Commemorating Vladimir Vysotsky - Russia's best-loved bard poet
His records used to be swapped under the counter in the days of the Soviet Union. Today, more than 30 years since his death in 1980, Vladimir Vysotsky continues to draw crowds in Moscow. Russia Beynd the Headlinesmet his son and several other Russian performers at the Jan. 19 tribute concert at Crocus City Hall, which commemorated what would have been his 75th birthday. They talk about their memories of this timeless icon and the legacy he left.
“When people ask my father what he wanted most, he would always reply: ‘I want people to remember me.’” Nikita Vysotsky did not know his father well, since he divorced and remarried the French actress Marina Vlady in 1969. Still, he has honored his father’s wishes to the letter. For what would have been his father’s 75th birthday, Nikita has brought together a sprinkling of famous performers to sing, reminisce and revive Vysotsky’s art on stage at Crocus City Hall.
Vladimir Vysotsky made an appearance, speaking on a huge screen that dominated the Hall. Of his exceptional voice he recalled: “When I recited poetry at the age of six, my parents’ friends said that I had the voice of a real drunkard. That’s how it has always been, I never forced it. My imitators had quite a difficult task...”
He also recalled the first time he made a recording, when he was still an actor at the Taganka Theatre in Moscow: “I was with a group of performer friends and one of them wanted to record me. So we did. Then the cassette was passed around.” Vysotsky’s songs were never officially permitted in the Soviet Union; he was only recognized officially as a theatre and cinema actor.
On stage, wearing a pullover, he gave a revolutionary performance of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and he made a lasting impression on the big screen with “The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed” (1979).
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The latest Solzhenitsyn book to appear in English, March 1917, focuses on the great turning point of Russian, indeed world, history: the Russian Revolution.1 Just a century ago, that upheaval and the Bolshevik coup eight months later ushered in something entirely new and uniquely horrible. Totalitarianism, as invented by Lenin and developed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others, aspired to control every aspect of life, to redesign the earth and to remake the human soul. As a result, the environment suffered unequaled devastation and tens of millions of lives were lost in t…
In conversations with Svetlana Alexievich, it quickly becomes apparent that she is more comfortable listening than she is talking. That’s hardly surprising: the Belarusian writer has spent decades in listening mode. Alexievich, now 69, put in thousands of hours with her tape recorder across the lands of the former Soviet Union, collecting and collating stories from ordinary people. She wove those tales into elegant books of such power and insight, that in 2015 she received the Nobel prize for literature.
In today’s Russia, Alexievich’s work is a Rorschach test for political beliefs: among the beleaguered, liberal opposition, she is frequently seen as the conscience of the nation, a uniquely incisive commentator on the disappointments and complexities of the post-Soviet condition. Mainstream opinion sees her as a turncoat whose books degrade Russia and Russians.
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One of the most revealing episodes in J. A. E. Curtis’s Mikhail Bulgakov, in the Reaktion Books Critical Lives series, itself concerns the writing of a “critical life”. In 1932–3, Bulgakov, a man devoted to the theatre, wrote a brief novelized biography of Molière. The book was commissioned for the hallowed Russian series Lives of Remarkable People, but like much of Bulgakov’s work from the 1920s and 30s, it would not see the light of day until decades after his death in 1940. As usual, the Soviet author had taken a thoroughly un-Soviet approach to the topic, presenting Molière as an individual genius – rather than as a product of his era and class – and fitting the facts of his life into a fictional frame. In his rejection, the series editor explained Bulgakov’s error: “You have placed between Molière and the reader some sort of imaginary storyteller. If, instead of this casual young man in an old-fashioned coat, who from time to time lights or puts out the candles, you had given us …