In This Chapter:
- Rock in the USSR Becomes a Force of Social Protest
- The Kremlin Cleans Up
- Lyrics Reflect Social Discontent
In 1980 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and this action effectively broke the fragile diplomatic congeniality that existed between the West and the USSR. Soviet conservatives began to rally against rock, which was having a sort of coming of age. Groups were not imitating the Western groups as much as creating their own music based more on traditional Russian culture and language. And they were asking questions that really troubled the youth, social awareness was one result of the vast musical culture. A rock festival in Tblisi, Georgia in 1980, brought the heroes of the underground to center stage, where, among others, Grebenshchikov and Aquarium outraged the judges who walked out and called them 'degenerates, not musicians.' In 1981, the Leningrad Rock Club was opened, yet another concession to the burgeoning scene, and it was closesly watched by the KGB. (Andrei Suchilin,of 'Do Major', recalled being photographed by staked-out KGB agents after an 'unofficial' concert of his group.)
In the early 80's Baltic punk rock was surfacing as another import from the West. Latvian discos became scene of unrestrained violence. Much of the vehement protest of the Baltic punks was against the inordinate amount of soldiers taken from those republics to fight in the war with Afghanistan. The independence movement there had some inauspicious beginnings, but their case was historically justified in their eyes.
Changes in the Leadership of the USSR ushered in the cleanup of the now firmly rooted rock culture. Constantine Chernenko, a conservative, took the Party leadership after the deaths of Brezhnev and his ideological spokesman M. Suslov in 1982, and Yuri Andropov who briefly led the Party until 1983. 'Towards the end of 1983 the easy going era of rock's commercial exploitation suddenly came to an end-it turned out that leaving rock musicians to look after themselves was not in the plan.' The composers' union was given more vocal precedence over the musical operations of the USSR. 'The main accusation [issued forth from the elite of the composers' union]-rock musicians are illiterate charlatans; people without special education cannot (or don't even have the right to) compose songs.' Among the voices of opposition were a group of elite writers called the pochvenniki, Russophile inclined cultural figures, who sanctified everything of RussiaÕs glorious imperial past-again rock culture was gaining a reputation as a cancerous growth on society. The press could no longer use the word 'rock.' (which, coincidentally is a homonym for the Russian word 'rok' meaning 'bad fate!')
The cultural apparatus was astounded to find the underground record industry right under their noses, and attempted to ban the copying of tapes, though this was a futile proposal considering the extent of the far reaching magnizdat. Imagine the task of confiscating literally millions upon millions of cassettes, and banning the use of tape machines; a truly ludicrous idea, though it was considered by the plenum of the Communist Party. On July 25, 1984 an order came from the Central Committee; 'For Organizing the Activities of Vocal Instrumental Ensembles and Improving the Ideological-Artistic Level of Their Repertoires in Pursuance of the Requirements of the June Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU.' The Komsomol took action to move against the underground record trade, and was authorized to use the criminal code to persecute offenders. All western bands were removed from disco playlists (90% of the discos' material).
Chernenko himself spoke out in favor of this move: 'Rock music, along with other elements of Western culture were part of an arsenal of subversive weapons aimed at undermining the commitment of young Russians to Communist ideaology' Bearing in mind the work of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, this may not be completely untrue. Censorship was reestablished for the VIAs and the Ministry of culture declared that 80% of an artist's repertoire had to have originated in the composers' union. This seemed like a war on rock; many groups had to cease their activities, but largely the decrees were ignored, especially in the Baltic republics.
Some of the lyrics from the period reflected the refusal to capitulate. The group 'Bravo' sang:
'I believe night will pass
I believe a day will come, all in sunlight.
I will join in the joyous day, a prodigal son,
And say, "Here I am, hello world."'
'Kino' were dubbed "spineless pacifists" by some authorities for their "Nuclear Free Zone":
'Strong as my flat walls may be,
One person' shoulders can't hold them all up.
I see a house, I pick up some chalk,
There's no lock, but I hold the key.
I declare my house a nuclear free zone!"
Rock went underground in Moscow, groups were still recording their low quality albums; this, from a bilious band called 'DK':
'You understand life is crap!
Laugh and be merry.
Everywhere you turn-wine.
Don't tourture yourself-get pissed.'
'Everyday times are changing
The cupolas have lost their gold, and
The bellringers have nothing to do
The bells have been cast down and broken.
So, what now?
We walk around afraid of our own shadow
In our own world
As if we're from the underworld.
If we're left without a big bell
That means it's the time of the little bells.'