I seem to have misplaced this CD, which is a damned shame, but it made such an impression on me that I finally realized that it's no longer necessary to listen to it. Besides, I wouldn't really want to. Okkerville River is an obscurant's obscurity—something that even the completist's dream-store, the so-called Zig-Zag Record Shop in Moscow, was reluctant to let me buy. “You want…that one?” the clerk asked, as I pointed to the CD spine, which simply credits “Dzhordzh.”
George (a.k.a., Anatoly Gunitsky), as we all know, was BG's childhood friend back in those gray days of Brezhnev's Leningrad. George wrote and Boris found the music for all the weird songs that eventually became the core repertoire of the early Akvarium. This CD amply shows that George was nothing if not prolific in his lyrification. Besides those classics like “To Friends” (К друзьям) and “Count Garcia” (Граф Гарсиа), he also wrote “My Ant” (Мой муравей) and “Sonnet” (Сонет), plus a host of other poems that were never set to music. You'll get to hear them all on Okkerville River, straight from the poet's mouth. Then, somewhere else on the CD, you'll hear the musical version as well, performed by Akvarium and taken from albums ranging from the outer reaches of Hyperborea to the primoridal depths of Akvarium history.
The effect of the poetry part, at least for the foreign, small-souled listener, is rather like a Berlitz language tape from an alternate universe. Gunitsky has a strong voice, and he recites his work in flat and measured tones. One can easily imagine stopping the CD and repeating after him to learn how to speak Russian like a total freak. Instead of, “Excuse me, when will my laundry be ready?” it's, “I never kissed you once, my disgusting, legless friend.”
There are benefits to hearing many essential songs of Akvarium stripped of their musical arrangements. Without any seducing cello or kazoo riffs, one can contemplate just how friggin' weird the lyrics actually are, and how radical it was for a band to record them in an era when banal Soviet Estrada was reaching its synthetic peak. It's also useful to marvel at how much of Boris's famed obscurity actually sprang from the mind of his buddy. And it provides a clearer connection between St. Petersburg's poetic traditions and the advent of Akvarium.
As to be predicted, George himself is coy about plugging his work into any genre. In the liner notes (typeset in a maddening and pointless spiral which I have de-tangled for you), he writes:
It's pleasant to believe that the text of these songs, the author of which appears to be me, are written in an Absurdist manner. On the one hand, it's sort of like that, but…if before (in the 70s-80s-90s) I myself thought Absurdism was an aesthetic manner reflecting an independent reality, then today it seems to me that the absurd and real are completely identical to one another. Isn't it so?
I don't know what the hell that means, but I don't know what any of George's songs really mean, either.
And so another particle of the mass phenomenon Akvarium comes forward to put itself in center stage. As it should be. What's next, the compiled great cello parts of Seva Gakkel'? A full CD of guitar solos by Lyapin? Bring it on! One of us will find it, review it, and lose it down the river.
Note that on the disc each track, except the last, starts with Gunitskii reading a poem, which is then followed by a musical version of a different Gunitskii poem, drawn from one or another of the various Akvarium albums. For purposes of cross-reference, however, Bodhisattvas of Bablyon has reversed the order so that the song appears first in the track listing and its accompanying poem follows it in italics. The final track, the 25th, has only Gunitskii reading Gibralter/Labrador without an accompanying musical track, and therefore isn't noted below.
See the actual Okkerville River here.