January 16th, 2005


Seven Chords And The Truth

Well, I'm not entirely convinced by Natasha's reply. Especially on the Jewish question and her understanding of cosmopolitanism in the Soviet era. Nevertheless, I am flattered by by the effort she's made in replying and I'm certainly convinced of their commitment against Putin. I'm sympathetic to some of their aims yet also deeply mistrustful of political movements. If I lived in Russia and had a better understanding of local issues, it would be easier to work out what they're about exactly. I have replied to thank her and extended a welcome should she ever visit London and feel the need for hot buttered crumpet.

Anyway, I'm drawing Russian Fortnight to an end. I've only got a third of the way through what I intended to post musically, but I'll save the remainder for Lent. The rhythm has been broken, so let's move on.

But before I do that, there's a double album of Bulat Okudzhava (Булат Окуджава) for you to listen to (Disc One and Disc Two). The site that hosts them has a large number of other Russian chansonniers of varying quality and there's plenty to explore.

Okudzhava's were the first Russian songs I ever learned. In Poland, as well. This is that song (translation here):


Well, that's what I've always called it. I imagined that the song had a specific resonance for countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. It's a song of the war about the sound of approaching soldiers and what is contained in these various sounds. For all those endured the suffering of that time, this song would mean something, but for the Poles, it also contained the meaning of Soviet occupation and subsequent threat, rather than the German alone. Okudzhava would not have been unaware that such war songs often had these encoded meanings for many both inside and outside the Soviet Union. You can find a similar form of encoding, certainly more deliberate in this song about Stalin (translation here):

A Song about the Black Cat

This article says anything I might come up with far more eloquently than myself about Okudzhava. There is also a good Wiki on the Soviet bardic tradition. Here are some more translations.

Just as I learned Okudzhava in Poland, I also sang Okudzhava in Georgia with Hercules. Okudzhava was of course Georgian, said H. Well, Georgian-Armenian and born in Moscow. It's an international language almost. I can't stress how important a figure he was in the culture. What can I do to get the point across? Thump the table? Burst into tears? Shout and scream? Grab you by the shoulders and fall to the pavement? This poet accompanied the sufferings and joys of millions of people in a way that no Western popular musician ever achieved. Never with this depth, this lyricism and such humility. Maybe you won't get it. The times that produced these songs have not yet evaporated, but that shared culture has started to vanish. Hercules sung Okudzhava in Russian, the young guns of Vake prefer techno and speaking English. And what are the Poles aspiring to be these days? Germans! (tongue, cheek, somewhat).

If this song doesn't melt you a little, then you should worry for the state of your soul. First love, second love, third love... first war, second war...

A Song about My Life

And, no, I haven't forgotten Vysostky! But as difficult it is to fit Bulat into a single post, I don't dare start on the other.