Sunday, 8 July 2007

Dissident Rock & Roll Feature

Here is a thing I wrote about the Czech band The Plastic People of The Universe for the blog.

Dissident Rock & Roll

Some people make a big deal about the fact that The Plastic People Of The Universe ‘are the history of the dissident Czech liberal struggle embodied in musical opposition’. In fact that is the entire premise and backdrop of Tom Stoppard’s latest play ‘Rock & Roll’. The thing is that unlike bands like the recently reformed Rage Against The Machine who exist to highlight issues and politicise society the Plastics simply wanted to play some tunes.

The band nicked their name from a Zappa song and formed in late 1968 soon after the Russians quashed Dubcek and the liberating elements of the Czech government that had allowed the Prague Spring. The Plastics were lead by their own Andy Warhol; an excitable dude named Ivan Jirous, and made a hodgepodge psychedelic sound that mixed the Velvets with the Fuggs and Pink Floyd. They soon had their professional licence revoked so they started throwing crazy happenings out in the countryside filled with freaky kids that looked like they’d just walked out of Haight Ashbury circa ‘68.

This didn’t sit to well with the Kremlin’s ‘normalisation’ process of Czech culture and shows were routinely shut down and fans jailed most notably in 1976 when 27 musicians were jailed and over 100 fans held for interrogation due to the ‘subversive’ nature of the Plastics music. Jirous was sentenced to 18 months and he hadn’t even played a note!

The diverse group of supporters that rallied round the imprisoned band included the future Czech president Alexander Havel but on their release the authorities continued to dog the band. Their recordings were only ever widely available in the West produced from tapes of the bands live shows illegally smuggled out of the country. Lou Reed was allegedly moved to tears on hearing Havel recount the Plastics tale during his visit to Prague in early 1990 soon after the wall had fallen and the band were finally free to play after over twenty years of doing nothing apart from refusing not to play.

Read their whole story here:

and have a look at them whigging out in New York last year here:

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