Sunday, December 14, 2014

Vladimir Vysotsky the Russian Bob Dylan

 Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge  

I still recall the words of one of my teachers - Mr. Vethali Ivanovich who introduced me to the songs of Vladimir Vysotsky in 1986. He said “if you want to learn the Russian soul listen to Vysotsky”   Indeed Vladimir Vysotsky was the ultimate reflection of theRussian soul. A poet, songwriter and actor, Vladimir Vysotsky was the most famous Russian bard. He was adored by millions of fans and still respected for his charismatic voice and singing style. His music had enduring effect on Russian culture.  

Vladimir Vysotsky, who began performing in the 1960s, was reasonably critical of the Soviet totalitarian regime, highlighting bureaucracy criticizing the unfair privileges of the elite and objecting the repression. His lyrics took position on the Soviet status quo. But he loved his country and he was a true Russian. Vladimir Vysotsky could be considered as the Russian Bob Dylan. He was the voice of the silent generation of the Soviet Union.   

Vysotsky used simple but effective lyrics in his songs. His singing style was unique He sang about the human life and its complex dimensions, made his lyrics more appealing to the common man. Although his songs vastly inspired generations of people he received little official recognition in his lifetime. Vysotsky was the living soul and conscience of his time. Ironically his songs were forbidden to play and his poems went unpublished.   

He sang from his inner solitude. Vysotsky’s songs reflected his pain and disillusionments. In his songs he mirrored the ironies of life as he saw.  Vysotsky was a man of many talents but he was not given due recognition and labeled as an anti-Soviet artist. His songs were popular in the West. The famous movie White Nights (Colombia Pictures) carried the Academy Award winning song “Say you Say Me” by Lionel Richie and a rebellious song Koni Priveredlivye”( Fastidious Horses) by VladimirVysotsky. In his song Fastidious Horses Vladimir Vysotsky cries for freedom and emancipation from  repression and bondage.  

In the motion picture White Nights the famous ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov making an outstanding performance onVysotsky’s song Fastidious Horses. Mikhail Baryshnikov too had the similar fate like Vysotsky. He was denounced by the Soviet Union when he defected to the West. His name was erased from the cultural theaters. In Fastidious Horses Vysotsky’s voice and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s dance go hand in hand outpouring their frustrations.    

Vladimir Vysotsky’s song “The tale of the Wild Animal” (the Russian title Pro dikogo vepria ) recounts a monstrous animal that caused a cataclysm in a peaceful land. After release of this song he had to face a lot of criticism by the authorities.  They thought that Vysotsky was using sardonic lyrics to criticize the Soviet bureaucratic system which negatively affected the people and in all aspects of their lives.  This song was banned during his time and he was never allowed to perform it.  

Vysotsky was touched by the nature and he extensively wrote and sang about the beauty of nature. His song -a farewell to the mountains is a mixture of nature’s beauty and human experience.   

Down to cities, to cars, to the life, 
dull and bleak We are getting ahead 
– as if losing the goals…
 But we always come back from the mountain peak 
Which we conquered and where we left our souls.  

 (A farewell to the mountains by Vladimir Vysotsky)   

He was famous as Pushkin and could be the most significant figure of Russian culture in the 20th century. Vysotsky was the true conscience of strictly regulated Soviet society. Vladimir Vysotsky’s verses and songs were the ultimate reflection of the pain, grief, and happiness of the Russian soul.  His deep voice echoed the anguish of the Gulag prisoners who could not express themselves for decades.     As a musician and a singer he composed more than 1000 songs. 

Vysotsky was a talented actor as well.  He was the superstar of the Moscow’s famous Taganka Theater. Vysotsky performed over 26 films and he played an outstanding role as the Captain Zheglov in “Mesto Vstrechi Izmenit’ Nelzya” (“The Place of the Meeting Can’t be Changed”) movie series.   Even though in some of his songs Vysotsky used humorous street jargon it carried profound social and political messages. 

From his songs people drew strength to live, to work, and to love. Vysotsky’s songs were   deep and carried the message of adoration and truth. He openly fought against the hypocrisy and double standards. But he paid a heavy prize. Vysotsky was branded a subversive under the system and none of his works had been recognized by the state. These actions made him to suffer a lot. In the later part of his life he was isolated and made more inactive. 

The crusader Vladimir Vysotsky died in 1980 at the age of 42. He was eventually rehabilitated during the cultural liberalization under the Perestroika process in 1985. 

Recently I had the privilege of translating Vladimir Vysotsky's  famous song "Koni Priveredlivye” in to Sinhala (Sri Lankan) language for the International poetic project. This project was headed  by Marlena Zimna and they have published a book about new translations of Vladimir Vysotsky's poems into 59 languages including Sinhala.  

If you want to buy this book please go to :   1)     

Listen to Vladimir Vysotsky :  

2)   Fastidious Horses (from the motion picture White Nights )

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