A pro-Kremlin lawmaker spawned a tsunami of scorn in Russia this week by alleging that Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi’s Perestroika-era anthems were composed by CIA operatives trying to destabilize the Soviet regime.
Friends, acquaintances, and fans of the late frontman of the legendary band, Kino, call the claims ridiculous. But the U.S. government was keenly aware of the power of rock and roll to rattle its Cold War rival, according to Free to Rock, a new documentary that explores the impact of rock music on Soviet society.
The White House, in fact, played a hands-on role in this soft-power strategy when U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s administration helped send the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to the Soviet Union in 1977 for the first tour of an American rock band on Soviet soil, said Jim Brown, the film’s New York-based producer. “Carter was more involved than any of us thought,” Brown told me. “He thought rock and roll could kind of undermine the system.”
Carter is one of several former officials and prominent musicians from both sides of the Iron Curtain interviewed for the film. Others include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose perestroika and glasnost reforms allowed the country’s vibrant underground rock scene to explode into the mainstream in the late 1980s.
“He was a fan of Elvis Presley, he liked rock and roll,” Brown said of Gorbachev. “He felt rock was for young people and that young people wanted rock ’n’ roll. And I think he takes pride in the fact that after wasting, you know, trillions of dollars on weapons, that words and actions and culture brought these two countries together.”
Read more. [Image: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]
Ok, hate is a strong word, but must we turn The Beatles into a software-patent diagram?
Forget the recent spate of books on the Fab Four. The only volume you need was published 20 years ago today.
On a scorching August day in 2011, in the city of Homs, the Syrian conflict nearly swallowed Monzer Darwish. The 23-year-old graphic designer, who grew up in nearby Hama, had stopped at a cafe with his fiancée, only to take cover in the establishment at the sound of screaming outside. When they finally ventured into the street, they heard a pop—pop, pop, and someone fell. Then everyone ran. “The whole street was literally on fire,” he recalled.
Fleeing the violence, Darwish wrestled with the kinds of questions many face during war. What do you do if you don’t want to take a side? If you don’t want to take up arms? If you want to keep your community from being torn apart? If you can’t escape? Many of his friends found themselves in a similar situation, and they sought emotional refuge through music, even live heavy-metal concerts near the frontlines. Reconnecting with these peers, Darwish decided to film how this alternative community—musicians and fans alike—was surviving amid the country’s three-year civil war.
Heavy metal, with its macabre poetry, thundering elegies, and violent moshing, has often resonated with young people and helped them express solidarity with one another during periods of political and social tension. But Darwish wanted to show how Syria’s “metal heads” and alternative youth, like their peers in Iraq and Afghanistan, are turning to the music not only as a way to cope with mass trauma, but also as a means of conducting a brutally honest dialogue about how to survive war and reform society.
The result: a rockumentary called Syrian Metal Is War. For much of the last year, Darwish has crisscrossed the country to film every metal musician he can find. He’s uploaded a trailer to YouTube, and he hopes to screen a rough cut of the full film in Beirut by late spring.
Read more. [Image: Daniel J. Gerstle]
How many times can you hear gold teeth/Grey Goose/trippin’ in the bathroom before you get a hankering for some vodka? And yes, Lorde may be saying those are things we’ll never have, not being royals and all, but many non-royal adolescents have made do with cheaper alternatives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of adolescents have had a drink in the past 30 days, and 22 percent qualify as binge-drinkers. In a new survey on adolescent binge-drinking published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Pittsburgh look at how these tossed-off brand mentions in music could affect young people’s drinking behaviors.
Enough exposure to anything has an effect, and previous research has shown that for adolescents, music is the fastest-growing form of media they’re exposed to, listening to about 2.5 hours a day as of 2010. They hear 14 references to drinking per song-hour, and about 8 brand-name mentions.
Read more. [Image: tmab2003/flickr]
It was 1983, and women were starting to get loud. In the academy, writers and theorists were debating prostitution, pornography, and BDSM. The Equal Rights Amendment was making its last rounds through Congress, passing in the House but not getting enough votes to be added to the Constitution. Alice Walker had just published The Color Purple. Across the Atlantic, Margaret Thatcher was continuing her reign as the first female prime minister of Britain.
And in New York City, a Queens native named Cyndi Lauper was about to make a declaration: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
In the 30 years since Lauper released her career-defining hit, “Girls” has been described as a “rebellious sing-along,” a “feminist anthem,” even a symbol of the “pogo-punk unisex spirit of the irreverent and permissive early 1980s.” Bloggers have written odes to it, dance-recital choreographers have it flocked to it, a movie has been made in its honor. The accompanying album, She’s So Unusual, is being re-released in April, and the liner notes remind listeners that “beneath [the] sparkly veneer was a strong feminist message.”
Read more. [Image courtesy of Cyndi Lauper]
Meet Vulfpeck. They’re a funk band. They’re based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And they just released a new album called Sleepify.
A representative of the streaming music Spotify has already weighed in on the album. This is a somewhat unusual event.
“Sleepify,” the unidentified spokesperson told Digday, “seems derivative of John Cage’s work.”
Indeed, Sleepify is a somewhat unusual album.
You see—like American avant garde composer John Cage’s landmark work 4’33”—the album only consists of silence. It’s 10 impeccable tracks, all impeccably silent. And while Cage’s piece constituted a winking commentary on the beauty of everyday, ambient sound, Vulfpeck’s opus is a little more pecuniary.
But first, a primer.
Gaga’s vomit; Tyler’s riot—the headlines can make it seem like the South by Southwest music festival exists for already-famous musicians to grab even more publicity. But despite the attention-getting presence of celebrities and sponsorships each year in Austin, there are still upwards of a thousand smaller bands in town for five days. The vast majority of them are undiscovered; some are buzzed-about up and comers. Here are the best sets we happened to catch from people who aren’t yet big stars—but might be one day.
Read more. [Image: John Davisson/Invision/AP]
Three months after its release, it’s clear that Beyoncé’s latest album contains one of her most startling messages yet: Maybe she’s wrong.
Read more. [Image: Columbia Records]