Friday, April 1, 2011

Kak molody my byli

I knew this would happen. All it took was one new Dmitri Hvorostovsky song (that stunning a capella number, “Farewell, Happiness”) to set me off, and I’ve spent the entire day listening to him, and coming across all these new songs. New to me – they’re hardly new to anybody familiar with Russian folk music as I once was. I’m experiencing a moment of nostalgia reliving the days when I sang with the Russian Choir in the (U.S.) Army Language School, and used Russian music as a hook to sanity.

This love of Hvorostovsky is bringing it all back with a vengeance. Something about the “Russian soul.” Used to laugh at it in Russian School. All so terribly contrived, we thought it was. So much excessive gushing. Such overconfidence that you hold the only key to honest emotion, we used to sneer at the Russians all around us.

And now, as it floods back into my life decades later, it comes without the youthful need to ridicule. It just comes straight in and I’m a believer. Thanks, I am convinced, to Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Never lost it entirely. I fell in love some years ago with a Russian song, “A Million Roses” sung in a Japanese version by Kato Tokiko, and that set me off for years as a fan of her music. I now have all her albums. You may remember my fascination with Alla Pugacheva.

The point I’m trying to make is that Russians can do schmalz like few on the face of the earth and when you're young, and being cool is just about everything, this is worse than camp. It's plain ridiculous. But I'm plugging into different parts of this whole, and perhaps that's why this song about how the world looked when we were young is speaking to me.

As with all sentiment, the line between deep emotion and shlock is very thin and culturally determined. What makes some sneer makes others weep. Russian sentimentality is like that. When it's bad, it's horrid. But the flipside of that is also true. When it's good, as I think Hvorostovsky demonstrates, it can be very very good indeed.

Case in point.

There’s this song designed to wring every tear out of the dryest of tear ducts. It’s called “How Young We Were” (“Kak molody my byli” in Russian). You can write the lyrics yourself. Just imagine an old person longing for his or her youth, and remembering all that was, when times were better and we had the energy, the innocence, the faith to enjoy it. The key phrase is “Nothing on earth ever disappears entirely, what we had in our youth lives on…” Your eyes are welling up already, right?

If you go to: http://www.mp3.pervii.com/en/lyrics/57650.htm
and click on “Find a clip on YouTube” it will lead you to this song sung by a number of performers, including Hvorostovsky. There’s Aleksandr Gradskiy, Ivo Bobul and, for those of you who read Georgian, თამარა გვერდწითელი, the Georgian singer, Tamara Gverdciteli, sometimes referred to as the “Russian Edith Piaf.” (I just work here. Don’t ask me.)

Check out a minute or more of the Aleksandr Gradskiy version, since this is probably his signature song. As was the case with the Alla Pugacheva performances, the staging and production values are pure Walt Disney on an LSD trip.

When you’ve had enough, take a 12-minute break and study the use of the Russian dative case with Victor Dmitrievich Huliganov. (Apparently his real name – a man named Hooligan.) Victor will explain how it is that “everybody in the room gets kicked into the dative case” at times, and how sometimes “too hot” is good – like if you’re in a sauna, or something.

If twelve minutes of this are more than you can take, and you want to skip the grammar lesson, fast forward to Minute 9:22 where Victor translates the words of “Kak molody my byli – How young we were.”

He then provides a sung version. In chipmunk.

There's a risk, of course, that you may never be able to hear this song, even when sung by Hvorostovsky, with a straight face.

But give it a try. My man Dmitri has great powers. Even to overcome such as this.

For those of you who do Russian karaoke, the original is available at:

http://www.karaoke.ru/song/6615.htm

Or you can read along in transliteration, which I've provided at the end here.

You’ve seen what Russian shlock looks like.

Now watch the white haired god do it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkz0RAxShqI






Kak molody my byli
Oglyanis, neznakomyy prohozhiy,
Mne tvoy vzglyad nepodkupnyy znakom...
Mozhet, ya eto, - tolko molozhe,
Ne vsegda my sebya uznaem...

Nichto na Zemle ne prohodit bessledno.
I yunost ushedshaya vse zhe bessmertna.
Kak molody my byli,
Kak molody my byli,
Kak iskrenne lyubili,
Kak verili v sebya!

Nas togda bez usmeshek vstrechali
Vse cvety na dorogah zemli...
My druzey za oshibki proschali,
Lish izmeny prostit ne mogli.

Nichto na Zemle ne prohodit bessledno.
I yunost ushedshaya vse zhe bessmertna.
Kak molody my byli,
Kak molody my byli,
Kak iskrenne lyubili,
Kak verili v sebya!

Pervyy taym my uzhe otygrali
I odno lish sumeli ponyat:
Chtob tebya na zemle ne teryali,
Postaraysya sebya ne teryat!

Nichto na Zemle ne prohodit bessledno.
I yunost ushedshaya vse zhe bessmertna.
Kak molody my byli,
Kak molody my byli,
Kak iskrenne lyubili,
Kak verili v sebya!

V nebesah otgoreli zarnicy,
I v serdcah utihaet groza.
Ne zabyt nam lyubimye lica.
Ne zabyt nam rodnye glaza...

Nichto na Zemle ne prohodit bessledno.
I yunost ushedshaya vse zhe bessmertna.
Kak molody my byli,
Kak molody my byli,
Kak iskrenne lyubili,
Kak verili v sebya!

1 comment:

peter cattano said...

The "White god" was a tremendous hit at Carnegie on 2/17. Played to a sold out audience and they loved him. What's not to love. He's got it all.