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Thursday, October 16, 2003
Kind of interesting bit of AUR criticism in that Marcus column:
Musicians, critics, government officials talk about how the collapse of the Soviet system was unthinkable without the Beatles--without their embodiment of a secret or inaccessible culture people desperately wanted to join. You hear the memory of imprisonment: "We lived on a separate planet and they could never come here," says the leader of the Soviet-era band Aquarium. But if the story makes you think of Lou Reed inducting Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, describing how the Belmonts sent him "the sound of another life," soon enough the film will give you Mikhail Gorbachev, looking diminished and blank, and you can't gainsay his dutiful testimony that the Beatles told "the young people of the Soviet Union there was another life"--what else could they have heard? ... "Maybe I'm Amazed," and then "Back in the U.S.S.R." The instant leap in the crowd tells you this is what they came for, what they wouldn't leave without. You see a cool-looking guy in the audience, looking right at the camera, with a deep, knowing smile. The song was supposed to be a joke, as in Who'd want to go back to the U.S.S.R.?, and today the U.S.S.R. doesn't even exist. But the people in Red Square do, and the song does, and now the people present to hear it played change the unspoken negative of the song into an affirmation of their own existence. Yes, it was a script, and everyone was playing a part, but you'd have to be a truly great cynic not to smile over this tale.
Hmm. Well, I don't know if Greil meant it this way, but it's interesting that he's saying that the audience wants to get back to the USSR, not Russia. Because that's a whole different thing, isn't it: nationalism v. nostalgia for totalitarianism. Things were easier under the soviets, the members of that "secret culture" had more power. Or so it looks today. But of course, it's not true. Cultural capital as political capital: that's the game. And what's up with that whole "secret culture" riff, anyway? What exactly is the culture? Capitalism? The west? Democracy? People listened to the Beatles and wanted to overthrow Communism so they could hear it? Are they simply representative of freedom, or is it something else? Is freedom here conceived as hipness? Is it one of the great benefit of repression that you can sensibly make this comparison, whereas after the onus of dictatorship is lifted you see freedom as it truly is: the opportunity for unorganized repression. Which is not to say freedom is worse than dictatorship, but you also have to recognize that there needs to be something there to guarantee it, something organized, and I'm not sure that the three-quarter lie that is rock's attitude problem does that. Art can create spaces of freedom, but rarely tells you what to do with them. Maybe nostalgia for the USSR or East Germany--a nostalgia which, by most accounts, is distressingly widespread among the yoots of the Eastern Bloc--is a yearning for a time when the possibility of that space was still extent, rather than mostly debased. Maybe bohos' desire to deflate their own power into an imagined police state is a kind of fetish game where the pleasure derives from breaking out of it, where art has easy power. But, of course, it's mainly a distaste for moral ambiguities, same as the Bushies have. But those lame ambiguities are very much still with us.
Which is great. If they weren't, we'd be living in friggin' Middle Earth, and that's no good.