Rock portraits. Part 1. Russian rock-music and world rock-music

Among the cold rocks music sounded,
And the city was asleep.
Where did it call, who it was looking for?
A. Romanov

Why it matters

It was important for our generation. The first thing we asked a new acquaintance: “What are you listening to?” It was a way to distinguish friends from outsiders. Today there is no point in such a question: young people are listening to tons of music provided by streaming services and they are not able to choose their favorite musicians, not only because they often do not know their names, but also because the choice involves a hierarchy of values, a rejection of something. And this is contrary to the ideology of consumerism.

But we sang those rock-songs with a guitar, ordered them on the radio. Then there was no mp3, so the music had to be selected more carefully.

Rock-musicians formed the ideology of the youth of the 90s. They were listened to and rehearsed, memorized and sang in companies, it influenced most of us much stronger than books. This series of materials focuses on the values of my generation.

Opinions about the «Russian rock»

A lot was written about rock-music in Russia, but most of the scriptures were overloaded with ideologies of quite a certain sense. For example, “100 Soviet rock albums” by Alexander Kushnir, “Aria. The legend of the dinosaur» by Dylan Troy or the memories of Alexei Rybin about the band «Kino» (Russian: “Кино”) are literally filled with sighs about how the authors lacked «Snickers» and pornography in the Soviet «evil empire».

Kushnir on every page of his writing emphasizes the technical poverty and material disorder of Soviet rock-musicians, as if the meaning of creativity is to overeat every day, get drunk and never work. Constantly condemning the USSR for the fact that novice rockers did not have the latest foreign equipment, he somehow forgets to explain, where did the creativity of domestic rock disappear after the enthronement of the long-awaited market democracy? The newest foreign means of recording and instruments appeared on the free market, some “ideologically correct” rockers even became full of fat, bought yachts and houses, but no flourishing of rock culture happened. On the contrary – it came to a total decline.

Dylan Troy starts his book about russian heavy-metal band “Aria” not with the words about the group, but with a proclamation about how awful it was to live behind the Iron Curtain. Apparently, he could not resist to blurt it out. He did not fail to praise the current regime for the fact that now on every corner they sell “Metallica” T-shirts. Moreover, he declared that the “iron curtain” was created by “communist propaganda”, not the governments of capitalist countries, who wanted to protect their subjects from this propaganda, and also tried to isolate and strangle the Soviet economy, as historians believe.

For example, the famous Western philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno wrote shortly after World War II: “In its present phase, our social system tends objectively and automatically to produce “curtains” which make it impossible for the naive person really to see what it is all about. These objective conditions are enhanced by powerful economic and social forces which, purposely or automatically, keep the people ignorant. The very fact that our social system is on the defense, as it were, that capitalism, instead of expanding the old way and opening up innumerable opportunities to the people, has to maintain itself somewhat precariously and to block critical insights which were regarded as “progressive” one hundred years ago but are viewed as potentially dangerous today” (Theodor W. Adorno. The Authoritarian Personality).

But, of course, Dylan Troy read many more books on history and political science, so he does not decree all sorts of world-famous philosophers there!

He is also terribly annoyed that the TV reports of Soviet journalists from the USA and Great Britain mostly dealt with social problems (unemployment and high prices) instead of broadcasting Michael Jackson or Tina Turner concerts. Oh, yes, he should be employed by the Ministry of Culture with such proposals: why should people think about any problems – let us brainwash them with another “Eurovision” broadcast instead! However, the Ministry’s experts understand it without Troy, and they have been acting like that for a long time. Metternich said, that while the people are dancing, they are not to be afraid of.

Writers like Kushnir, Troy and Rybin do not even imagine how much they humiliate those whom they write about, that is, the rockers themselves, who, it must be said, did not shy away from social problems, but, on the contrary, tried to comprehend and to declare them, to encourage the generation to fight for the better future. In this regard, I do not mean any jesters, show business puppets, because I cannot call them true rockers.

Roots of rock music

Everyone knows and do not get tired of reminding that Soviet rock music is secondary to western rock. But let’s not forget that likewise British borrowed the rock and roll from the Americans, and the latter, in turn, created it on the basis of African folk music. Over the centuries, world culture has been developing through contacts and imitation, new trends and styles do not arise from scratch.

This is especially true for the «mass culture» of the XX-XXI centuries. Mass culture has to parasitize on a some other culture in order to exist . In the original blues, blacks complained about their hopeless life, while rock and roll became an entertainment for well-fed whites. Of course, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis made music for dance floors in which prosperous American youth enjoyed themselves. You can without any ambiguity say that the first wave of rock and roll was “pop”, something even more primitive and thoughtless than the generation of pop stars he replaced (Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong).

The United States did not suffer in the war – on the contrary, they increased their influence and welfare, wresting the status of the center of the capitalist world from destroyed Europe. The American public did not want to know or remember the horrors of war; former Nazi leaders found shelter in the United States.

European youth was different, and the leisure of most young people was not so chic. Moreover, the cultural influence of United States could not yet be so overwhelming and complete, as now, because of the less developed methods of communication. The music spread on the records, but they still had to be delivered across the ocean, and the sales channels had yet to be established…

It is not surprising that the UK was the first and most fully to embrace rock and roll. Although this country had experienced German bombing, it was still aloof from the main hostilities of the war, it did not undergo a direct invasion or occupation like other European states. Previously, the crown of the first capitalist power belonged to it, so Britain was closer to the United States not only geographically, but also ideologically.

Therefore, the British youth was more inclined to the perception of the Americanized mass culture. However, the development of rock and roll required not only the distribution of American records, but also the presence of a number of conditions: appropriate instruments and equipment, recording studios, stages for performances. While all this was taking shape, in Britain there was a style skiffl – a kind of fusion of English folk motifs with the American Dixieland. This style was rather democratic, the performers played on household items: for example, using a washboard as a rhythm instrument. This style also did not require special music skills and techniques of the game.

By the way, the famous Beatles also began with skiffl music.

Dmitry Kosyakov.

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