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Прекрасный Дилетант

Wonderful Dilettante

Lean 1999


Review

by Dzhon

Nicely covered and bound with scads of high-quality photos scattered throughout (don't miss the BG baby snaps!), eye-pleasing fonts, and lovely headers/footers on every page. A classy production all the way.

Indolence being not entirely incompatible with Spiritual Enlightenment, however, it must be allowed that no Bodhisattva has yet essayed this tome cover-to-cover. Dzhon, however, has translated the prologue for the benefit of any Intrepid Wanderer considering making the leap.


Prologue:

Hooligans from St. Petersburg and a "Miscellaneous Whore.."

Just how one ought to besmirch a respectable gathering!

But how well it began. The capital of Soviet Georgia. March.

"The ghost of a thaw flew over the land, a light breeze of freedom turned our heads. In the air was the smell of spring, the approaching Olympiad, and all kinds of special indulgence connected with it." (Makerevich)

Near the service entrance to the great concert hall "all day long Volgas and Zhigulis went to and fro, loading and unloading people, provoking the interest of a large crowd of passers-by. Artists! By evening the vibration had reached a fever pitch. From every side of the building thronged excited young and not-so-young people."

The contemporary stage music (Estrada) festival "Spring Rhythms: Tbilisi-80" was conceived as the long-awaited legalization of Soviet rock. "Beat-groups" had appeared in our country even in the first half of the 60s, officially unacknowledged, an "alien" and "Western" phenomenon, and in order not to pronounce the indecent words "rock" and "beat," the special term "VIA" was used. And if they tolerated native Beatles it was only because they didn't take them seriously. "Ok then, let the kids have one night dancing to their barbarity—excuse me—music. They'll grow up and grow wiser."

Rock musicians grew up and a few even grew wiser. They got a musical education, procured expensive instruments...and played quite intricate music on them, innovatively incorporating symphonic and folkloric motifs. Lyrics were charged not by whatever lay about, but by "multifarious metaphors." (Stas Namin)—and, as a rule, were as far as possible removed from the concrete realities outside the window. It's clear that the ex-hippies hadn't already reached semi-legal status, playing hide-and-seek with members of the police force. On the other hand, up on high, intelligent people were pondering: Why, really, has this popular epidemic appeared among our youth outside of the official structure? The Western establishment already put down their rebels: now the longhaired idols seek fulfillment by buying limousines and villas like the most primitive bourgeois. How is Soviet power worse?

Initiates, high and low, found one another in Tbilisi on the 8th of March. The jury under the leadership of the "Honored Statesman of the Arts" Yuri Saulskiy was required to listen to 26 ensembles from 17 cities: Moscow's Mashina Vremeni, Avtograf, Udachnoe Priobretenie; the Estonian group Gunnara Grapsa; Zemlyan from St. Petersburg; the Latvian groups Sipoli and Tip-Top; the Georgian groups Blitz, Labyrinth and VIA-75; Integral from Kazan'...all in order to most fittingly inaugurate the great career of "proper" Soviet rock-music. "The spirit of the festival promised to be joyful and democratic..." remembers Andrei Makarevich, "one thing, true, turned out wrong—as always, with the gear. They promised Dinacord but didn't deliver it."

However from Leningrad (besides the aforementioned Zemlyan) came other rock-musicians as well. A totally unknown group, led by a thin young guy with a beard, dark glasses and a black leather jacket and beret ala Che Guevara. Along with his comrades he went on stage on the 11th of March, right after the Turkmeni jazz-folk ensemble Gyunesh—from whom the Leningraders, at the start of their set, borrowed a drum kit and even a guitar. The Moscow journalist Artem Troitskiy, a member of the festival's organizing committee—who, as a matter of fact, also kicked the bearded guy in the beret out of the prestigious festival—had broken his handmade guitar (being in a "shaky state" as he candidly confessed in the magazine "Zerkalo").

The guitarist was sober as glass (of an aquarium).

"We went off and at once felt from the reaction of the hall that it was in some kind of shock. And Zhenka shouted to Fan: 'Let's do Pig-in-the-Ears Blues' And I said, 'Perhaps that's not really necessary?'"

"I remember that it was scary for me..."

The first shock provoked the behavior of the musicians. Actually it was quite ordinary by the standards of a Western rock show—playing a guitar (albeit someone else's) with a mike-stand, dramatic dives onto the floor, sawing at the vocalist with a cello bow [Oh yeah, that happens all the time at Western rock shows! -Trans.]—but against the background of philharmonic VIA, complying with the slightly modified Victorian principle "Singer not move" [sic. This phrase is thus written in English in the text. -Trans.], it seemed like a political provocation.

In the fierce, biting music, in the industrial cello of Seva Gakkel and the phantasmorgic solo on the bassoon of Alexsander Alexsandrov, in the drumming of Evgeni Guberman—who played "better than Keith Moon"—pulsed a genuine rock-n-roll drive, that very lifestyle: free, unpredictable and perfectly incompatible with the official stage.

I didn't burst in upon this concert
In order to be bored.
Let him play, who ought to play,
And be bored, who ought to be bored.
But everything that I heard here,
Carried me into a dream.
Give me my slice of life,
Before I'm outta here.

Deserting the hall after an unsuccessful attempt to break up Grebenschikov's performance, the jury took heed of his recommendation. "The business here isn't about loudness, isn't about decibels. Those are, so to say, external factors. Much worse is the pretentious gesturing toward great philosophic themes, attempting with such megalomania, so to say, to solve world problems, some of the groups entered into the competition imitated the ultramodern Western trends...From a professional point of view, these ensembles were highly uninteresting, at times even irredeemable...far from music, from any kind of aesthetic mission...but life will correct everything, and I'm certain that this musical sectarianism will not receive from us the basis for further development." (Yuri Saulskiy)

"Irredeemable sectarianism" with the participation of eminent jazz musicians of Leningrad (Alexandrov and Guberman) and joined by Martinsh Brauns, the organist and theatrical composer from Riga, repeated itself—for the benefit of a Finnish television crew—a second day at the circus of the city Gori. Before the medieval ballad about King Arthur the leader of the group answered a few questions. Actually, it was his first real interview.

"What do you see as the importance of your music?"

"It doesn't follow standards; it departs from every pattern. We play just what we want. They call us Punk Rock, New Wave, but we're simply returning to the beginnings of rock. As Martin correctly said we're returning its original sense to Rock...it's uninhibited music."

The performance of Akvarium at the Tbilisi festival signified the start of a new epoch in Russian Rock.

"On our departure they planned a celebration for us. Everybody came and sang in chorus: "Eat me, eat..." [??-trans.] Sitkovetskij and Maker were there. And thus they lifted us up and carried us around about, and we became simply heroes." (V. Gakkel)

"The jury sat in consultation for a long time. The musicians agonized outside the door like school-children at an examination...reports came that a high functionary of culture was phoning from Moscow and demanding certain places for certain artists, but the jury, affected by native rock-n-roll and intoxicated by the spectral wind of freedom, decided their own way. We shared first place with the Magnetic Band" (A. Makerevich) Mashina Vremeni started work on Rokotsentr, and an artistic collaboration with the composer Yuri Saulskiy. [Is further proof need that Makerevich really is the anti-Boris? -Trans.]

But Grenbenschikov, upon his return to Russia, was booted from his job at NII and out of the Komsomol'. Of the accusations against him by the festival sponsors the most comical is that with its performance Akvarium propagandized sexual perversion. The corresponding gossip actively and, evidently, purposefully, was disseminated throughout the country. At the very same time they were saying about the academician Sakharov that his real surname was Zukerman, and he sold our secrets to the Israeli secret service.

It's funny that in Saulskiy's article for the program, which we already cited above, a wee typo crept in, just where the composer was enumerating the qualities of correct Estrada: "Besides VIA" it's also "estrada-symphonic orchestras," and "estrada for children" and a "miscellaneous whore..." (raznoobraznaya blya)

Evidently a line with the word "ensembles" (which had been separated by a hyphen) had fallen off of the setting. Thus, an unknown typesetter avenged the engineer Grebenschikov, by being unable to supplement a miscellany.

{End of Prologue}