Tusovka – Chapter Four

The Gorbachev Era

In this Chapter:

The hopes of the 'Bravo' song noted here were manifest after the ascendence of Mikhail Grobachev to power in 1985. His programs of Glasnost and Perestroika were rightly perceived as a lift of restraints on the cultural lives of artists. Cultural links with the West were reestablished. Three months after the introduction of Glasnost, which in Russian means 'openness' or 'visibility,' the Soviet 'amateur' group Autograph (unofficial groups were now renamed 'amateur') appeared on a satelite video link in the gargantuan American and British Live Aid benefit for Africa in 1985, and thus viewed by an estimated 1.5 billion spectators worldwide. Glasnost was a apt term. But it did not mean simply a lifting of all controls on rock music. Gorbachev had an agenda. According to Troisky, concerts could not be staged as they used to, but were encouraged to support the program of Perestroika in four ways:

  1. The official Party line was trying to approach the youth through their tastes and culture of preference-rock played a big part.
  2. Glasnost encouraged songs about the problems of drug and alcohol, and corruption.
  3. 'Rock could help the cultural institutions to survive under the new profit conscious economic policy.' The commercial potential of rock was obvious.
  4. The monumental anti-alcohol campaign led to concerts and discos being touted as safe alternatives.

Popular music, especially rock, was gradually but steadily befriended by the Communist party, and even though extreme forms of rock, like punk and heavy metal were not viewed as healthy. In fact, the underground was still viewed with suspicion, probably due to their open distaste for the Communist regime. Alexei Kozlov, of the VIA group 'Arsenal' argued later that heavy metal and aggressive forms of rock were a better outlet for aggression than crime and violence. The Moscow Komsomol in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture in 1985 opened the Rock Laboratory, which "provided rehearsal space for Moscow's upstart rock bands...[in a year's time] 4o bands had registered to use the space." Shortly therafter, Melodija published the first Beatles album released in the Soviet Union. The record company was also compelled by financial pressures to sign underground bands, even reletively outspoken ones, thus allowing rock musicians which had been untouchble before Perestroika into the musical establishment once reserved only for classical union musicians and VIAs. It seemed like the State had reversed previous cultural policy with finality.

With a Concert in 1989 The CPSU gave in decisively to the youth demands for Rock from the West with the Moscow Music Peace Festival

The Chernobyl crisis of 1986 was a tragedy that was felt (and measured) beyond all boundaries, national, ideological and cultural. Troitsky and Alla Pugacheva, an extremely successful official recording artist, decided that the popularity of rock music could serve humanitarian aims in the crisis.

"Well, the cause was in the air-in both senses of the word. The Chernobyl tragedy was the talk of the town. Our helplessness and uselessness in this dramatic setting was really upsetting. So...what about a big rock concert to help the victims of Chernobyl."

The effort raised over 100,000 rubles for the victims of the worst nuclear disaster of all time, completely on the initiative of private citizens. In fact hours before the show began, the officials warned that the concert could have been shut down for lack of proper permission.

After the enormously sucessful concert for Chernobyl, Western groups were again being invited to tour in the Soviet union, and most restrictions against lyrical criticism were lifted. Opponents of Gorbachev thought that there was too much freedom of speech, and began to take matters into their own hands, lobbying against the reforms that were allowing open questioning of the Soviet regime. But "the toothpaste was already out of the tube," and groups were getting braver in their criticism of communism, and the regime. "We Want Changes" by 'Kino' was a sign of the times:

'We were born in small flats of the new district.
We lost our virginity in the battles for love.
The hopes that you gave us
and the clothes that you tailored
Are too tight for us
And now we come to tell you
It's we who'll act from now on.'
'Our frozen fingers strike the matches
That will light the big fires.'

Read These Lyrics in Russian (koi8)

"In the streets there emerged crowds of bizarrely dressed young people who were no longer afraid of being areested for their spiky coloured hair, rough clothes or metal chains."

Social upheavals in the Socialist world followed the political rearrangements put forth by the Gorbachev regime, and the Soviet regime was, by 1990, an anomaly in the eyes of many Soviets citizens. The Baltic republics' nationalist risings were some of the most dramatic episodes of these political upheavals that eventually led to the fateful dissolution of the USSR.

In 1990, after Soviet military was sent to Lithuania and Latvia to supress nationalist secessionaries, I was in Finland, and happened to videotape a televised newscast of an interview with an Estonian punk with a pink mohawk haircut, talking about his outlook on the military crackdown:


A rock singer somewhere once sang, "rock and roll will never die." Even in the darkest hour of suppression, rock music remained a powerful tool in the hands of Soviet musicians, and contributed to the popular support for ridding the Soviet State of communism. And still, rock remains a social instrument for change and inquiry into the values of the people living in those countries that were the Soviet Union. Without the Soviet regime to control the voices of dissent and inquiry, rock bands are able to publish themselves without any regulations save economic ones. Record Producer Andrei Suchilin wrote in 1991:

"Now I've got the possibility to publish records on the Melodija label on the condition that we buy all the copies...[if there will be no profit from their sale] at least one can play frisbee with them."

The lyrics of a song by Zvuki Mu perhaps ask the most pressing current question, though the song was recorded in 1989. Who will control the traffic? 'Traffic Policemen' relates somehow to the role of the Soviets, now that they are gone:

Narrow crossroad in old Moscow
White gloves, dullness in the eyes
Red tramcars, Blue coats
Nobody loves you and nobody waits
At home, Policeman.You haven't seen the forest, haven't been to the sea
Why are you so calm
Standing on point duty
As if there were no forest, as if there were no sea?
So take off the peaked cap, destroy the baton
Run with me policeman

But who will control the traffic
Who will prevent an accident
Who will stop children crossing the road
Who will hang up a sign in the right place?

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