Guest Post: Dr. Rose Bexar on On Listening Critically, Part 2: Animals Are For Eating, and Other Timeless Truths

by Anna Blanch on August 17, 2009

Today I bring you the second part of the thought-provoking two-part guest post Dr. Rose Bexar, newly minted PhD, medievalist, and scholar of fandom! This is an insightful examination of what it means to listen critically. You can find out more about Dr. Rose on her Contributor profile. You can take a look at some of the other recent contributors and their profiles here.

Check out

Part 1: Taking Stock of a New Fandom


On Listening Critically, Part 2: Animals Are For Eating, and Other Timeless Truths

Rose Bexar

Mighty fine and a great big Western howdy—oops, wrong band.

Last time I introduced you to a predicament I occasionally find myself in, namely examining new-to-me music to see precisely what I like about it and whether it is worth my time as a Christian to continue to listen to it. When we listen to music we enjoy, it’s all too easy to tune in to the sound and check out without really thinking through the sense, but doing so can cause us both to miss out on potential blessings and to let ideas into our thought life that have no place there. In this case I’m looking at only one band, Die Prinzen, but future installments will explore more general applications of the principle involved.

Now, even though I will be careful in the discussion that follows to distinguish between the persona speaking in each lyric and the actual opinions of the singer or songwriter, especially when the surface of the text contradicts its clear intent, most if not all of Die Prinzen’s songs have been written by members of the band, especially lead singers Sebastian Krumbiegel and Tobias Künzel. And they’ve released eleven albums between 1991 and 2008, not counting greatest hits compilations and live albums, which adds up to a good-sized corpus. So being the systematizing medievalist that I am, I’ve sorted through the more-than-random sample I’ve heard so far and boiled a number of them—not all, but quite a few—down to several interrelated messages that I think illustrate the overflow of Die Prinzen’s hearts out of which they speak.

  • Happiness is a choice.

(Cue Roger Miller.) So viel Spass für wenig Geld” (“So Much Fun for Little Cash”) is probably the clearest statement of this notion, but it shows up in lots of other songs. It’s okay, they argue by example, to illustrate absurdity by being absurd (“Be Cool, Speak Deutsch”) or sing songs that don’t really make sense to anyone else (“Hier sind wir” [“Here We Are”]). While songs like “Millionär” show that they don’t disdain wealth, others like “Chronisch Pleite” (“Chronically Broke”) describe, to one degree or another, the importance of being content even in poor circumstances. The flip side of this coin, observing someone caught in a self-destructive lifestyle, prompts songs like “Aua” (“Ouch”), which reminds me of “Kicks”—the speaker expresses literal pain over his friend’s predicament.

  • Love ought to be forever.

Sometimes a relationship just doesn’t work, whether because the speaker and his girl are incompatible (“Abgehau’n” [“Get Away”]—think “Hello, Goodbye”) or for no clear reason at all (“Wenn du weinst” [“When You Cry”]). But womanizers get slammed either directly or through heavy sarcasm, as in “Schleimbeutel” (“Slimebag”), “(Du musst ein) Schwein sein” (“You Have to Be a Swine”—the video is not for the squeamish[1]), and “Alles nur geklaut” (“All Just Stolen”). Klaus in “Gabi und Klaus” comes off as a real git for rejecting Gabi and then blaming her for refusing to give him a second chance. Then there is the unnamed female protagonist of “Keine Tränen mehr” (“No More Tears”), who has been betrayed so often that she can no longer cry. The implication of these songs is that any man who would deliberately hurt a woman is, well, a swine.

The vast majority of the band’s love songs could be characterized by phrases like “Truly, madly, deeply” and “Yours sincerely wasting away”: whether the woman is true or false, whether she deserves him or not, the man is committed to his love.[2] Sebastian and Tobias do have some fun with this trope in songs like “Vierzig Jahre” (“Forty Years”)—the young man loves a 40-year-old married woman even though she’s too old for him, but he knows that when he’s 40 and still in love with her, she’ll be on her second marriage and will think he’s too old for hersounds familiar! But the same idea comes out again and again in the serious love songs as well, especially ones like “1x” and “Ich schenk’ dir die Welt” (“I Give You the World”) that declare the speaker’s single-minded devotion to one woman. If a speaker does tell a woman to get out of his life, she either broke his heart first or has become overbearing (“Geh bitte raus aus meiner Träumen” [“Please Get out of My Dreams”], “Hau endlich ab” [“Just Go Away”], “Ich brauch’ dich gar nicht mehr” [“I Don’t Need You Anymore”], and more). Quite a few of the prettiest songs are also the saddest, such as “Abgehau’n” (especially the acoustic and orchestral versions) and “Nie wieder Liebeslieder” (“No More Love Songs”), but they aren’t all tragic. I would love to hear my future husband sing me something like “Schlaflied” (“Lullaby”): “Mach die Augen zu, schlaf ein, / Du musst nicht traurig sein, / Denn du weisst doch, ich bin immer für dich da” (Close your eyes, go to sleep, / You must not be sad, / You know I’m always here for you).

It’s worth noting, though probably not worth alarm, that marriage doesn’t feature much in these songs. Considering that at least Tobias is in fact married (I think I’ve seen wedding rings on Sebastian and Wolfgang as well), I suspect it has more to do with sensitivity to a largely non-Christian audience than with any personal bias. When marriage does come up in the context of love, it’s usually a positive, as in “Ich will ein Baby” (“I Want a Baby”): “Ich hab’ nichts gegen Ehe, nur was gegen den Vertrag” (I have nothing against marriage, only against the contract [read: a loveless marriage of convenience]).

  • Traditional values and virtues really can lead to a good life.

The traditional Judeo-Christian family—one man, one woman, presumably for life, often with kids—occasions several of the happier love songs like “Ich will ein Baby” and “Der Weihnachtsmann ist Schuld daran” (“It’s Santa’s Fault”). Nature is worth protecting (“Betriebsdirektor” [“Factory Director”]), and pets are good, but one recalcitrant rabbit warrants the reminder that “Tiere sind zum Essen da” (“Animals Are for Eating”). Ungesund” (“Unhealthy”) is almost “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” from the reverse perspective the day after: the party animal too hung over to admit he has a problem. The stance against modern indecisiveness in “Unsicherheit macht sich breit” (“Uncertainty Is Everywhere”) comes just shy of G. K. Chesterton’s discussion of the suicide of thought. And “Ich kann nicht rappen” (“I Can’t Rap”) argues fairly effectively that rap isn’t really music—“Ich weiss was besseres: ich kann singen” (I know something better: I can sing)!

A feminist might remark at this point that “Frauen sind die neuen Männer” is a misogynist complaint against women abandoning traditional roles. But when I look at the qualities the lyrics list as traits of “the new men” in light of the rest of the band’s repertoire—casual sex, unfaithfulness, the dog-eat-dog mentality—I have to conclude that they’ve hit on radical feminism’s inherent misandry manifested in supposedly masculine behaviors that aren’t attractive in anyone. And “Schwein sein”—“definitely not the motto of Die Prinzen,” says their official discography—effectively shoots down any conjecture that the band would excuse bad behavior in a man but not in a woman.

  • Evil’s attractiveness is deceptive, and even if nice guys do finish last, it’s better to be nice than to be a swine, a plagiarist, or a Nazi.

I don’t know that anyone misses the intent of “Alles nur geklaut,” especially given the long version linked above, but “Schwein sein” and “Deutschland” (language warning) are probably the band’s most frequently misunderstood songs. Their deep sarcasm, while clear enough for those who listen carefully, becomes most obvious when one considers such songs as “Unspektakulär.” Though the band wouldn’t have known John Nolte’s definition of a celebrity as “one who doesn’t let dignity get in the way of fame,” the same concept is at work in “Unspektakulär”; the average-Joe speaker concludes that in spite of—indeed, because of—his being “unspectacular” as compared to certain celebrities, his life is pretty happy.[3] “Ungesund,” “Chronisch Pleite,” and other similar songs make more or less the same case: casual sex, drugs, booze, and so forth actually make life worse, not better.

These observations don’t necessarily add up to The Gospel According to Die Prinzen, and of course there are songs that don’t fit the generalizations. But this exercise has reaffirmed for me both the utility of critical listening skills and the sense that I don’t have to strike the band’s CDs off my wish list. The last point above seems especially important to me, given C. S. Lewis’ argument in Mere Christianity that only the good can understand evil for what it really is. I’m reasonably sure I’ll sing with these fine entertainers “when the roll is called up yonder”; I’m quite sure I’ll sing along with them on YouTube and before then. (And if by chance the band happens to read these posts: Vielen, vielen herzlichen Dank—nun wann kommen Sie nach Amerika?!)

Ah, but stay tuned, sports fans… next time we’ll look at tunes you won’t need a foreign-language dictionary to understand.

[1] But ironically, the imagery in the video is in some ways very similar to my depiction of the origins of Angmar, realm of the Witch-king, in “Abjured” (Silmarillion/Lord of the Rings, PG-13 for thematic darkness).

[2] The German Wikipedia article calls such songs “sentimental,” but their renditions of such standards as “Die Thräne” (“The Tears”) and “Schneeflöckchen, Weißröckchen” (“Little Snowflake, Little White Skirt”) show what these guys do with real sentimental fluff—not quite Spike Jones-style musical depreciation, but it’s close.

[3] I first heard the song shortly after Michael Jackson’s death and just about cheered as I was listening to it.

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