03 Jul underground songwriter’s song
PROTAGONISTS OF THE UNDERGROUND SONGWRITER’S SONG
The songwriter’s song (avtorskaja pesnja) is the genre that is most frequently associated with the “first phase” of the Magnitizdat (late 50s-first half of the 60s), and one can run the risk of overlapping the two phenomena, although they are typologically distinct. Some exponents and scholars of the songwriter’s song claim that the avtorskaja pesnja, spread by the recorders and promoted in the Sixties, during the Thaw, in the numerous festivals organized throughout the country, has given the Soviet citizens an unprecedented opportunity to collectively imagine and build a movement that defies the authority of the State. In this sense, the songwriters would pave the way for the reforms of the 1980s and the subsequent dissolution of the USSR.
From the point of view of the support, it is interesting to note that the performances and interpretations of the singer-songwriters were often recorded on tape (thanks to microphones), much more rarely on disk, and were almost absent in the first support used to spread Russian and foreign music clandestinely (see Muzyka na rebrach).
It is very difficult to provide a real quantification of the popularity of these figures, but in a hypothetical list of the most popular names there must be undoubtedly Vladimir Vysotskii (1938-1980), Bulat Okudzhava (1924-1997), Aleksandr Galich (1918-1977), Jurii Vizbor (1934-1984) and Iulii Kim (1936-). Aleksandr Gorodnitskii (1933), Iurij Kukin (1932-2011), Novella Matveeva (1934-2016) and Evgenii Kliachkin (1934-1994) were also well known. Many other authors and performers spread in those years thanks to the clandestine circulation of tapes, but none of them achieved the success of the authors mentioned, nor did they fall into the category of “sacred names” of the avtorskaja pesnja, still listened to and studied today.
According to the Soviet poet Evgenii Evtushenko, in the 1960s there were circulating across the country no less than one million tapes with songs by Okudzhava and no less than half a million tapes with songs by Galich. Vysotskii’s popularity was even higher: as Boris Kushner states, “from the windows, in long and short distance trains, everywhere the voices of Galich, Vysotskii, Okudzhava, Kim would be heard […] Vysotskii became a true poet-singer of the people”. Andrei Krylov confirms that the only indisputable fact, although not quantifiable, is Vysotskii’s fame, far superior to that of the other two most emblematic voices of the second half of the XX century: Okudzhava and Galich.
It should not be forgotten that the popularity of some singer-songwriters varied greatly according to the period under consideration: for example, at the beginning of the 1960s, Alfred Sol’ianov was one of the most popular names among the Moscow intelligentsia, almost like Vysotskii. Years later he was even invited by the director Vladimir Menshov to appear in the film Moscow does not believe in tears (Moskva slezam ne verit, 1979) because he was considered a “symbol of that era” (the story takes place from the end of the Fifties). Nevertheless, Solianov died in total anonymity. In the 1960s, figures such as Mikhail Ancharov and Ada Iakusheva came to the fore, but in the following decade, for various reasons, they stopped writing songs and performing, and as a result their popularity fell sharply.
Other figures, such as Aleksandr Dolskii and Aleksandr Rozenbaum, has become less and less associated with the world of avtorskaja pesnja, moving towards light music (estradnaja pesnja).
Another interesting phenomenon linked to the popularity of singer-songwriters in relation to the Magnitizdat is the existence of singers who were well known and spread illegally, but who performed limited or even no concert public activities. One of them was Vadim Pevzner (1961) who, between the end of the Seventies and the beginning of the Eighties, performed in less than ten concerts, but thanks to the capillary channels of the Magnitizdat he managed to be known in the most remote corners of the country. Mikhail Shcherbakov (1963), whom Bulat Okudzhava considered one of the most interesting voices of the “second generation” of guitar poets, made similar beginnings. For many years almost no one knew who he really was, although his songs were known and circulated in many cities and countries of the Soviet Union.
Bibliography and Sitography
Evtushenko E., Magnitofonnaia glasnost’, «Nedelia», № 18, 1988, p. 16, http://bard.ru.com/article/8/print_art.php?id=8.14.
Ivanova V., Manykin M., History of Rock Music in Russia, http://russia-ic.com/culture_art/music/380/#.XHvKRZNKib8.
Karimov I., Istoriia moskovskogo KSP, Moscow: Ianus-K 2004.
Kormil’tsev I., Surova O., Rok-poeziia v russkoi kul’ture: vozniknovenie, bytovanie, evoljuciia, in Russkaia rok-poeziia: tekst i kontekst, Sb. 1, Tver’, 1998, pp. 4-32.
Kushner B., Pamiati samizdata, http://club.berkovich-zametki.com/?p=3680.
Giulia De Florio