Aleksandr Galich

Aleksandr Galich (Александр Галич; originally Ginzburg) was a Russian/Ukrainian singer-songwriter, bard, poet, and Soviet dissident who died in 1977. He is well-known enough, and beloved enough, to be mentioned in the same breath as Vysotsky. He was born in present-day Ukraine (Dnepropetrovsk) to a family who enjoyed, though did not create or participate in, music and art. He grew up mainly in Moscow, where he took piano lessons and wrote poetry. He was first published when he was only 14.

Galich attended a theatrical institute after he finished secondary school, and when the war broke out he moved south, to Grozny, where he briefly joined the Theater of National Heroics (Театр народной героики). He then moved to Chirchiq, in Uzbekistan, for more theatrical activities. He acted, but also wrote plays, songs, and poetry. His artistic career grew in fits and starts after that: his first big success was his play Marching (Походный марш), the songs of which became widely popular in the Soviet Union. His next plays and musicals, written in the late 1940s and 1950s, continued to achieve more popularity and success across Russia and the USSR. In 1955, MXAT, a prominent Moscow theater, premiered two of his pieces. He added cinematography to his already long list of artistic roles, and began writing screenplays as well. He even crossed paths with now-legendary comedy directors Leonid Gaidai and Eldar Ryazanov.

Galich turned into a bard late in his career, only in the 1960s, while also continuing the other strands of his career. He wrote his first song in the bard genre, “Lenochka” (“Леночка”), in 1962, and many, many more followed quickly. He worked in two completely disparate genres—satirical political pieces and more heartfelt, sad songs—simultaneously, confusing some of his listeners. His popularity as a bard was acknowledged at a festival in Akademgorodok in 1968, when he won a big prize—and the respect and admiration of the Soviet artistic and academic world—for his song “To the Memory of Pasternak” (“Памяти Пастернака”).

His bard career began veering into seditious territory, and the authorities did not appreciate his social commentary and warned him to back off. But he kept going, making self-recordings of his music and illegally distributing them. He was thrown out of the Union of Soviet Writers and then of the cinematographers’ union. He became a national pariah, unable to work anywhere, and was ultimately thrown out of the USSR despite his objections. He lived in France for the last years of his life, working in relative comfort. He died in 1977 after he accidentally electrocuted himself. (There are unconfirmed rumors that he was actually killed by the KGB.)

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“To the Memory of Boris Pasternak” (“Памяти Пастернака”), 1966:

 

Lyrics for “Памяти Пастернака”:

Разобрали венки на веники,
На полчасика погрустнели…
Как гордимся мы, современники,
Что он умер в своей постели!
И терзали Шопена лабухи,
И торжественно шло прощанье…
Он не мылил петли в Елабуге
И с ума не сходил в Сучане!
Даже киевские письмэнники
На поминки его поспели.
Как гордимся мы, современники,
Что он умер в своей постели!…

И не то чтобы с чем-то за сорок —
Ровно семьдесят, возраст смертный.
И не просто какой-то пасынок —
Член Литфонда, усопший сметный!
Ах, осыпались лапы елочьи,
Отзвенели его метели…
До чего ж мы гордимся, сволочи,
Что он умер в своей постели!

“Мело, мело по всей земле
Во все пределы.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела…”

Нет, никакая не свеча —
Горела люстра!
Очки на морде палача
Сверкали шустро!

А зал зевал, а зал скучал —
Мели, Емеля!
Ведь не в тюрьму и не в Сучан,
Не к высшей мере!

И не к терновому венцу
Колесованьем,
А как поленом по лицу —
Голосованьем!

И кто-то, спьяну, вопрошал:
— За что? Кого там?
И кто-то жрал, и кто-то ржал
Над анекдотом…

Мы не забудем этот смех
И эту скуку!
Мы — поименно! — вспомним всех,
Кто поднял руку!..

“Гул затих. Я вышел на подмостки.
Прислонясь к дверному косяку…”

Вот и смолкли клевета и споры,
Словно взят у вечности отгул…
А над гробом встали мародёры
И несут почётный ка-ра-ул!

 

“When I Return” (“Когда я вернусь”), 1970s:

 

 

Lyrics for “Когда я вернусь”:

Когда я вернусь – ты не смейся, – когда я вернусь,
Когда пробегу, не касаясь земли, по февральскому снегу,
По еле заметному следу к теплу и ночлегу,
И, вздрогнув от счастья, на птичий твой зов оглянусь,
Когда я вернусь, о, когда я вернусь…

Послушай, послушай – не смейся, – когда я вернусь,
И прямо с вокзал, разделавшись круто с таможней,
И прямо с вокзала в кромешный, ничтожный, раешный
Ворвусь в этот город, которым казнюсь и клянусь,
Когда я вернусь, о, когда я вернусь…

Когда я вернусь, я пойду в тот единственный дом,
Где с куполом синим не властно соперничать небо,
И ладана запах, как запах приютского хлеба,
Ударит меня и заплещется в сердце моем…
Когда я вернусь… О, когда я вернусь…

Когда я вернусь, засвистят в феврале соловьи
Тот старый мотив, тот давнишний, забытый, запетый,
И я упаду, побежденный своею победой,
И ткнусь головою, как в пристань, в колени твои,
Когда я вернусь… А когда я вернусь?

 

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Julie is currently studying Russian as a Second Language in Irkutsk (and before that, Bishkek) with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, with the goal of someday having some sort of Russia/Eurasia-related career. She recently got her master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and the University of Tartu, where she studied women’s dissent in Soviet Russia. She also has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale. Some of her favorite Russian authors are Sorokin, Shishkin, Il’f and Petrov, and Akhmatova. In her spare time Julie cautiously practices martial arts, reads feminist websites, and taste-tests instant coffee for her blog.