Russian chanson:

Check out this article about the booming genre of Russian pop music inspired by crime, prison, and gulags -- perhaps a Russian version of "gangsta rap." The article calls Vladimir Vysotsky, who died in 1980, the "godfather" of this genre. A previous post of mine on Vysotsky is here. Hat tip: Todd Seavey.

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Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I'm not sure if Vysotsky can accurately be called the godfather of chanson. It's not that he wasn't influential in the genre's development. After all, Shufutinskiy, Lesopoval, Petlura, Krug, and many others seem to have borrowed from him. It's just that Vysotskiy's influence reaches so much farther, into so many other genres.

It's been observed that Vysotskiy was perceived as "genuien" by members of all the groups he sang about. Veterans thought he was too a veteran. Prisoners believed he had served time, athletes thought he was an athlete. Drunks thought that Vysotskiy was an alcoholic, and sadly, they were right.
7.17.2006 11:03am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I think the word "godfather" doesn't exclude participation in other genres as well. For instance, Ken Arrow probably deserves several Nobel Prizes, not just the one he got in 1972, for his foundational, "godfatherly" work in general equilibrium theory (Arrow-Debreu), social choice (Arrow impossibility theorem), asymmetric information, etc.
7.17.2006 11:12am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I largely agree, and I don't want to make this into a beating of a dead horse, but I just feel that to folks who aren't familiar with Vysotskiy, the words "godfather of chanson" may imply a certain exclusivity of commitment, a limitation. I only want to make it plain that there was a lot more going on there.

Oh and, a man who sang "Banka po belomu" the way he did, practically shredding his vocal cords and baring his soul on every lyric, had to drink.
7.17.2006 11:33am
M (mail):
The big problem with this music is that it's so bad- really awful. If you drive around Russia very much you can't help hearing it in taxies and mini-busses and just from people stopping their cars and blasting the radio. And it's terrible- even worse than generic Russian pop, which in turn is worse than generic American pop. (There are many very good Russian musicians and bands, but this stuff is just amazingly awful.)
7.17.2006 11:48am
liberty (mail) (www):
As a side note (completely unrelated to whether Russian pop is better or worse than American and Chinese counterparts), I noticed that the NY Times described the gulag system as "Stalin era."

With their usual whitewash of history, they have disregarded more than ten years before Stalin and decades after, and all the lives destroyed and taken in that period. It may have peaked in the Stalin era, but it was neither created nor destroyed during his tenure.
7.17.2006 12:48pm
Ironies abound.

The Jewish "octogenarian" Mikhail Tanich had an extra long and successful career prior to the fall of the SU. His lyrics included lots of hits for neutral, humorous as well as official propaganda songs.

The "cossack" Tokarev was widely famous in Brighton Beach and all the Russian-speaking Jewish communities in the contiguous 48. In 1987 he provided entertainment for the manifestation of the Union of Organizations for Soviet Jewry on the steps of the US Capitol. The goal of the manifestation was to push for the emigration of all the refuseniks. Soon after, the floodgate of emigration was opened (not that Willy could get the credit for it personally - Gorbachev simply decided to sweep the the closet).

But frankly, Tanich's innocuous pop and even some official stuff, while no masterpieces, was of higher quality than Willy's production or Tanich's own latter day chanson ouevre.
7.17.2006 1:07pm