I’ve noticed bloggers apologise when talking about Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values. To quote him is to give him the publicity his faux-contrarian defence of mainstream, professional media is designed to elicit. But I’ll take this opportunity to say that Keen’s attack on the amateur and self-published is, in my view, a little bit Stalinistic.

I’d like to contrast the world he defends, where what we watch, hear and experience should be mediated by professionals, with one still in the recent memory where to self-publish was a political and democratic act and a gesture of defiance. Of course, there are some places still like that.

This thought came to me as I have been working on a pet project to archive some photos of Russian rock god Viktor Tsoy of the 1980s band Kino, who my Twitter followers may already be bored with me mentioning. What I have is an old hand-made cassette and a bunch of photos I took when hanging out with Tsoy in 1986.

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I need to come back to my knowledge of Tsoy in much more detail, but just as Yuri Kasparyan is tuning up in this picture, this post can be a small, note-bending taster of what I will aim to put up in the coming weeks.

Tsoy and Kino are noteworthy for a number of reasons in the history of 20th century culture, and arguably much more iconic than all those indie bands that we neurotic boy-outsiders modelled ourselves after in our youths — those that were invariably selling out while pretending not to. [I'm fine with that, by the way.]

Tsoy died in a car accident in 1990. So deep was his influence on the culture, 65 Soviet youth reportedly committed suicide after his death, thus compounding the individual tragedy. As an icon, Tsoy was one of those rare agencies who was breathing life back into a society that had suffered from seven decades of some of the worst repression in human history.

My most recent research on the band suggests that little if any of their material is copyright. This is not surprising because you could say that the Soviet Russian concept of self-publishing ( “samizdat” or, in the case of the cassette of their songs that I own, “magnitizdat“), was the original creative commons: copy and pass along.

What makes Tsoy the definitive amateur though was that, despite a burgeoning career as Russia’s leading rock musician in the late ’80s, when he was finally signed to the state record company, he reportedly maintained his employment as a boiler operator.

Well my own efforts are steadfastly amateur in so many respects that I too won’t be giving up the day job ;-) . But I must admit to some professional help in the form of my friend the artist Grahame Baker Smith, who helped me scan the first few images and saved me a lot of time by pointing me in the direction of the right technology. Grahame’s work for that other rock god Robert Plant can be seen and commissioned here.

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Kino’s Viktor Tsoi

Kino's Tsoi
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