Aluminum Cucumbers

Aluminum Cucumbers, or Алюминиевые Огурцы (pron.- Alyumienvye Ogurtsy)

Kino- Aluminum Cucumbers

This is the title to a catchy tune from the 1980s by the Russian pop phenomenon Viktor Tsoi, and his band Kino (pictured above; Tsoi is second from the left). Tsoi was hugely popular in the Soviet Union in the era of glasnost (“openness”), but died at the age of 28 in 1990. Since that time he has lived on as a cultural icon in Russia, somewhat like Elvis in the U.S. When I was visiting St. Petersburg in 2012, there were new posters of Tsoi everywhere—in the Metro station, along the sidewalks, in shopping malls—with the slogan, “We are with you”, and announcing the celebration of what would have been his fiftieth birthday. On the sidewalk along Nevsky Prospect I saw a busker, three nights in a row, singing and playing old Kino songs, with crowds of people singing along.

As I struggled to translate the lyrics of this song I found any kind of meaning to be so elusive that I started doubting my grasp of the Russian language. But looking at a number of discussion boards, in Russian, I found that native speakers seemed to have no better success at getting what this song was about. I soon found a number of references to a 1987 interview with Tsoi, where he commented: “there is not any kind of meaning in the lyrics, in fact it was an attempt at completely deconstructing reality.” Looked at this way it fits perfectly into the mold of pop music in the West in the 1980s; as inscrutable as the lyrics to American songs of that time, like Swan, Swan Hummingbird, by R.E.M.-

Night wings her hair chains
Here’s your wooden greenback sing
Wooden beams and dovetail sweep
I struck that picture ninety times

Released from the burden of trying to translate an overall meaning for the song, I then had to face the limitations of the English language in trying to preserve the rhythm and rhyme of the original, while conveying at least the meaning of each line. The importance of inflection in the Russian language makes for enormously greater flexibility in rhyming words in Russian verse compared with English. Russian words have variable endings to indicate gender, part of speech, aspect, tense and more. Because English doesn’t allow the luxury of so easily changing the endings of words, I long ago gave up on trying to preserve all of the rhymes, let alone the rhyme-schemes of Russian verse.

So this is the translation I’ve come up with to this point:

Aluminum Cucumbers
by Viktor Tsoi

Greetings to all you girls
Greetings to all you boys
Look at me in the window
Stand there and flick your fingers at me, yeah
See

I am planting aluminum cucumbers
In a tarpaulin field (2x)

Three Siberian wise-men
Repeat, repeat to me without end
“Metal will not bear any fruit
The game’s not worth the candle, and the result- a chore”
But

I am planting aluminum cucumbers
In a tarpaulin field (2x)

Evil, wicked white node
Trying again to get me back
With a stake the node pricks the vein
In the hopes of discovering the secret
Because

I am planting aluminum cucumbers
In a tarpaulin field (2x)

Tacks, staples, rivets,
Holes, loaves, forks
Here my tractors pass on by
They fall into the piggy-bank, they fall into there
Where

I am planting aluminum cucumbers
In a tarpaulin field

 

Here are two radically different versions of this same song: one an original studio recording by Kino from the early ’80s; and the other a choral arrangement performed by the Smolny Cathedral Choir, in St. Petersburg, around 2010-

Aluminum Cucumbers-Youtube

Aluminum Cucumbers-Smolny Cathedral Choir-Youtube

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