December 30th, 2004


A Fortnight in Russia

I'm declaring the next fourteen days to be a Russian fortnight. What does this mean exactly? Drunken posting? Sporadic episodes of extreme violence? Renationalisastion of major industries? Lyrical weeping? Perhaps all of these. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, which was (and still is) a big Russian festival. Of course, since the fall of communism and the establishment of the glorious unfettered democracy of Vladimir Putin, peace be upon him, Russia has been able to revive various other festivals as well. So Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated next week (Thursday is the Eve of the Nativity) and, by the same Julian reasoning, it is the Leavetaking of the Nativity on January 13th, or rather, New Year's Eve Old Style. I'm therefore going to be posting some Russian music over the period. So, let us begin:

Yabloko - Ech Rus Russia

I know very little about Yabloko really. I came across this track while going through various Russian mp3 sites looking for interesting music to play at Misha's birthday party. I clicked, and thought "Is this an Abba pastiche or something?" Indeed, the singer, Marina Kapuro, is currently well known for her Abba cover versions, as you can see from her site, and here is pictorial evidence of Abba's partial approval. She was also at in attendance at the Greek Evening for the Guests of the 163rd International Fur Auction, which sounds much naughtier than it probably was. I'm sure Marina is far too much a good pravoslavnaya for that.

Yabloko were from Lenigrad and formed in 1979. Their first album, as a country-folk-rock-group came out on Melodiya in 1979 and their second, by which time they had become Marina Kapuro and Yabloko, in 1989. They're hardly Fairport Convention, let's say more late period Steeleye Span or maybe Sally Oldfield even. If you want a little more background, there's this cached page of a short bio. Yes, it's in Russian. As a certain A. Zhitinsky says there:

Яблоко - это свет и любовь,
Яблоко - это мир и покой,
Яблоко - это жизнь и радость.

I'm glad that's clear. Even the name Yabloko sounds like a clear Abba ripoff. It's a bland name and one that I doubt caused any censors much upset as they toured fairly widely for a Soviet band. This is what the band looked like at some point, this is Marina very much in the rodina, surrounded by flowers and a moustache. Like many Russians born of the Soviet generation, she's prone to some poor styling decisions, but I'm quite captivated by this photo and if she hangs out with men like this, I consider myself in with a chance. There's an open directory should you want to see more.

I generally listen to my iPod on shuffle, so there's a reasonably ad hoc selection of genres. Sometimes this song comes on, in all its syrupy mix of vocal rounds, tinkling bells and dubious synthesiser riff. I imagine myself on holiday in Russia during the late Soviet period, it's summer, we're driving to a dacha and the radio is on. We have no choice over what to hear. It's luxurious enough that the car has a radio for DSCH's sake! I don't know who's in the car, Marina obviously, a couple of other men. It's late in the evening but there's the crystal northern summer light. We've stopped of at some relative's house en route and drunk and sung our fill. A silence has entered the car and this song comes on the radio. Marina looks across at me and smiles and realise that I am both drunk and falling in love. Just as I'm smiling back, some drunk farmer stumbles across the country road and waves, the driver turns to avoid him and smashes into the side of a tree. Coming to my senses, I stagger from the wreck and try to release Marina from the front seat. Everyone is dead. Her white dress in drenched with thick vermillion and her eyes stare blankly across the fields. I put my hands to my head. Yet more blood. I stagger towards the field, following her line of sight towards the birch trees. All the while, the drunken muzhik is pulling at my sleeve and saying something incomprehensible. As I collapse in the field, the final strains of the song fade out and I dissolve into the white night. Since this is the last piece of music I will ever hear on earth, it is of course the most beautiful of all, whatever its most evident shortcomings.

The word Rus (pronounced Roos) is of course hardwired into the national consciousness. Rus isn't Russia. It's a Russia that's past, a hoped for future, but never present. It's Kievan Rus, the birth of the motherland (unless you're keen on Scythian culture). It's geographically imprecise as a concept, where it ends is where people start spitting the word out in contempt. This is part of the reason that current realignment in (the - that definite article is pretty much a Rus conceit in its way, Ukraine as area, Little Russia) Ukraine offends nationalist and sentimental imaginings of Russian natives. How can Russia lose control of the place that created it? How can the mother abandon the child? Just as there is a Rus-Rossiya, there's also a Russki-Rossyski adjectival issue, but I can't be bothered as I have to go out...

I'm not whether the political party Yabloko were at all inspired to name themselves after the band. Maybe. You mean there's more than one political party in Russia? Yes, I was surprised too. Well, you can't really count Limonov's National Bolsheviks, if you can work out whatever they're about.