changes

15May08

Today marks 20 years since the Soviet army began withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Plus ├ža change, you could say. It’s not an anniversary I’m seeing flagged up in the media today. But then, we’re used to wandering the road less travelled over here at the Knackered Hack – if not completely untravelled.

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Crucial to the mounting tide of pressure that led to Soviet withdrawal was an opening up of the culture that started in early Spring 1986 when I visited Leningrad and met Kino‘s Viktor Tsoi (whom I snapped this picture of while he tuned up at a small concert in April ’86).

The song Peremen (or Changes) was an important anthem for that period, and perhaps Tsoi’s most recognized contribution to the tectonic shift in our geo-politics of the past two decades. It appeared to help mobilize Soviet youth culture toward a more democratic and uncertain future, even though accounts suggest that this was not Tsoi’s direct intention.

I’ve been very much taken with the following video of the song. The visuals aren’t of Viktor, of course, but this is nonetheless a powerful interpretation. I don’t know if he is using any recognised sign language (can anybody illuminate me?) but it certainly conveys something forcefully, whatever that something is. This was, incidentally, used as the soundtrack for a DIY, low-budget yet critically-acclaimed Russian film Dust (2005). I’ve not seen it, but this review sounds compelling if you are an art-house type.

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This is a quick post to highlight, for the statisticians among you, two tails of fame.

My pictures below show an informal but nervous event in which a few hundred people fought and crammed their way in to see Viktor Tsoi and Yuri Kasparyan play a few songs. Their fame was clandestine. The video at the end shows what had happened to them (as Kino) in four short but tumultuous years in the late stages of the Soviet empire. It’s the difference between The Cavern and Shea Stadium, Russian style.

Things used to take a long time to set up in the Soviet Union. And that was as true of an underground concert as anything else. As I recall, there were a few technical problems before and during that 1986 concert; had there not been, I doubt I would have felt comfortable getting up and snapping. The artist is on the stage getting the unreliable equipment working, while the audience mills around after a very un-Soviet crush to get in. I don’t know if anybody had to pay – I certainly didn’t because Viktor and Yuri had invited me and the language-course crowd along as their guests.

The contrast with the later footage could not be more stark. There was a distinct absence of anything official in spring 1986, given how many people there were congregating in such an enclosed space. There’s a polite restraint amongst the audience, as if they’ve come to a favourite author’s signing session at the local bookstore. Nobody wants to embarrass themselves by looking too enthusiastic once through the door! But by 1990 a real hysteria has set in. As Viktor arrives for his last concert at Moscow’s huge Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena*, just a couple of months prior to his death, the streets leading up to the Olympic stadium are lined with scores of Russian police.

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Kino Concert Roll One022 Kino Concert Roll One023 Kino Concert Roll One031 Kino Concert April 1986 img187 IMG_0139 b&w

A little translation for the video: the titles about halfway through, as a hand menacingly covers the lens, read “Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena 24 June 1990″ and then “The Last Concert of Viktor Tsoi”.

Boy, would I fight to get into a room with them now!

*For soccer fans, the stadium is due to host the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final on May 21.

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This was the sign frequently displayed on numerous public buildings in the Soviet Union. You might have expected to visit a particular museum on your journey of a lifetime, but within the planned economy, things would just break without prior announcement or expectation. The excess need to control created all sorts of chaos.

Well, I’m a little bit offline with some technology problems of my own, so updates may be not as frequent or long as last week ;-) . The man from Dell is coming today with a hard drive or two. Don’t worry, everything (almost everything) is supposed to be well backed up so the Kino archive should be safe.

Back soon.

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Kino’s Viktor Tsoi

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