Until his death, Vladimir Vysotsky was a prophet without honor in his own country; although he wrote more than a thousand highly popular songs, he died without an official record release to his name. The reason for this studied neglect lay in the political tenor of his material. Vysotsky, who began performing in the 1960s, was quite critical of the Communist regime, and his lyrics took position on the Soviet status quo. His songs derived from the blatny pesny (literally, delinquent song) tradition, with its celebration of sex, drink, and street fights. Informally distributed cassettes ensured Vysotsky a wide and enthusiastic following. After his death, in 1980, Gorbachev granted his music an imprimatur and a 20-album retrospective was released. ~ Leon Jackson, All-Music Guide
Reuters report about the 60th anniversary of Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980):
..."He embodied all that is Russian. He was Russia," said Vasily Ovchinnikov, a 43-year-old market seller clutching his guitar at the cemetery after a rendition of one of Vysotksy's songs.
..."He saw life as it really was. What he sang and wrote about still has meaning for us now," said Kortashev, a poet, after reciting some of Vysotsky's verse near his hero's grave.
Full Reuters report
The questionnaire included in cover of the recording, translated by de Cate and Navrozov.
...Favourite film and director: "City Lights", Chaplin.
...What in your opinion is friendship? : When one can tell someone everything about oneself, even what is most disgusting.
...Are you happy? Sometimes, yes.
...Do you want to be a great man and why? I want to be one and I will be one.
The full questionnaire
Vysotsky, Vladimir Semyonovich. (b. Jan. 25, 1938, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.1--d. July 24, 19802, Moscow), Russian actor, lyricist, and folksinger whose social and political satire spoke of the ironies and hardships of a strictly regulated Soviet society. While risking official displeasure, he became an immensely popular figure who was revered by the Russian people even after his death.3
Vysotsky's parents were divorced soon after his birth, and he lived mostly with his mother4 (a technical translator), first in Buzuluk5 and then, from 1945, in Moscow. He attended the Institute of Civil Engineering for a year (1955-56) but quit to join the Nemirovich-Danchenko Studio School of the Moscow Art Theatre6, graduating in 1960 and then becoming a professional actor, first at the Moscow Pushkin Dramatic Theatre7 and then at the Theatre of Miniatures (i.e., "Playlets"). From 1964 he was a member of the Moscow Theatre of Drama and Comedy on the Taganka8, starring in such roles as Hamlet9 and Don Juan10; he was also featured in 26 motion pictures.11
His great popularity as an actor was perhaps even exceeded by his popularity as a poet and songwriter12; he wrote several hundred songs and poems, as well as incidental music for plays and films. Soviet officialdom permitted few of his songs to be sung on television or in films or to be recorded. His lyrical fame spread from appearances in clubs13, factories14, and universities15 and through the mass distribution of homemade (and illegal) tape recordings (magnitizdat) and publications (samizdat). He sang of such themes as Soviet prison life ("Only the final judgment could be worse"16), Soviet official hypocrisy ("I grieve that honour has been put to rout, that backbiting has been deified"17), and generally about ordinary Russian daily life (crowded living quarters, long food lines, unfair privileges of the elite18). He died at 42 of a heart attack,19 brought on, it was said, by his well-known carousing, hard-drinking life-style. In the late 1980s the Soviet government began allowing the publication of his poetry and song lyrics.20
10He actually never played Don Juan on the stage, this role was his in the movie "Small Tragedies", based on poems by one of the most famous Russian poets, Aleksandr Pushkin.
On the final note, he did not sing only of "ordinary Russian daily life", his songs were much more profound than that. One may say that one of the most famous Russian classics, "Master and Margarita", is a parody on Soviet life; and one may say that the book explores the most important life questions. If Vysotsky's songs were just protests, they would only be good at the dissident rallies. Yet from his songs people draw strength to live, to work, to love; the bard's poems touch millions of hearts all over the world.