Getting back to another of my favorite subjects relating to Russian culture and history—80’s pop music—I decided recently to write a complete translation of Хочу Перемен! (Khochu Peremen, Eng.= I Want Change!) a singular song of its time and place, by the russian band Kino (see also my translation of Kino’s Aluminum Cucumbers).
Перемен!- I Want Change!
Instead of warmth- greens of glass,
Instead of fire- smoke.
From the calendar grid a day is torn.
The red sun fires its entire mass,
The day is burned out by its stroke.
On the flaming city a shadow descends.
Change!- Demanded by our hearts,
Change!- Demanded by our eyes,
In our laughter and in our tears,
And in the pulse of veins
We wait for change. Continue reading
“Mother teaches heart phone morgue” is how google-translate renders the seventh line of another glasnost-era Russian pop song that recently caught my attention. I had a Russian radio stream playing as I puttered around the house one day this summer, but wasn’t really paying attention until a repeated line in the chorus of a song grabbed my ear. I stopped what I was doing and thought, did they just sing “Alain Delon speaks French?” In fact, that was exactly what they were singing. I felt the urge to know why a Russian band would record a song about a French actor speaking French. A little research into this song revealed a degree of cultural interconnectedness that I was unaware of in the nineteen eighties when this song was produced in the still existing, and I presumed still closed, society of the Soviet Union.
Nautilus Pomplilius (Наутилус Помпилиус)
It turns out that this song–A Look from the Screen (Vzglyad s Ekrana, which google-translate gives as “Sight Screen“)–by the group Nautilus Pompilius, was inspired by, and is even described as a “free translation” of, the song Robert De Niro’s Waiting, by the 80’s British pop band Bananarama. The line repeated in the chorus of the Brit song—”Robert De Niro’s waiting, talking Italian”—becomes, in the Russian song, “Alain Delon is speaking French” (Alen Delon govorit po Frantsuzkiy). Continue reading
Aluminum Cucumbers, or Алюминиевые Огурцы (pron.- Alyumienvye Ogurtsy)
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; Continue reading