ПЕСНЯРЫ.com - Статья: Keeping the Comrades Warm (ВИА "Песняры")

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Keeping the Comrades Warm. - Time, 23.06.1980

Статья в журнале Time, упоминаются Песняры.

Keeping the Comrades Warm
Monday, Jun. 23, 1980

Rock rolls in on the air waves, and the Soviets hear it their way

Show me round your snow peaked mountains way down south

Take me to your daddy 's farm

Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out

Come and keep your comrade warm.

—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

The Beatles never made it to the Soviet Union. Nor has the "White album" ever been available there officially. This does not mean, however, that a Soviet citizen under the age of 30 has not heard Back in the U.S.S.R., with its wicked inversion of some old Chuck Berry sentiments and its slap-happy political satire. For that matter, young Muscovites could probably chime in on a chorus of Let It Be. Officially, there is little imported rock or pop music available. Unofficially, Moscow is like Alice's Restaurant. You can get anything you want.

The place to go record shopping is a small downtown park, just off Mayakovsky Square. The most desirable rock albums, often on tape, are available there, says a Muscovite fan who frequents the park, "if you approach the right people. If you can wait. If you can pay." The tariff is high. A Rolling Stones album may go for 80 rubles (about $120). Prices for mint-condition albums range from 50 to 70 rubles ($75 to $105), which makes record buying a gilt-edged hobby. Cassette tapes are cheaper (around 40 rubles), or even less if they have been copied from records, other tapes, or recorded off Voice of America broadcasts.

On a weekend evening, the park is crowded with record buyers, traders and tape pirates, who carry a list of merchandise and escort a customer to a private apartment where money and merchandise change hands. The result of this underhanded commerce is a surprisingly timely taste for Western trends. One habitué of the park recently boasted of owning "two Sex Pistols records and an Ian Dury." Another effect is more striking: tolerance—unofficial, of course—of the record deals, and an attempt to give Soviet pop some Western-style spin.

Because Soviet youth has shown such a taste for Western tunes, a few rock acts, chosen by the Ministry of Culture, have been allowed to tour some of the major cities. Elton John may seem like the Liberace of rock, but in the U.S.S.R. he could have passed for the Clash. Of the seven government-run radio stations in Moscow, two play rock from abroad; the music gets no more raucous than that of the Eagles. The stations also boost home-grown talent. To a Westerner, Soviet rock sounds like a not entirely successful hybrid of imported kitsch, slicked-up folk melodies and a touch of Russian soul. "Soviet pop music has absorbed contemporary rhythms, but it has remained something individual in its musical phrasing," insists Lev Leshchenko, whose baritone soared above massed strings and a choir on one of the country's biggest hits, Day of Victory, a pop-sized commemoration of the end of World War II. Much Soviet pop plunges into the past. Pesnyary (the Songsters) is a band regarded in official circles —if not among the kids—as the Soviet Beatles.

Maybe in popularity. Pesnyary is the U.S.S.R.'s best-known attraction on record and in concert. The group sings soupy, over-orchestrated versions of Belorussian folk tunes and looks like a polka band that got lost on the way to a beer bust. Still, Pesnyary is most prominent in a field that includes groups like Optimisty (the Optimists) and Vesyoliye Rebyata (the Happy Fellows). The titles suggest what the material is like: How Wonderful the World Is!, It Isn't Your Flowers That I Love and I'll Take You Away to the Tundra. Even newer, rock-oriented music does not stray far from this sentimental mold. One of the most progressive of Moscow's young rock bands, Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), lays down reheated versions of vintage Chicago riffs.

The lesson may be that rock travels well, but does not translate. Conversely, what does not translate easily to the West sounds the best, like the luminous, haunting folk-song collections of Zhanna Bichevskaya, whose mesmerizing soprano melds historical traditions and new directions. Alla Pugacheva has attained greater popular success, however, by going West. Pugacheva's act is a salmagundi of recycled Pink Floyd instrumentals, a sort of sunflower delicacy grafted from Joni Mitchell and chanteuse dramaturgy.

It is a measure of the power of rock that it should be so sought after and imitated in a country where pop traditions are so hidebound. But Soviet rock so far is a feeble effort at cultural cross-fertilization, like the Rockettes doing a saber dance. Back in 1958, the great New Orleans rocker Huey ("Piano") Smith wrote a clownish cold war ditty that included the lines, "Like I said before, you can be certain/ You have rockin' behind that old Iron Curtain." Huey might be cheered to know now that it is there for sure and maybe for good. Even though he might not recognize it. Then again, they might not know Huey either, not even in the park off Mayakovsky Square.