January 23, 2020

#TBT: Two Vladimirs, One Country



#TBT: Two Vladimirs, One Country
Two Volodyas: Lenin and Vysotsky. Pavel Zhukhov and Unknown.

Ninety-six years ago this week, Russian history was indelibly altered by the death (at 53), on January 21, 1924, of Vladimir Lenin. The leader and political mastermind of the Bolshevik Revolution, he had had his first stroke almost two years before, in May 1922. He recovered for a time, and was well enough to dictate a testament that, among other things, called for Josef Stalin's ouster as General Secretary. But his absence from the center of power at such a crucial time, and his continually declining health, allowed Stalin to instead consolidate his power.

Fourteen years and four days after Lenin's death, on January 25, 1938, a very different Vladimir was born, Vladimir Vysotsky, the son of an army colonel and a German translator.

While he became most famous as a bard, writing and singing songs laced with social and political commentary, and often full of criminal slang and street jargon, his training and official profession was as an actor. Over his 25-year career, he acted in over 25 films, in addition to numerous plays during his tenure the Taganka, MKhAT, and Pushkin Theaters. But of course, his songwriting was prolific, resulting in over 600 works in a wide variety of themes and styles. Unfortunately, however, this creative genius's life was cut short (he was 42) due to alcoholism, drug abuse, and coronary disease. He died in July 1980.

Russian Hamlet with a Guitar
  • February 01, 1998

Russian Hamlet with a Guitar

The poems, voice and lyrics of Vladimir Vysotsky are cherished parts of Russian culture, because they resonate with uncommon truth and depth of feeling.
Bolshevik Doodles
  • November 01, 1997

Bolshevik Doodles

They are certainly not great works of art, but they are intriguing pieces of history -- cartoons and caricatures drawn by early Soviet leaders while sitting in droning meetings. Publisher here for the first time outside Russia.
The Taganka's Master
  • March 01, 2007

The Taganka's Master

Thirty years ago, a daring and amazing interpretation of The Master and Margarita was staged at Moscow's Taganka Theater.
The Body Politic
  • May 01, 1997

The Body Politic

A revealing retrospective on Russian leaders' health, from Lenin to Yeltsin -- what they have sought to cover up, and why.
In Search of Bards
  • January 01, 2009

In Search of Bards

To paraphrase Pushkin, "In Russia, a bard is much more than a bard." We look back at the bardic tradition (singer-songwriters) in Russian culture and find that not all is what it seems. Or, to paraphrase Pushkin again, "In Russia, a bard is often less than a bard."
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Woe From Wit (bilingual)

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