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January 31, 1990 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-01-31

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ARTS
Wednesday, January 31, 1990

The Michigan Daily

Page 6

Musical birth,
Russian rock 'n' roll arrives

musical

death

BY MICHAEL PAUL FISCHER
R OCK 'n' Roll is our religion -
what we believe in and what our
souls live on. Being patient and
open-hearted brings back joy to the
spirit and dispells the bitterness and
pain. That's the great happiness and
the joy of believers in the self and in
rock 'n' roll.
- Soviet heavy metal group
Gorky Park
These words don't exactly sound
like the live fast/die young mani-
festo of traditional Western rock 'n'
roll. As our sex/drugs/big hair mys-
tique of teenage rebellion dissipates
into so much corporate hot air, the
first wave of officially sanctioned
Soviet pop music to hit our shores
marks an unorthodox new volume in
rock-and-rebellion - from the guys
who wrote the book on revolution.
Coming out of the communists'
atheist tradition, the mystic implica-
tions of rock's freedom make the re-
ligious attraction as provocative as

that new belief in the "self"; and as
the fate of U.S.S.R. President
Mikhail Gorbachev - to whom
Gorky Park extends special thanks
"for making it possible to bring our
music to the world" - hangs in the
balance of threatening domestic
crises, the recent arrival of glasnost
rock appears all the more intriguing
and urgent a phenomenon.

For a few months in 1988, the
album Groopa Kroovy (Blood Type)
by the underground group Kino
(Gold Castle Records) ran neck-and-
neck with, McCartney for the top
spot on the nation's unofficial chart
of record demand (not sales, because
the scarce supply of pressings can
never overcome a basic Soviet short-
age of vinyl). The earliest origins of
Kino's sound could hardly be traced
back to the Beatles, but rather the
jittery early releases of post-punk
Brits The Cure, and even back to
some disco-era gestures of late '70s
pop; the slick rhythm guitar and
ominous horns and bass of the long
groove "War" offer an unlikely deja
vu of the theme song from the old
S.W.A.T. TV show.
Elsewhere, though, tracks like
the Dylanesquely-titled "We Are All
Sick, Mama" survey the domestic
scene with a chilling frankness:
"Steel betweenefingers, a clenched
fist, hits into flesh/ But there's poi-
son, stale in our veins, there once

''.
:

Soviet rock 'n' roll history
sounds as though it began not with
Elvis, but rather the Sex Pistols;
this probably has something to do
with the once nonexistent but now
gradually-expanding avaliability of
gone-like-hotcakes Western rock
bootlegs, finally sanctioned with
Paul McCartney's official Soviet
Union-only collection of rock oldie
covers, Back in the U.S.S.R., on the
state's Melodiya Records label.

ml.

Boris Grebenshikov's Radio Silence is representative of a new breed of Soviet music. The album is more
Eurythmics than Engels.

See SOVIET, page 11

Don't fear the reaper.
Five great death records

BY NABEEL ZUBERI
WE just don't take death seriously
enough. Older cultures have tradi-
tionally come to terms with the final
nail in the coffin through rituals and
religious rites; but, here in the secu-
lar, post-industrial world, for the
most part we exist in a perpetual
dream state, getting on with school,
work, and play, trying to forget that
it's all going to come to an abrupt
end.
One of the few avenues in which
we deal with mortality is the pop
song. These are alternatives to ritual,
carrying messages and feelings that
are common currency. Pop songs tap
into our collective consciousness
and, at their best, confront emotions
that we cannot quite articulate our-
selves. I offer a very personal and in-
complete choice of songs that touch
on death and meditate upon it in in-
teresting and moving ways.
The Shangri-Las
"Leader of the Pack"
Hemingway once said something
to the effect that every narrative fol-
lowed to its logical conclusion re-
sults in death. Well, for the Shangri-
Las, death was always the end if one
took the wrong turn, if one trans-
gressed certain boundaries of behav-
ior. In the pleading "Give Us Your
Blessings," two teenage lovers, re-
fused parental consent to marry,
elope in the boy's car only to crash
because they can't see the road for
their tears and the rain. The tor-
mented "I can never go home any-
more" is a teenage confession about
a girl leaving home to be with a boy

against her mommy's wishes. Of
course, death is the result, for
mommy dies - "the angels took her
for their friend."
Shadow Morton, who wrote
many of the group's hits, must have
realized the psychological pressure
points that were touched by teenage
girls singing to us about death. It
just wouldn't have struck the same
chord if boys had delivered these
tales of woe.
"Leader of the Pack," which ap-
parently came to Morton in a flash
of inspiration in the shower, has
been documented as the Best Selling
Single With A Death Theme. In this
case, death comes about due to the
youngsters upsetting the natural
order of things. It's the old Romeo
and Juliet scenario, but instead of
family feuding, it's the class struc-
ture that is threatened by the girl go-
ing out with a biker from the wrong
side of the tracks. Do you get the
picture?
The Shangri-Las' cosmology has
its roots in high tragedy, and even
though the first few times I heard the
singer shouting "Look out! Look
out! Look out!" (and the subsequent
motorbike crash sound effects), I did
snigger at the camp and tackiness of
the melodramatic contrivance, that
"Look Out!" repeated again and again
has since seeped into me and speaks
to my deepest fears.
Scott Walker
"My Death"
Written by Jacques Brel, this is
one of the most chillingly poignant
of death songs; at turns cynical and
romantic, Brel had the ability to fix

on an image that could sum up eve
erything. "My Death" captures thi
attitude of postwar French existen-
tialism. Brel did frequent the same:
Left Bank haunts as Jean Paul Sartre
and Albert Camus; his songs were
performed by Edith Piaf and Julie
Greco. Scott Walker's crooning ren
dition has a calm disillusionment
"My Death" meditates on that shift
from Being to Nothingness. The
central image is death as a swinging
door, but it's also described as wait
ing like "a beggar blind who sees the
world through the unlit mind," o(
simply waiting "to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends,*
Let's drink to that."
"Whatever lies behind the door/
There's nothing to do/ Angel o.
devil, I don't care/ For in front of
that door is you," affirms the roman-
tic. "My death waits in your arms
in your thighs/ Your cool fingers
will close my eyes," he concludest
Brel's/Walker's persona isn't that far
removed from Camus' existential
archetype Mersault in L'Etranger.
One hopes that death can be ap-
proached with that kind of spiritual
stillness and detachment, though I
doubt it happens like this very often.
Van Morrison
"TB Sheets"
"TB Sheets" speaks to my great-
est fear - watching a loved one die.
Morrison wrote this about a lover
dying in a hospital bed of tuberculo@
sis. Backed by a bluesy Stax organ
arrangement for seven minutes, Mor-
rison cries out in pain. "Open the
window! Open the window! I need
See DEATH, page 11

Open the window! Van Morrison sang "TB Sheets," a song about a lover dying of tuberculosis. It just might be
one of the all-time greatest death songs.

Read
Alex
About
Town

In every
< I

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A Multi-cultural
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