When I heard that Rammstein was coming to Chicago this year on a limited US tour, I bought a ticket to go see them. I have been a Rammstein fan since I was 14 years old and angsty as hell in the way that only Gen X'ers and early millenials coming of age in the nineties could be. Rammstein turned me on to David Lynch thanks to a friend loaning me the Lost Highway soundtrack, which I mentioned in a previous post. Rammstein was also the initial driver for me to learn German. I loved them so much that I bought a German dictionary and started attempting to translate their songs without any knowledge of German grammar or syntax. My subsequent love affair with the German language took me on a series of far-flung, wacky adventures. To that end, I owe Rammstein a tremendous debt.
I saw Rammstein tour with System of a Down and Slipknot back in 2001, when I was a senior in high school. I went with a couple of guy friends down to St. Louis to the Kiel Center - I don't know what it's called now, but it was the Kiel Center then, and that's how I still think of it - and we sat up in the nosebleed and literally lost hearing from the sonic onslaught. Back in those days, you could still mosh to your heart's desire and smoke inside, and although we weren't allowed down to the mosh pit, we definitely smoked a lot.
That has been over 15 years ago, and Rammstein and I have both grown up a little. They're at the point now of having grown old. Till Lindemann is 54, and he wears heavy flame-retardant suits, metal wings with flamethrowers attached, and climbs all over the set as part of the show. I have to be honest: I have a lot of respect for someone that will go that hard when it is probably getting a lot harder for him to do. He is still doing it to great effect though because the show that I saw last night was hands-down the best I've attended, in terms of entertainment value and fun. For a group of dour Germans, a national group not particularly known for its emphasis on joy and delight ("Es gibt kein Happy End!"), Rammstein is fun, and their audience last night was happy.
As I drove home down the dark but decided un-lost highway last night, I began to contemplate metal and its place among the freedom movement. My observations are based on 100% scientific evidence that many libertarian-leaning people also happen to be metal heads. Okay, it's based completely off of the Anarcho-Capitalist Community group on Facebook, but I'm here to tell you that that group is chock-full of metal heads. Ask them what music they listen to - because people have - and while the answers that you get will be varied to some degree, there is an overwhelming amount of answers that include metal bands of all sorts. I listen to mostly indie music, but two of my favorite indie bands, Queenadreena (my actual favorite band) and Jucifer, are known for either being actually metal or have a lot of metal elements. As an annoying hipster acquaintance of mine once surmised, upon learning my top five bands, "You like it hard, don't you?" Apparently I'm not the only market anarchist that does.
What is it about metal that is so appealing to the sons and daughters of liberty? Rammstein, for example, is not a band that a person would instantly associate with libertarianism. In point of fact, all the members are, I believe, from former East Germany, and they have decidedly socialist leanings, if you understand their lyrics which, thanks to them, I can. Rammstein sings about a lot of things, but liberty is not one of them. In point of fact, they sing two songs, "Amerika" and "Moskau," which criticize the US and praise Russia, and that is coming from the classical position of a supposedly capitalist nation versus a communist one. Rammstein also criticizes Germany quite a bit. There is an alternating irreverence about them, serious and playful, and perhaps that explains some of it. Could this perhaps be a key to explaining the libertarian love of metal? Is it the hopeful despair that appeals? I think that is part of it.
People think of metal and they think of a bunch of leather-clad guys abusing their guitars and screaming about Satan, which isn't necessarily an inaccurate picture, but I think where a lot of people get it wrong is what it actually stands for. Yes, I'm sure there are some metal heads that are actually Satan worshippers, but I don't think that's accurate of the average metal head. I think the average metal head is looking for an experience based on their observations and a feeling of oppression in their daily life. Metal music provides that outlet.
In mulling it over, I actually came to the conclusion that metal may, for some, be the equivalent of a libertarian safe space. Metal kids are weird. There were people wearing costumes last night. Girls - fat girls, yet - in booty shorts, corsets, too-short plaid schoolgirl skirts, lace, fishnets, and heavy boots. Guys with gauged-out ears and various other piercings, distasteful black tattoos (no color to be seen), and bad facial hair. There was a sixty-something lady with purple hair. There were clean-cut guys in polo shirts completely devoid of any of those trappings that were head-banging with the goth kids next to them. People were dancing, singing, head-banging, throwing their arms, and just plain having a good time. It was fun and uplifting to see, actually.
Normally, I'm on the judgmental side about fat chicks that wear short skirts and people that wear flagrantly stupid-looking clothes on purpose because it feels like a cry for attention. In the context of the metal concert though, it feels different. It feels liberating, and I think the music allows for that. The intensity of the music serves as a means to a release. It allows people to come as they are, to have these insane thoughts and emotions, acknowledges them, and releases them. Perhaps that is why there are so many religious themes in metal music. It allows people to deal with their own rejection of the conventional and gives them a place where they can come to worship and have that sublimating effect that others seek in the church pews on Sunday morning.
In its recognition that not everything is all right and that the system frankly sucks, metal gives people that space to find their own meaning. Metal is for the people that have looked around, observed the insanity, and decided to go their own direction. Metal stands up in front of the crowd and says that it is okay to be different because it can't be any worse than the other stuff on offer. It takes those emotions of rejection and discontent and gives them a place to go, and it gives people a place to go where there are others that have had the same experience. Metal says that it's okay to be different, and not just a little bit different, but wildly different. It is okay to think for yourself. It is okay to go a little bit crazy.
I think this is what the mainstream finds so generally distasteful about metal. Metal does not give a fuck. Metal is going to be what it is. It is going to come as it is, and it is going to say unpalatable things. It is going to be offensive. It is going to be loud, and it is going to have fun while singing about scary, un-fun things. It is going to sweep its fans away and take them somewhere else for a couple of hours, and in the case of Rammstein, it is going to take them to hell. There is going to be fire, and it is going to be hot. You are going to see strange things and hear about some strange stuff, and you are going to be able to shake hands with the shadow and walk away feeling elated at the end of that two hours. Rammstein will literally bleed on stage to make sure that you have that experience.
Isn't that what a lot of us anarcho-capitalists are looking for? A lot of us aren't necessarily looking for a tribe, but we are looking for an arena where we can go to let loose. The world outside does not allow for that. Everywhere we go, we find that we are in chains. But at the metal concert? Ah, at the metal concert, you can scream, shout, bounce around, and let the power chords transport you somewhere else, and maybe it doesn't appear to be technically better, but it is a place where you are allowed to be crazy and to revel in it. To those that don't think this is necessary, I hold that this truly is tantamount to a religious experience, and I think religious ceremony and release exists for a reason, even if you don't believe in God. I think people need that acknowledgement, that they are okay and that there is a place they can come to where it will be, even if outside it is not. And that, I think, is what appeals to the libertarian nature.
Rammstein does not sing about happiness. They sing about unrequited love, hatred, loneliness, political discontent, rejection (personal and religious), and even incest. "Wiener Blut" scared me the first time I heard it. In spite of that essential ugliness of much of their lyrics, the fans last night were happy. I didn't see one angry face there. There were no fights, no drunken vomiting, and no discourteous remarks. Everyone was there to have fun, and there was an air of acceptance and even a certain glee at the weirdness.
I want to contrast this to another concert I went to last year for OAR. I love OAR, and I take shit off of my friends for it all the time. When I was going through my godawful divorce, I needed upbeat, and they provided. As a sort of thanks for that, I decided to go to a concert in St. Louis last year. I was glad that I got to see them and give them ticket money because as I have said before, I believe that expressing gratitude is important, but Goddamn, I can't stand OAR fans. I also just noticed my own inconsistency in the capitalization of G/god, and I think that is oddly fitting for my awkward relationship with the subject.
There is quite a bit of drinking that goes on at all concerts. I'm totally fine with that. I personally do not drink at shows because I came to hear the artist, not get wasted. I respect the fact that some people prefer a buzz. Not my circus, not my monkeys. But man. The level of drunk at OAR was unreal. It was like a frat party with people ranging up to sixty, and while it was escapist for certain, it was directionless and seemingly pointless. The only reason people were standing was to go to the bar. It made me wonder what about saying that it should be fun made it so, well, kind of un-fun, at least for me. By the way, I still love OAR, and I have a ton of respect for them. They tour hard, and their schedule has been punishing for a lot of years. It takes a lot of willpower and sacrifice to maintain that. I still like their music a lot, but man, their fans are not fun in a room together.
I was shocked by how fun the Rammstein fans were. They were weird. They were friendly. They were polite. They were well-behaved. They definitely did some drinking, and many of them disobeyed the "Thank You For Not Smoking" signs, but nobody seemed to care. I didn't hear anyone make any rude comments, and everyone was thrilled with the show. There was an air of joviality throughout the evening, and it made the show that much more enjoyable. It was, in fact, the best crowd I've ever waded into. If all concerts had fans like Rammstein's, going to shows would be more enjoyable, on average.
I hadn't seen Rammstein in a long time before last night, but seeing them reminded me of a lot of things in my own life that I had sort of forgotten over the course of the last several years. I am making my way back to them, and the impact is much deeper than it was before. They have been one more piece of the puzzle, it would seem, and I was pleased to find that that piece that I had misplaced or that had wandered off is an enjoyable piece, and it feels good to have it back in place. Contained within is some of that natural contrariness, distrust for authority, and general disdain for surface and no substance. I think those are essential to the true anarchist's nature and certainly to my own individual nature.
I went to the show to have an experience, and I had one. True freedom, it would seem, resides in our imaginations with so many other hopes, dreams, fears, and desires, and Rammstein dutifully provided the space to commune with those things. They gave their sermon and the choir sang, and we all rejoiced in the chorus of "Halleluja." And it was good.