Tusovka – Introduction

In the summer of 1990, a Russian friend and I visited the Melodiya record shop on Arbat street in Moscow, and noted the rather narrow selection of Western Rock records on sale there. Most of the new releases were quite old to Western ears, except for Peter Gabriel's "So"
which to me was a particularly memorable album. I noted to my Russian host, himself an accomplished figure in the Moscow underground rock scene that the first piece on this Gabriel disk was called "Red Rain," and that the opening line of the song is "Red rain is comin' down..." I commented that in the Soviet edition it should have been changed to "Red Reign is comin' down. And indeed the red reign did come down, exactly a year later, as the Soviet Union was dissolved and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was adjourned after a seventy-four year "red reign."

During the course of my two-week visit to Moscow, I learned that the cultural forces at work against the Communist system were not Western imperialist subversives but in fact were the young people of the USSR, striving for free expression in a repressive society and committed to forging their own cultural identities out of western examples of youth culture. In some ways they seemed akin to the intelligentsia of imperial Russia, because the rock movement became a bonified counterculture, involved deeply in the dialectical voice of protest and social reform. Their efforts, like that of the intelligentsia were not without struggles. Ever since the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, musical styles imported from the "culturally decadent" West have influenced the musicians of the Soviet Union. Struggling groups of young Soviet musicians have incessantly attempted and with varying degrees of success to express themselves against the Socialist polemicism of the Communist ideologues through the same musical invention that came to the American and European youth as Rock and Roll, eventually making their own form of highly expressive and vitriolic rock music. The Ukrainian rock singer, Vika, astutely summed up the ovement thus: "Rock culture can be compared to tooth-paste. Once you squeeze it out of the tube, you can't push it back inside."

Essentially, the toothpaste tube began to get squeezed in the USSR with the literary "thaw," after Stalin. Jazz and dance music began to appear during the thaw, followed by rock 'n' roll in the fifties. Then the Beatles revolution, and subsequently a tide of devoted rock fans came to rely on a permanent flow of recordings and stylistic trends from the West. Despite long-standing efforts to suppress the Western influences of Jazz and Rock music, the prevailing cultural affinity for the music was made explicit and given its vindication during the later years of Gorbachev's term in the Kremlin, during Perestroika. Eventually, the fall of the USSR and the Communist regime, lifted all restrictions on popular culture , and anybody can listen to anything. Such a strong popular movement is arguably partly due to the underground never having given up their struggle to have their voices heard.

Skip to toolbar