From Velvet Underground to Velvet Revolution
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:30

JOYLESSNESS was an Achilles heel of Communist rule in Europe. The portly grey men who ran the show wanted tightly scripted and uplifting culture, not the subversive improvisation of the 1960s. After Soviet tanks crushed Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring in 1968, all performing musicians were vetted for loyalty to the new regime. The criteria included: no English lyric or band names, and no long hair. “Plastic People of the Universe” failed on all counts.

Their inspiration was America's “Velvet Underground”, a band managed by Andy Warhol which had been a spectacular commercial failure, but a cultural landmark. Until the mid-1970s, the Plastic People performed semi-legally, ostensibly illustrating (rather brief) lectures on music by their Svengali, the poet Ivan Jirous. But the Czechs came for the music. Even second-hand, the mordant, irreverent lyrics of Lou Reed brought comfort and hope.

Life inside Czechoslovakia of the “normalisation” era might seem frozen, impossibly isolated from the cultural mainstream of the West. But the same anti-authoritarian music, aching with alienation and angst, echoed on both sides...Continue reading

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