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«Songs from the Leningrad Rock Club 1981-86 Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt Rock in the Reservation: Songs from the Leningrad Rock Club 1981-86 (1st ...»

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in the


Songs from the Leningrad Rock Club


Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt

Rock in the Reservation: Songs from the Leningrad Rock Club 1981-86 (1st edition).

 (text, 2004) Yngvar B. Steinholt.

New York and Bergen, Mass Media Music Scholars’ Press, Inc.

viii + 230 pages + 14 photo pages.

Delivered in pdf format for printing in March 2005.

ISBN 0-9701684-3-8

Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt (b. 1969) currently teaches Russian Cultural History at the Department of Russian Studies, Bergen University (http://www.hf.uib.no/i/russisk/steinholt).

The text is a revised and corrected version of the identically entitled doctoral thesis, publicly defended on 12. November 2004 at the Humanistics Faculty, Bergen University, in partial fulfilment of the Doctor Artium degree. Opponents were Associate Professor Finn Sivert Nielsen, Institute of Anthropology, Copenhagen University, and Professor Stan Hawkins, Institute of Musicology, Oslo University. The pagination, numbering, format, size, and page layout of the original thesis do not correspond to the present edition.

Photographs by Andrei ‘Villi’ Usov ( A. Usov) are used with kind permission.

Cover illustrations by Nikolai Kopeikin were made exclusively for RiR.

Published by Mass Media Music Scholars’ Press, Inc.

401 West End Avenue # 3B New York, NY 10024 USA Preface i Acknowledgements This study has been completed with the generous financial support of The Research Council of Norway (Norges Forskningsråd). It was conducted at the Department of Russian Studies in the friendly atmosphere of the Institute of Classical Philology, Religion and Russian Studies (IKRR), Bergen University. The book has benefited greatly from the supervision of Professor Jostein Børtnes at IKRR, with his theoretic expertise and honourable openness to new fields of study. The musicological expertise of my assistant supervisor Professor Philip Tagg at the Faculté de Musique, Université de Montréal, has been invaluable, not to mention his inspiring enthusiasm and fund of practical advice. My second assistant supervisor, Dr. Hans Weisethaunet at the Grieg Academy, Bergen University, introduced me to relevant ethnomusicological theories and offered important guidance regarding the sociological part of the study. My warmest thanks to staff and colleagues at IKRR; to the Faculté de Musique, UdeM, for welcoming me as an étudiant libre; to academic staff and students at the Grieg Academy; and to the members and organisers of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM).

I also owe much gratitude to all participants in my musical analysis panel and to my team of advisers in Russian language and St Petersburg slang for their quick and extensive answers and insightful reflections; to the fieldwork interviewees and all the wonderful people who assisted me during my stays in St Petersburg; to the Norwegian University Institute in St Petersburg; to Andrei Usov for supplying me with historic photos and the cover illustration; to Sasha Startsev for the Roksi cd-rom; to David-Emil Wickström for his sharp feedback; to Ursula Phillips, who undertook the English language correction work (the responsibility for any remaining errors is exclusively mine); to Pjokken Eide for his stylish notation; and to my opponents Finn Sivert Nielsen and Stan Hawkins for good comments, just critique and enjoyable discussions.

Special thanks go to my friends and family. Cheers to the crew at my local Persian.

Greetings to the merry guys at the St Petersburg MVD, who were always ready to add dramatic colour to events (rob me, beat me up, arrest my informant, or save my life).

Finally, since the first vague plan began to take shape in winter 1997 until funding was granted nearly four years later, I received invaluable help and support from friends and academic contacts. They took the time to help me develop project descriptions and applications, publish articles or give lectures, or simply kept up my spirits. Thanks to Anna-Karin, Bente, Boy, Bror, Charlotte, Christoph, Dima, Erik H., Erlend, Eva, Finn, Geraldine & Christophe, Inge, IPM Liverpool, Jaouad, Karin, Mette, Mikko, Odd, Odd Inge, Olav, Pierre, Pippin, Samir, Torben, Tormod, Ulf, and apologies to those I have forgotten to list.

ii Rock in the Reservation Notes on translation and transliteration Translations of quotations into English are mine unless otherwise stated. French and German quotations are not translated. The original language of a translated quotation will appear from its entry in the bibliography. All emphases in quotations are those of the respective authors, none have been added.

This study applies the Library of Congress system of transliteration without diacritic signs. The soft and hard signs are marked with an apostrophe. Exceptions are made for family names which have become widely known in a different transliteration, thus the spelling Vysotsky is preferred to Vysotskii, Gogol to Gogol’. Similarly, words which have entered the English vocabulary with a different orthography, such as glasnost, may deviate from the transliteration standard. Russian words are normally set in italics followed by the italicised English translation in brackets. However, Russian key terms which demand special definition have been adopted, and appear in italics only until explained. The same applies to certain English special terms. Exceptions are made for Russian names (including band names), which are never italicised. However, song, album, book and article titles are set in italics. I have kept the Russian rule of only capitalising the first letter in non-personal names of two or more words, as in the band name Mashina vremeni. Certain key terms are explained and defined immediately below.

Definitions of key terms Throughout this book, the word rock signifies rock music in its widest definition, as demonstrated by the reggae song included in the analyses. This wide definition of rock serves to avoid limting the stylistic spectrum represented in Leningrad rock. Leningrad rock is, unless otherwise stated, defined as the sum of rock music produced and performed by members of the Leningrad Rock Club (LRC) between 1981 and 1986. Similarly, the Leningrad rock environment or rock community signifies the entire rock network of Leningrad, from the LRC organisation and members to more or less independent critics, commentators and contributors during the corresponding period. St Petersburg signifies the city in the post-Soviet era including the time of the study’s fieldwork. The term western rock is based on the dominant Russian insider notion of the west (zapad, ne nash [not ours]) as opposed to the Russian (nash [ours]), and thus not geographically defined. Rather, it refers to the contemporary rock canon dominant in Western Europe and the US, independently of the origin of bands that constitute this canon.

Since the Russian word rok signifies both fate and rock, many Russians prefer to talk about rok-n-roll. To avoid confusion the study uses Rock-’n’-Roll in the narrow sense of the specific rock style originating in the United States in the 1950s, and rock and roll, when speaking about mainstream rock in general. Correspondingly, use of the Russian term rok-n-roll is marked with square brackets in translations: rock [and] roll. To avoid confusion with Country and Western music, independent occurrences of the adjectives western and eastern are written in lower case throughout; with reference to the musical style, Country is capitalised.

Preface iii

Additional resources The entire transcribed and translated manuscripts of seven of the fieldwork interviews conducted for this study are published on the internet address: http://www.hf.uib.no/i/ russisk/steinholt/RiR_files.html For information about the purpose of the attached audio cd, appendices containing notation, musical events in time, and original and transliterated Russian lyrics, please see 8.1.14, page 121. A table of the cd contents is supplied in Appendix 1, page 261.

iv Rock in the Reservation Foreword On the seventh of March 1981 a rock club opened in Leningrad. This happened five years before Soviet cultural authorities were prepared to acknowledge that rock music existed in the USSR. According to official ideology, rock was a symptom of the moral and cultural decay of western capitalist societies, and therefore by definition unsuitable for Soviet audiences. Half a decade later, rock music broke out of its Leningrad reservation and onto public stages to become the soundtrack of perestroika. Rock tapes were distributed and recopied by the millions. The phenomenon received massive attention and generated fierce debates on home soil. Soon, western journalists and academics began arriving to study this curious phenomenon. By 1990, members of the rock community, regional cultural authorities, and the KGB were all claiming the honour of being the initiators of the Rock Club.

This book is the result of a long working process. The idea to do research on Russian rock music dates back almost exactly thirteen years. Ten years ago I started working on a Master’s thesis in Russian literature. The subject was lyrics by the rock songwriter Konstantin Kinchev during the political changes of the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. Although my first thesis was reasonably well received, I felt that I had come up with more questions than answers. Moreover, I had become painfully aware of the reduction resulting from my unidisciplinary Literary-Studies approach to rock music. Unfortunately, similar kinds of studies are dominating research on Russian rock even today.

In 1997 I began working on the idea of an interdisciplinary study of the Leningrad rock community, its music and lyrics. The result is Rock in the Reservation, which concentrates on the first five years of the Leningrad Rock Club, from it’s opening in 1981 until 1986, a turbulent year on the brink of perestroika. The reasons why I decided on this period are


• No available works seemed very illuminating when it came to accounts of the Leningrad Rock Club. Local sources have only recently begun to explain the phenomenon.

• Available western works often lacked the necessary historical perspective in their account of Russian rock, something which has tended to generate weaknesses and inconsistencies in their analyses and conclusions.

• Local sources agree that 1980 marked the end of a learning phase for Russian amateur musicians, a point when they had gained a codal competence of rock, which allowed them to begin stylistic experiments of their own. In other words, the opening of the Leningrad Rock Club coincided with a transition from rock in Russia to Russian rock.

Other important motives for investigating these formative years of Leningradian and Russian rock are more closely related to questions about its specific Russian characteristics. What makes Russian rock ‘Russian’? Is there a musical side to its ‘Russianness’ or is it merely a function of its lyrics? These questions led me to the specific Russian ideas about rock lyrics and their role, and I found it a logical move to concentrate my examination of these questions on the start of the Leningrad rock wave of the 1980s.

Preface v

Quite early in the preparations of this study it became clear that if it were to bring new results and contribute to any progress of this and similar fields, the approach would have to go beyond the confines of unidisciplinarity. The only alternatives to the risky approach would imply studying music without music, and reproducing existing, reductionist

research formats:

I could either continue along the reductionist track of author-centered, intralyrical, and monological expert investigations. Been there - Done that - Not convinced. Or I could switch towards a uni-sociological approach to music communities, an approach which often tend to reduce musical practice to a question of author-initiaded and author-led sociocultural and socio-political enterprise. Read that - Many a time - Not convinced.

Instead, Rock in the Reservation builds upon four ideals, to which I have tried my best to

remain true during the research process:


My attempt to comprise literary studies, sociology and musicology with no formal background in the two latter disciplines has been demanding, yet rewarding. On the practical level, interdisciplinary research often makes you feel like a kid trying to play in several different sandboxes simultaneously: He tends not to make himself very popular in any of them. However, his advantage is being able to pick the best from each box. Rock in the Reservation insists that doing research on a musical community demands an account of the actual music concerned, combined with descriptions of social context and lyrics.

Some of the results will inevitably fail to match up to each discipline’s special standards.

But here the motto will have to be: “Half a failure equals half a success.”


To balance out the logocentric and scopocentric hegemonies in academia and contemporary media respectively, a study involving music should be able to account for how thought processes and interpretations in the study are influenced by music listening. Taking the sound-material at face value also implies offering the reader access to at least some samples of the music discussed.

Academic honesty:

Apart from music samples, the reader should also have access to as much as possible of the material and information that form the basis of arguments and conclusions. In this way, the readers are invited to form their own opinions, and to freely test statements and challenge findings on their own accord. A second aspect of this is to keep the study open to readers with various disciplinary backgrounds and fields of expertise: For what is basic or irrelevant to reader A might be food for reader B. Third, when dealing with music, it is important to avoid argumentation based on personal taste. Getting too personal at best leads to reduction, at its worst - it turns research into music journalism. One way of avoiding this is to let informants do the musical evaluation.

Priority to insider opinions and reflections:

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