Bу Peter Lowe
Amongst listeners within Russia and countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence Vladimir Vysotsky needs no introduction. His immense catalogue of songs, and the distinctive manner in which he delivered them, made him one of the most important cultural figures of his time. Poets such as Yevtushenko, Akhmatova, and Brodsky respected his work, while Soviet-era citizens would eagerly listen to each new recording as it became available, or spend evenings revisiting old favourites.
Нis distinctive voice resonates among those who recall him first-hand, those who have grown up surrounded by his songs, and those who find him through the recommendations of others or through their own curiosity.
The Soviet state took the cultural lives of its citizens very seriously, but Vysotsky’s immense popularity in his lifetime had nothing to do with any official approval. In content and in delivery his songs were far removed from the state-sanctioned idea of musical culture. They owed much more to a tradition of folk storytelling and social observation, in which profound truths were passed on through a character’s experience, sometimes with wry humour or keen irony.
An accomplished actor as well as a musician, Vysotsky wrote within a range of different personae, using song as a way of telling stories about other people’s lives. In keeping with the diversity of characters, his lyrics are often rich in vernacular language, and this has sometimes been considered an obstacle for translators as they look to make these texts, with their blending of the literary and the everyday, accessible for those whose cultural reference points are removed from the immediate world that Vysotsky’s characters inhabit.
Now, forty-two years after his death, aged just 42, a selection of Vysotsky’s lyrics is available in English. Thanks are due here to John Farndon and Olga Nakston, whose bi-lingual collection is published by Glagoslav Publications. Readers will find here Vysotsky’s most celebrated pieces – from ‘Song About a Friend’ and ‘Stubborn Horses’ to ‘I Don’t Like’ and ‘The Wolf Hunt’, along with works of dark humour like ‘A Song About Rumours’ or ‘From Moscow to Odessa’.