Thursday February 16, 2017

Analog Resistance

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

In the Soviet Union during the 1960s, young iconoclasts waged a musical battle against the banality of state-sanctioned culture. Subversive poet/musicians known as "Bards" were recorded at secret house concerts, and reel-to-reel audio tapes shared through a clandestine network. Simon Nakonechny unspools the little-known phenomenon of Magnitizdat, and ponders its parallels to forms of cultural dissidence in Russia today. **This episode originally aired September 13, 2016.


The time: the 1960s.  The place: the former Soviet Union.  A country where all cultural expression was firmly under the thumb of the ruling Communist Party. But a sonic wave of poetic resistance was building in the small communal apartments of the Moscow and Leningrad intelligentsia.

"Those poets carried the idea of personal freedom...They were not broadcast on radio, they weren't published in newspapers, but a song by Vysotsky or Galich performed in Moscow [one day] would be sung in Vladivostok within a week....And I think that Galich, Vysotsky, even Okudzhava, did a lot more to somehow free Russia [from communism] than all of the dissidents."-- Mikhail Marmer

"As one of the officials, party officials said at the meeting:  'You know what was our greatest mistake, we allowed the production and selling of portable tape recorders."-- Vladimir Frumkin 


Guitar poets, known as bards, would strum their seven-string Russian guitars and sing of taboo topics to groups of trusted friends. Bulat Okudzhava, Alexander Galich, Vladimir Vysotsky - they were the Bob Dylans, the Leonard Cohens of the Eastern Bloc.And the messages in their songs would soon "go viral" thanks to an exciting new technology: portable reel-to-reel recorders.

Guests in the program:

  • MIkhail Marmer organized concerts by Russian bards like Alexander Galich in his Moscow apartment during the 1960s and 70s.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Valentina Gindler is a Russian singer-songwriter now living in New Jersey.
  • Peter Steiner is from Prague and a Professor Emeritus in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Natella Boltyanskaya is a journalist, singer-songwriter and radio host on Echo of Moscow radio.
  • Vladimir Frumkin is a retired musicologist who organized and recorded bard song concerts in the 1960s Soviet Union. Raised in a Belarussian village, he now lives in Virginia.
  • Vladimir Kovner is originally from Leningrad and was deeply involved with the magnitizdat movement in Soviet Russia.  A retired engineer, he now lives in Michigan.
  • Vladimir's son Michael Kovner is an art historian and magnitizdat collector living in the Boston area.
  • Yuri Shevchuk is one of Russia's best known rock musicians and frontman of the seminal Perestroika-era band ДДТ (DDT).
  • Dmitry Bykov is a Russian writer who has published best-selling biographies of Boris Pasternak and Bulat Okudzhava.
  • Masha Gessen is a journalist and writer based in New York.  She is the author of Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot.

WEB EXTRA | Vladimir Frumkin treats us to a spontaneous performance of Alexander Galich's "One more time about the Devil"

“One more time about the Devil”0:59


Related websites:

Reading List:

  • Songs to Seven Strings: Russian Guitar Poetry and Soviet Mass Song by Gerald Stanton Smith (1984) Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • Alexander Galich. Songs and Poems, translated and edited by Gerald Stanton Smith, (1983) Ann Arbor: Ardis
  • "Samizdat and Underground Culture in the Soviet Bloc Countries,"  J. Martin Daughtry, prepared for conference at University of Pennsylvania (2006)
  • Horace's Heirs: Beyond Censorship in the Soviet Songs of the Magnitizdat. Rosette C. Lamont. World Literature Today Vol. 53, No. 2 (Spring, 1979), pp. 220-227
  • "Introduction: On Samizdat, Tamizdat, Magnitizdat, and Other Strange Words That Are Difficult to Pronounce." Poetics Today 29, no. 4 (Winter 2008)
  • Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen, (2014) Riverhead Books

Music featured in the program:

 Bulat Okudzhava
Song of the Blue Balloon
Good Bye, Boys
Midnight Trolley

Alexander Galich
Red Triangle
We're No Worse Than Horace
The Night Watch

Vladimir Vysotsky
The Ballad About Our Childhood
The Cab Meter Clicking
Capricious Horses
My Gypsy Song

They Play Hard Rock

Pussy Riot
Punk Prayer: Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away!

Valentina Gindler
My Okudzhava

Natella Boltyanskaya
Guillotine Song

Soviet Songs
The Party is at the Helm
An Olive-Tinted Moldovan Girl

Voice-overs by:
Eugene Sokoloff, Frank Opolko, Nicola Luksic, Greg Kelly, Davorin Cikovic, Sinisa Jolic, Natalie Nanowski

From the CBC Archives:
A feature interview with Alexander Galich with musical performances from the program Nightcap. Airdate: Nov 18, 1977.