Friday, December 14, 2007

Back in the USSR...

It was twenty years ago today...

Two decades after his seminal look at Soviet rock music, author Artyom Troitsky reflects how the spirit of those times has changed.

“The future is bright and unpredictable. Nothing scares us now.”

That was the last sentence in Artyom Troitsky’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” the celebrity journalist’s personal account of rock music in the Soviet Union, published in the U.K. in 1987. Written at the height of optimism caused by Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost, the book celebrated a phenomena that Troitsky helped form as a music journalist and underground concert promoter.

Twenty years later the book has been republished in Russian by St. Petersburg’s Amphora Publishing House. Troitsky is still subversive, criticizing Kremlin politicies — and some of his book’s main characters, who have turned conformist under President Vladimir Putin. But now he is not sure about his 1987 closing statement.

“As to ‘The future is bright and unpredictable,’ of course, the second part has come true, 100 percent of it. There can be different opinions about the first part, though,” said Troitsky, sitting in a Novotel room rented by his publisher for a series of press interviews.

“Back in the U.S.S.R.” happened to be the first — both in Russia and the West — and one of the very few books about the phenomenon. Originally published by Omnibus Press as “Back in the U.S.S.R. The True Story of Rock in Russia” in the U.K. in 1987, with the author’s name spelt as Artemy Troitsky, the book’s Russian version (published by Iskusstvo), came out in the Soviet Union in 1990, but had not been republished until recently.

The Soviet version was called “Rok v Soyuze: 60-ye, 70-ye, 80-ye…” (Rock in the Union: the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s…), but now Troitsky is happy to have it republished in Russian under its original title.

The story behind “Back in the U.S.S.R.” dates back to May 1986, when Troitsky, with pop diva Alla Pugachyova, promoted the stadium charity concert “Account 904” to raise funds for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster which occurred in April that year.

“I got the idea [of organizing the charity concert], I knew that I could hardly cope with it alone, so I went to Pugachyova, who was my close friend then, and then we went together to Alexander Yakovlev, then the main ideologist at the Communist Party’s Central Committee,” said Troitsky.

“He gave his full approval, despatched a pair of his guys to carry out our every whim, and actually the concert was put together in a week.”

Held less than a year after Live Aid, when the West was in the grip of Gorbymania, the concert, which featured mainly officially approved pop acts with an exception of then-underground band Bravo, received massive international media attention, and Troitsky was picked up by foreign correspondents as “Russia’s Bob Geldof.”

“There were a great number of people there, and a huge amount of money was raised, too,” he said.

“Of course, the maximum number of Western journalists flew in, because too many ‘sweet’ subjects met in one point — the subject of Chernobyl, the subject of the first Soviet charity concert, which was a trendy thing then with Bob Geldof and Live Aid, and the subject of Russian rock.”

In London, Chris Charlesworth, the editor of Omnibus Press and the former editor of Melody Maker, came up with the idea of a book about rock music in the Soviet Union after reading a report by The Guardian’s then-Moscow correspondent Martin Walker.

“Chris Charlesworth, who didn’t know how to reach me, but was subscribed to The Guardian and read Martin Walker’s famous perestroika reports, found Martin Walker through The Guardian and asked Martin Walker, who often wrote about me because we were friends, traveled and hanged out together, to pass his request to me.

“I got the offer in June 1986 and started to work on the book at once, little by little. Traveled some places, taped a number of interviews, got down to work and in spring 1987 the manuscript was ready and even translated.”

Written when few people could predict the Soviet Union’s impending collapse, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” also profiled music scenes in the Soviet republics, giving a lot of space to the Baltics.

“Actually, that’s the formal reason why I chose not to continue this book. It deals with the U.S.S.R., and now we have a totally different country. Also I’m afraid that I don’t know that much about Baltic, Transcaucasian and Ukrainian music now and simply may not write about it responsibly.”

Twenty years later, Troitsky is critical of some of the book’s characters for conformism and loss of momentum, notably Akvarium’s Boris Grebenshchikov. Intense and subversive in the 1980s, Grebenshchikov now has dealings with Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov and praises Putin’s rule. But Troitsky does not deny Akvarium’s contribution to Russian rock music in the past.

“I think there was a period in Akvarium’s history when this band was interesting,” Troitsky said.

“I would define this period with the dates 1979 and 1983. And that was all. After that I think ‘the air left the body’ for me.”

Troitsky said his current attitude to Russian rock music stems from personal changes, too.

“The whole story about what has happened since then falls into two parts, one dealing with the rock music scene and the other dealing with me personally,” he said.

“I am not that inclined to blame today’s rock music for its worthlessness, lack of talent and lack of right motivations, even if to a certain extent I think that all exists, definitely. But I rather tend to stress that my attitude to this whole story has changed drastically. I started to see things differently.

“As I wrote in the book, I have never been interested in the music of Russian rock; with rarest exceptions, it didn’t impress me. What was more interesting for me was its existential aura, I mean, I was interested in those people, in those situations — dangerous, adventurous and somehow noble — that we all used to find ourselves in.

“But if we’re speaking about the songs, I was more interested in the lyrics, rather than the music. I really think that poetically Russian rock is at least not worse than American, although it’s absolutely different, of course.

“So when this paradigm of the 1970s/80s Soviet rock that was dear to me disappeared, evaporated, inevitably I lost my interest in it. But speaking about the music itself, I always say that we have some quite likable guys, whose work I treat with sympathy and understanding.”

Even though civil liberties and freedom of speech have been gradually stifled under Putin’s rule, there is no new rock revolution in sight, according to Troitsky.

“There are certain speculative, theoretical prerequisites,” he said.

“It’s evident that the current Russian Federation, with the exception of […] its market economy and disappearing democratic add-ons, has virtually rolled back, full-time and full-scale, toward the Soviet Union of the early 1980s.

“So there appears the idea that if there is clampdown, if there is censorship again, this and that, then the young people will get angry and there will be some new rock wave. But practically, nothing like this is happening, at least on my observations. Though I’d be utterly happy if it happened.”

However, Troitsky also traces Russian rock music’s decline to international circumstances.

“The reasons are not fully clear to me, I think in many aspects it has something to do with the situation in global rock,” he said.

“All this rock energy was fed by what was rock in the rest of the world. I can’t imagine Akvarium or Mike [Zoopark’s Mikhail Naumenko] or [Kino’s Viktor] Tsoy without their Westernist music-fan streak. I knew them pretty well. First and foremost, they were fans — some of Lou Reed, some of Marc Bolan, some of Duran Duran — and only secondly they started scribbling their own songs.

“Globally, this inspiring rock situation stimulated rock music here. There isn’t anything like this anymore. What is Western rock now? Linkin fucking Park? It’s hilarious.”

But at least one character, Mikhail Borzykin of St. Petersburg band Televizor, who was famous for his outspoken anti-authoritarian lyrics in the 1980s, did not turn conformist, continues to perform his defiant songs and is now a frequent sight at opposition rallies.

“It’s like a preserved band, I know. Moreover, Borzykin wears the same clothes on stage that he wore 20 years ago. An amazing person.”

Artyom Troitsky’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.” is published in Russian by Amphora Publishing House.

~ Link ~

Ed Sanders on 1968: It was a strange, schizophrenic time"

'60s survivor
The last of the radicals brings his private revolution to Prague
By Steffen Silvis
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
December 12th, 2007

“Like I told Jimi Hendrix once: Any country that can invent the wah-wah
pedal can’t be thoroughly evil.”

Ed Sanders is not short on anecdotes. The poet, musician, Charles Manson
target and political gadfly has been called the bridge between the
beatniks and the hippies, chumming around with friends Lawrence
Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg in the North Beach of the early ’60s,
then hanging out backstage with the likes of Hendrix and Jim Morrison in
the latter part of that packed decade.

Sanders was in Prague last week as an early teaser to next summer’s
Prague Writers’ Festival, an event that will be wholly focused on that
annus terribilis, 1968 -- a year Sanders remembers very well.“It was a
strange, schizophrenic time,” Sanders told an audience that gathered for
his slide lecture at the American Center. “There was all this
revolutionary fervor, and then there was all the rest.”That “rest” was
considerable: Vietnam, massacres in My Lai and Mexico City, Biafra, the
assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy, the
bloody riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, not to mention
epic riots in Paris and London. In New York City, writer Valerie Solonas
gunned down Andy Warhol, while in Baghdad a coup d’ιtat propelled a
young, unknown man named Saddam Hussein into power.

For Czechs, 1968 can never be forgotten, of course, as that was the year
the armies of the Warsaw Pact parked tanks on Wenceslas Square to crush
the Prague Spring. “Terrible times and things,” Sanders reminded the
crowd, “and yet in the middle of the madness the Beatles could release
their great White Album.”

Meeting with Sanders is like meeting up with the past itself,
particularly the part that lived in the trenches and on the barricades
where history is made.

Yet nearing his 70th year, Sanders still possesses a surprising
youthfulness, energetically producing new books, CDs and his own line of
microtonal musical instruments. “I was looking forward to going to the
Golden Bards’ Old Folks Home,” he quips, “but things are such that you
have to keep working to keep from winding up on the streets.”

The other culture

After hitchhiking out of the plain Great Plains for the cosmopolitan
stew of Greenwich Village, Sanders wrote his first poem on prison toilet
paper after being arrested for protesting nuclear proliferation in 1961.
His passion for poetry and political activism were born as fraternal
twins. “A wise person once told me to dare to be a part of the history
of your era,” he says. “I took it seriously.”

In Greenwich Village, he launched the avant-garde journal Fuck You: A
Journal of the Arts (a platform for late Modernists and fellow beats)
and opened the Peace Eye Bookstore, which the NYPD promptly raided on
grounds of obscenity, leading Sanders back to jail and onto the cover of
Life magazine, which dubbed him a “leader of New York’s other culture.”
By then, Sanders was best-known as the singer/songwriter for the
influential band The Fugs, which formed in 1965. “It was a time for
music,” Sanders recalls, “and music still defines those times.”
“I’m an American patriot of the Walt Whitman wing of the Democratic
Party,” Sanders declared to his American Center audience, and like any
true patriot he’s been gravely disappointed. A good portion of his
lecture dealt with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, an event that
moved him profoundly. Even in conversation with the poet later, he
appeared to be checking his emotions when talking about Kennedy.
“It’s the moment I discovered that I was a true American patriot,”
Sanders recalls. “I wept all day.”

Yet the schizophrenia that he had earlier referred to in his
presentation surfaced in an uncomfortable memory of the day following
the assassination. “I got a call from Jerry Rubin,” Sanders says of the
famous ’60s radical, “and he said, ‘Did you hear the good news?
Kennedy’s dead. Now we can raise some hell in Chicago.’ I couldn’t
believe it.” And Rubin had his wish more than fulfilled, as history reports.

“I’m going to write a book on Kennedy next,” Sanders tells me. “I’ve
discovered some additional information about that day in Los Angeles.”
One thing he found strangely dovetails back into an earlier book of his.
“Did you know,” he asks, “that the day Kennedy was killed, he had a meal
with Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate?”

Sanders’ The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack
Battalion was the first book to deal with the Tate-LaBianca murder spree
by the Spahn Ranch beasts. Sanders gained access to Manson’s clan by
posing, as he once wrote, as a “Satanic guru-maniac and dope-trapped

“I went out to California with this idea that Manson was innocent,”
Sanders says. “You know, the establishment taking their frustrations out
on nomad hippies. Then I discovered that he wasn’t just guilty, but very

His book made a sworn enemy out of Manson, who has sent his share of
death threats and demonic drawings to Sanders, one of which Sanders used
for a 9/11 design. “It was the most evil thing I had to express evil,”
he says. The Family itself is due for a reprinting, with additional
information that Sanders has dug up.

History denied

Along with those book projects, there’s also his recently completed
five-volume set of the history of America in verse. “It’s a great
country with a great history,” he states. “But there’s a sense of dread
in the country at the moment.”

To Sanders, there are far too many moments of “better history denied,”
particularly with Kennedy’s death. “And then there was Gore,” he
complains of the 2000 election. “He was just too much the Southern
gentleman to go down to Florida and take on the Elmer Gantrys that were
stealing the election.”

Bush and his “Custerism,” as Sanders labels the man’s proud ignorance,
have certainly proven to be grist for the old activist. In a concert
last Monday night at Divadlo Minor, Sanders performed a new poem about
the world becoming a harmonious whole at the jailing of Bush. As with
almost all of Sanders’ work, he manages to be totally, radically engaged
with history while maintaining an almost Epicurean joyfulness.
He was joined in the concert by the Plastic People of the Universe, and
so the audience was again confronted with the legacy of 1968. “My band,
The Fugs, was playing in Essen, Germany, when the Soviets attacked
Czechoslovakia,” Sanders had told his audience earlier at the American
Center. “We decided to go to Prague, and we were going to lie down in
front of the tanks. It was a statement, but it also would have made a
great album cover. Well, we got close to the border, but a German
soldier with a machine gun stopped us.”

For a man who has lived history, Sanders seems starved for more, and is
even wistful for what he missed. “If I could go back to a previous
moment, I’d like to join Walt Whitman on his journey to New Orleans in
1860,” Sanders tells me. “I would go with him to see the dreadful slave
auction in Congo Square, and I would say, ‘Walt, let’s make some
placards that say STOP SLAVERY NOW.’”

Sanders laughs, then says, “We’d be thrown in jail, sure. But think of
the poetry we could write there!”

Steffen Silvis can be reached at
Dan Clore
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

Federal Dollars: What Came to and Left Your State in 2005

In spite of claims of the jobs created through military spending, much of the money spent on the military never makes it back to the States. This report, based on a new release of federal spending data, IRS and other data, shows at the state level what taxes we paid and what came back.

In 2005, the federal government spent around $2.5 trillion. Each year the Census Bureau publishes the information in the Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR) showing where that money went. The report for fiscal year 2005 was released in October 2007, and includes approximately 92 percent of all federal money expended during the year according to state and in some cases, sub-state areas. Excluded from the report are items such as interest paid on the debt, international payments, salaries and wages of military personnel stationed overseas and classified projects.

Military outlays in 2005 totaled $495.3 billion, around four-fifths of which appears in the CFFR. The amount that can be traced to states and territories amounted to $390.9 billion, as presented in Table 1 below. Table 1 compares the money that came back to states in military procurement contracts, salaries and wages, and grants, with how much was paid in taxes by the taxpayers of those states for military spending. After taking into account that part of military spending is financed by borrowing, approximately 91 cents came back for every dollar paid in taxes. This number would be lower had the numbers not been adjusted for deficit-financing. These amounts include the Department of Defense and the defense-related activities in the Department of Energy (essentially, nuclear weapons). Taxpayers of 32 states paid more for the military than was returned in terms of salary and wages, procurement contracts and other expenditures. States which had the worst return for their tax dollar were Minnesota ($0.19), Delaware ($0.23), and New York ($0.24). A total of 19 states paid less in taxes for the military than they received back. States which had the best return for their tax dollar were New Mexico ($5.00), Alaska ($4.81), and Hawaii ($3.95).

Table 2 indicates how much each state received in Department of Defense (DoD) procurement contracts. California ($31.2 billion), Virginia ($26.8 billion) and Texas ($20.6 billion) received the largest amount in procurement contracts. Per capita spending on DoD procurement contracts nationally was $828. The top three states per capita were the District of Columbia ($6,137), Virginia ($3,545), and Alaska ($2,894). States with the lowest per capita spending were Idaho ($109), Oregon ($162), and Delaware ($212). Data only indicate the location of the initial contract and do not follow dollars to sub-contracts.

In addition to the significant portion of military spending leaving the U.S., the economic impact of military spending that goes to local areas is not as effective at creating jobs as other types of spending. A new report by the Political Economy Research Institute shows that public spending on education creates more jobs that are higher paying than the same amount of money spent on the military. Public spending on other areas such as health care and energy efficiency also create more jobs than the equivalent amount spent on the military, though the jobs have lower pay and benefits. Nevertheless, the overall economic impact in terms of wages and benefits is much higher. Moreoever, investing in renewable energy and conservation, health care and education can have considerable impact on technological developments, workforce skills and infrastructure, all of which will support further economic growth and development.

As Table 3 shows, however, the money directed toward state and local areas for education spending is much less than military spending. The table also show how much each state receives in Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Nutrition Services spending. In contrast to the $390.9 billion distributed for the military, $56.8 billion came to states in Department of Education programs; $50.6 billion in Food and Nutrition programs; and $6.8 billion in EPA programs.

Table 4 shows total expenditures by state compared to taxes paid. Thirty-one states received more than its taxpayers paid in taxes and 20 states paid more in taxes than came back in federal spending. Nationally, $1.01 came back for every tax dollar paid. Borrowing money to finance spending is the reason why more came back than collected in taxes.

Notes and sources.
To find spending data at state and county level for dozens of federal spending programs from 1983-2005, go to the NPP Database.
~ Source ~

Jimmy Page Talks Magick

Jimmy Page Talks Magick

Here's an excerpt from an interview in the new Guitar World magazine (courtesy of

(Guitar World) Could we talk a little about the meaning behind your sequence [in The Song Remains The Same]?

(Page) To me, the significance is very clear, isn't it?

(GW) Well, I find it interesting that you were choosing to represent yourself as a hermit at a time when you were really quite a public figure.

(Page) Well, I was hermetic. I was involved in the hermetic arts, but I wasn't a recluse. Or maybe I was... The image of the hermit that was used for the [inside cover] art-work on Led Zeppelin IV and in the movie actually has it's origins in a painting of Christ called The Light of the World by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. The imagery was later transferred to the Waite tarot deck [the most popular tarot deck in use in the English-speaking world]. My segment was supposed to be the aspirant going to the beacon of truth, which is represented by the hermit and his journey toward it. What I was trying to say through the transformation was that enlightenment can be achieved at any point in time; it just depends on when you want to access it. In other words you can always see the truth, but do you recognize it when you see it or do you have to reflect back on it later?

(GW) There was always a certain amount of speculation about your occult studies. It may have been subtle, but you weren't really hiding it.

(Page) I was living it. That's all there is to it. It was my life - that fusion of magick and music.

(GW) Your use of symbols was very advanced. The sigil [symbols of occult powers] on Led Zeppelin IV and the embroidery on your stage clothes from that time period are good examples on how you left your mark on popular culture. It's something that major corporations are aggressively pursuing these days: using symbols as a from of branding.

(Page) You mean talismanic magick? Yes, I knew what I was doing. There's no point in saying about it, because the more you discuss it, the more eccentric you appear to be. But the facts is - as far as I was concerned - it was working, so I used it. But it's really no different then people who wear ribbons around their wrists: it's a talismanic approach to something. Well let me amend that: it's not exactly the same thing, but it is in the same realm. I'll leave this subject by saying the four musical elements of Led Zeppelin making a fifth is magick into itself. That's the alchemical process.

"a very professional place full of true American patriots"

Gitmo troops vandalise Wikipedia
13 Dec 2007

US military personnel at Guantanamo Bay called Fidel Castro a transsexual and defended the prison for terrorism suspects in anonymous web postings, an internet group that publishes government documents said today.

The group, Wikileaks, tracked web activity by service members with Guantanamo email addresses and also found they deleted prisoner identification numbers from three detainee profiles on Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia that allows anyone to change articles.

Julian Assange, who led the research effort, said the postings amount to propaganda and deception.

"This is the American government speaking to the American people and to the world through Wikipedia, not identifying itself and often speaking about itself in the third person," Assange said in a telephone interview from Paris.

Army Lt Col Ed Bush, a Guantanamo spokesman, said there is no official attempt to alter information posted elsewhere but said the military seeks to correct what it believes is incorrect or outdated information about the prison.

Bush declined to answer questions about the Castro posting.

Assange said that in January 2006, someone at Guantanamo wrote in a Wikipedia profile of the Cuban president: "Fidel Castro is an admitted transexual," the unknown writer said, misspelling the word transsexual.

The US has no formal relations with Cuba and has maintained its base in the south-east of the island over the objections of the Castro government.

Comments on news stories were posted by people using apparently fictitious names to news sites - and were prepared by the Guantanamo public affairs office, according to Wikileaks.

A comment on a Wired magazine story about a leaked Guantanamo operations manual that was recently posted on the Wikileaks website urged readers to learn about Guantanamo by going to the public affairs website, adding that the base is "a very professional place full of true American patriots".

Assange's group could not specifically identify who from Guantanamo made about 60 edits to Wikipedia entries on topics that included not only the prison but also subjects such as football, cars and television programs.

The prison at Guantanamo hold about 305 men on suspicion of links to terrorism, al-Qaeda or the Taliban.



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