Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holy Shit, Viktor Tsoi!

On August 15th, 1990, a man in Latvia died in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. Within hours, the story was all over the Russian media, and a message was spraypainted onto a Moscow wall in all black that simply read, "Viktor Tsoi died today." Soon after, a separate message appeared, insisting, "Tsoi Lives!" The second message became something of a rallying cry for the Soviet and post-Soviet rock scene in Eastern Europe. Because Viktor Tsoi and his band, Kino, were the most important musical pioneers in Soviet history.

Kino rose to fame at a time when it was suddenly possible to criticize the communist regime in the USSR. In the 1980s, Glasnost and Perestroika became a thing and censorship started to wane. Kino was at the forefront of the new wave of artistic freedom. They took their inspiration from Western bands like The Smiths, R.E.M., and The Cure. At the height of their popularity, they released an album called Gruppa Krovi, or "Blood Type." The title track goes like this:

The chorus roughly means, "My blood type is pinned on my sleeve, and my number and rank. Wish me luck in the battles to come. Wish for me not to lay dead in the grass. Wish me luck in the battle." It's a protest song about the war in Afghanistan.
The one where America was rooting for the Islamists
The band was just reaching its full potential when Viktor Tsoi died in the aforementioned car accident. Kino was in the midst of recording their highly anticipated eighth album. In fact, Tsoi was carrying a tape with him in the car that was the only copy of the recording of his vocal tracks for said album.

The crash was horrific. His car smashed into a bus and was all but disintegrated, and he died instantly. The tape not only survived, but it was entirely undamaged. Four months later, the album was released. Its cover was a mournful black with its title (KINO) in small white letters at the center. The name was quickly disregarded by fans, who dubbed it "The Black Album."
Where'd they get that idea?

The wall where "Tsoi Lives!" was written became a major cultural landmark in Moscow, and the phrase itself was repeated as something of a meme throughout Western Europe. It meat defiance in the face of grief. Rebellion in the face of loss. It was the new Russia. Or at least what the new Russia was supposed to be.
The Tsoi Wall
It's still there, too.

Holy shit.

"Victor Tsoi 1986 cropped" by Victor_Tsoi_1986.jpg: Igor Mukhinderivative work: Beaumain (talk) - Victor_Tsoi_1986.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87" by Erwin Lux - Private collection; apparently a crop of this image at Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Кино, Черный альбом (Kino, Chyorny album) (1990)" by группа Кино - Чёрный альбом. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

"Tsoi Wall 02" by Superchilum - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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