Friday, October 31, 2008

[viktor tsoi] ddt and samizdata

This is a really tall order - not just to explain something outside the experience of most but to make it interesting. Even if one person is interested, that would be a good thing.

Picture the early 1980s USSR and the attitude to the rock music phenomenon. My Russian friend told me tales of how the samizdat worked [a term which has now been used for a popular blog on the net] and it has been put well by Vladimir Bukovsky as:

"I myself create it, edit it, censor it, publish it, distribute it, and [may] get imprisoned for it."

It was a fraught enterprise and somewhere along the line, the first and maybe last true Russian rock star began to play and his tapes were distributed underground across the country. This was Виктор Цой [Viktor Tsoi]. Jim Morrison, Velvet Underground and Hendrix were seen as rebels and could be arrested for obscenity, drugs and sedition but the whole process was benign by comparison to Russia.

This is why singers like Tsoi, who stayed true to his musical roots, sang about everyday life and never sold out, was so appreciated by those now in their late 40s and is being rediscovered by the younger generation today. I didn't get much of a chance to get into his music over there but I do have a few tracks, of which this is one of the softer songs:

A group from the same era, ДДТ [DDT], was influenced by Tsoi as well as striking out in a highly individual manner, perhaps their greatest strength being the lead Юрий Шевчук [Yuri Shevchuk]. DDT went through a similar fate to Tsoi, with concerts censored and always the threat of an official clampdown.

Whereas Tsoi was killed in a car accident, DDT went on to greater things and became probably the most revered band in Russia, not so much for the music but for the highly evocative and thoughtful lyrics and the sheer humanity of their material. To give you an idea, Wiki says:

In the beginning of 1995, a new album, Это все [eto vsyo] (that's all). was recorded. In January, Shevchuk went on a mission of peace to Chechnya, where he performed in 50 concerts for the Russian troops and Chechen citizens alike. In the spring and summer of 2002, 10 out of 11 concerts that the band played were benefits for various social and cultural organizations.

You can imagine the effect this would have had on the ordinary Russian and I'd like to tell you about New Year in 2001 or 2002, I can't remember. My girlfriend of the time, her family and I went down to a beach house [it was only minus 10 so not too cold]. We built a fire and got vodkaring, then the teenagers in the house beside us came over and when they learned I was foreign, presented me with a DDT album. The music apparently had no generational barriers.

Perhaps the best way to show the reverence that certain groups and artists have in Russia, largely due to their difficult past, is to post the clip below. It's not the best version I've heard of this song, especially the campy bit towards the end but you have to understand that this was a tribute to and by an aging star last year, so hopefully it can be forgiven. The words:

Это все, что остaнется после меня
Это все, что возьму я с собой

... roughly translate as "that's all that's left after me; that's all that I take with me":

It's sad that a recent commenter, I'm sure atypical of our country as a whole, recently chose to leave a comment on my blog: "You're not with those Russian twats now; you're in Britain, mate."

Perhaps a course in understanding wouldn't go amiss for him. Perhaps he could go over there for a month or two and see at first hand that people are people, wherever they are.



"You're not with those Russian twats now; you're in Britain, mate."
That's a disgraceful comment and shows the ignorance in lack of travel and meeting of varied peoples by the commenter.

Gracchi said...

James I really enjoyed this post- I'd never thought of music circulating but of course it would. Thanks for enlightening me- and by the way I'm one British reader who wants tons on Russia!

As for that commenter- I'd also add that that's about the stupidest thing I'd ever heard- as if the culture of Tolstoy, Pushkin, Eisenstein et al. is either unimportant or uninteresting. Russia is one of the most interesting and most important countries in the world- the more we learn about it the better.

And you are totally right- everywhere I go in the world people are basically people and the same mix of interesting, fun, kind, stupid, unpleasant and cruel.

James Higham said...

I have to say it is heartwarming to read these two comments. when I look at that youtube, it's so easy to see that man's humanity. There are people just as humane here.

As Tiberius said - there is a microcosm of all sorts in each country.