being given unfair exposure. (Richard, is that you?) Flake says nothing about it, which might be suspicious as well, but because he is not part of any of the retrospective commentaries on Made in Germany, it could be that he simply wasn't available at the time of filming. Based solely on gut feelings and reading between the lines, I get the impression that Richard and Flake are the most volatile members of the band and the most difficult to work with on a personal level--but completely essential to the band as well.
During this time, Richard Kruspe-Bernstein moved to New York City to make a home with his wife and started his own band that featured himself as the lead singer. Caron helped with the debut album for the new band, Emigrate, but the roles of lead singer and husband failed to bring Richard healing.
The way Richard describes his live performances with Rammstein, I can imagine that playing to so many rabid fans must be like making love to tens of thousands of people all at once, people who are screaming and pulsing in unison to a rhythm of your own creation, surging into each musical climax of your own design. The way Richard describes the high he gets from the experience, like an addictive drug, makes it impossible for me to imagine him as a man who could possibly attain the emotional satisfaction of love from one partner, no matter how significant or important a person, or to feel creative satisfaction from anything less than the diesel-and-man-powered machine of Rammstein. It is no surprise that Richard's marriage collapsed along with his new act. Somewhere along the way, Caron got fed up with finding other women's panties in her bed and called it off. Richard retained his hyphenated name for two years after his separation from Caron and finally dropped it when the divorce was finalized. Caron painted a picture of Richard with a bullet hole in his head and showed it in an exhibition of her works.
Richard remained more faithful to Rammstein than to his marriage. His flirtation with Emigrate ended after the album release and the filming of two videos; he never performed live with his New York band. The members of Rammstein decided to continue their journey together, and Richard returned to Berlin for the writing and recording of Reise, Reise.
Rammstein is like a life support system for Richard. It doesn't solve his personal problems, and it doesn't satisfy all his conscious needs, but in many ways it keeps his demons at bay. The rockstar lifestyle facilitated Richard's drug addictions, but the focus and stamina needed to write and record songs and play them on a stage bursting with pyrotechnics required him to give up one or the other. After years of thinking he needed drugs to write good songs, he came to the realization, perhaps at the same time Till did, that Rammstein demanded strict discipline.
Rammstein is a perfectly tuned, bionic man-machine with six minds of its own. It is powerful and strong but impossible to steer. Richard has likened the band to a boat with six captains. It is difficult for six strong personalities to collaborate on songs and albums, but ultimately Rammstein creates its best works through pain and frustration.
Over the years, the band has developed tight rituals that keep them grounded and synched, such as listening to mariachi music and taking one tequila shot together before each show. They have warmup rituals, cool down rituals, and other traditions that bond them like a mechanical family. Richard succeeded at creating what he set out to build: a musical union of man and machine. Rammstein is so finely tuned that their live performances are dazzling in their sound perfection and baffling to those who cannot fathom the precise choreographies of six men and several tons of explosives hitting every beat together. Rammstein is more than its six members; the band's management team, light and fire men, stage crew, favorite directors, and others are all part of the well-oiled, extended family.
The machine of Rammstein offers no cures and no tidily packaged answers, and yet its content is authentic and meaningful. The themes of the band's lyrics and videos are intellectual, self-scrutinizing, and boundary-pushing without dropping lessons, morals, or slick political statements.
My interpretation of Rammstein's overall "message" is that it is not a statement but a search. Rammstein asks the question, "What does it mean to be a man?" Its method is to explore the shadows, to shoot sparks into the blackest corners of that mystery, to whistle and make light of the dark.
After so many years, Richard has grown and matured as a person. He seems more confident and comfortable with himself as the years pass, and he finds joy in fatherhood (the latest addition to his family is a baby son born around the same time as my daughter) and retains a vital sense of humor that bolsters his resilience against stress, trauma, and criticism. The continuing quality and sharpness of Rammstein's productions gives me hope that both Richard and Rammstein can evolve and survive together.
Rammstein as a whole band has also matured and progressed over the years, growing more self-aware and focused with each new album. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be human, to be capable of evil, to be alive, to wield power, to be mortal, to be a son, a lover, a father, a brother? What does it mean to be a countryman? What does it mean to be male, to be masculine?
Rammstein continues to mine the shadow sides of these questions, digging deep enough to find humor and celebration and beauty in the most unwelcoming gutters of the psyche. Part of me hopes they will never find enough. Part of me hopes that Rammstein will keep chugging like an old war tank, powering through the band members' golden years, shedding light in every hidden place like a self-immolating star--with fun remixes spinning off in all directions! Even so, I feel a kinship to Richard from afar and wish him eventual peace, whatever that means for Rammstein.
Ich liebe dich, Rich!
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.