Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1954-1988

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9780195056334: Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, 1954-1988

In February 1987, Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev personally received Yoko Ono in Moscow. In a surprising revelation, Raisa declared that she and her husband were fans of John Lennon. While Raisa sang lyrics from a Lennon song, the Soviet leader observed solemnly, "John should have been here." It was a stunning declaration. After three decades of virulent anti-rock rhetoric, a Soviet leader had allied himself with the forces of rock & roll. In the era of glasnost and perestroika, rock & roll has provided, in a very real sense, the soundtrack to the Gorbachev revolution. This stunning policy shift has fueled the already burgeoning Soviet rock scene and has commanded intense media attention in the West.
But as Timothy W. Ryback demonstrates in this lively and revealing book, Western music, particularly rock & roll, is not new to the Soviet bloc. Indeed, as Mr. Ryback shows, rock music has effected one of the most significant transformations ever in Soviet bloc society. He traces the emergence of rock culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from 1954 to the present day, where it has become unquestionably the most pervasive form of mass cultural activity in Communist society. Charting this process, Rock Around the Bloc looks at both sides of the thirty-year war between rock fans and Soviet bloc governments. It takes the reader into the Kremlin for special Central Committee meetings devoted to the "evil" of rock music; into the streets of beleaguered 1968 Prague and 1981 Poland where rock bands and their fans helped spearhead social and political reforms; and into the bedrooms of young people secretly tuning into rock broadcasts from the BBC and Radio Free Europe.
The reader comes to realize that in some ways, life in the Soviet bloc was surprisingly similar to life in the West. There was the Elvis craze in the late 1950s, Beatlemania in 1964, and the disturbing appearance of punks and skinheads on urban streets in the early 1980s. At the same time, these similarities make the differences all the more striking. Prague's mid-1960s drug cult relied on analgesics mixed with alcohol to ape western drugs. In 1969 young Moscow musicians seeking to convert their acoustic guitars into electric ones dismantled every public phone in Moscow to pilfer the electronic parts. And Dean Reed, an expatriate American who became a genuine Soviet bloc superstar selling millions of records, died mysteriously shortly after expressing his desire to return to the United States.
Informed throughout by a deep knowledge and love for the music as well as an understanding of the Soviet bloc's political and social realities, Rock Around the Bloc tells a fascinating story on many levels: the liberalization of communist society, the traumas and triumphs of Soviet bloc youth culture, the spread of rock's influence in unlikely places, and the surprisingly rich variety of rock & roll in Eastern Europe that keeps its kinship to western music while forging a unique identity all its own. Engagingly written and full of compelling detail, Ryback's definitive account will delight all rock fans and will fascinate people interested in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and modern social history.

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About the Author:


About the author:
Timothy W. Ryback is a Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University. His writing on European culture and politics has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Review:

"Ryback skillfully combines materials from sources as diverse as the archives of Radio Free Europe to MTV specials, from the Soviet journal Kamepmoh to the British heavy metal magazine Kerrang!.... The first comprehensive look, in English, at perhaps the most powerful outside force to invade
East European popular culture, rock and roll."--Slavic and East European Journal

"Should be welcomed by music, cultural studies, and political science scholars as well as by casual readers. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries at all levels."--Choice

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