Youth in the Cold War West – Music

With these five songs, we can see that the western influence of rock and roll has swept over the entirety of Europe. Similar to the Soviet rock and roll from Tuesday’s class, each song has a strong and openly political message addressing the common concerns and crisis of the time. I found the fourth song particularly interesting due to its seemingly strong support for communism. While we recently have been discussing the Soviet people’s growing discontent for their controlling government and see that reflected in their music, this German song had lyrics singing about how different places “belong to us” under communism and even sang “out of the way, capitalists, we’ll win the last battle.” I wonder if the Soviet discontent was only beginning and had not yet reached the people of East Germany, or if following the destruction of World War II, the people saw a benefit to communism at least in its early stages. All of the songs had a revolutionary sentiment and what we would consider leftist views, suggesting that coming out of fascist governments these people of both Germany and France would like to gain freedom and agency once again in their lives.

Youth in the Cold War West Wk.10

Great civil unrest was a reality in France in May 1968. The protests began as student protests against capitalism and consumerism. In search for revolution alternative forms of government were considered, which included Trotskyism and Maoism. During the turmoil, musicians used rock music, a new genre which broke genre boundaries and sparked intense debates, to express their frustrations and to motivate the masses to push for social change. Johnny Hallyday introduced this genre to France with his singles released in the early 1960’s. Rock was heavily criticized for its “ability to promote violence,” which was seen in November 1961 at the Troisiéme festival de rock, where a riot broke out. The genre enjoyed widespread success, “Rock music both reflected, and participated in, the search for the revolutionary subject around 1968; but it also reflected the diversity of aims and means with which this search was conducted” (Brown, 89). Revolution songs (chanson révolutionnaire) were written with the purpose of giving the masses a voice and identity. New groups with extreme left (Gauche prolétarienne) ideologies formed, which intensified the wants for revolution. Dominique Grange is one such influential rock musician who belonged to such groups. Also, rock musician Léo Ferré was in his 50’s when his forward-thinking and boundary-breaking work Lété 68 (Summer 68) gained great success. West Germany also was experiencing civil unrest and protests. Anti-authoritarianism was at the core of the West German protests and rock music mirrored these conflicts. Class, culture, and the questioning of existing institutions were three facets by which rock flourished during 1968 West Germany. Leftist ideas were gaining ground in Germany. The SDS “Socialist German Students League” ran from 1965-1968. After 1968, two groups became the figureheads for the leftist anti-authoritarian search: the K-Gruppen and Basisgruppen. Bands such as Ton Steine Scherben flourished in the 1970’s. They wore colorful masks and costumes and encouraged the audience to come on stage and participate. Their goal was to “liberate the consciousness of young workers and apprentices in order to facilitate their political action” (Brown, 77). Their flagship single was “Rita and Paul,” and the group saw great success after seizing the George von Rauch Haus (previously Martha-Maria Haus, the name was changed after von Rauch was killed). The house was a haven for revolutionaries and also cast light on the issues of urban space in Berlin, which can still be seen today. 

Timothy Scott Brown, “Culture, Class, and, Communism: The Politics of Rock in the West German 1968,” Twentieth Century Communism 2015, Issue 9, pp. 77, 89. 

  1. Do you think the complex feelings and ideas of the French and West German people would have been effectively communicated without rock music? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think rock music was at the core of the revolution’s ability to attract people to the cause?
  3. Do you believe that changes in social relations affected/reflected changes in musical genres? 
  4. In what ways was the social atmosphere reflected in music? 
  5. In what ways was rock music able to better reflect the feelings of the masses than yéyé? Or, do you refute this claim? 
  6. How effective was Ton Steine Scherben in relating with the protesting masses? Do you think their engagement with the audience helped this?
  7. Why do you think a push for anti-authoritarianism came so long after WW2? 
  8. In what ways was rock music, and the breaking down of conventional musical genres in general, counterproductive to their cause? Or, do you believe it was not counterproductive at all?

Soviet Rock and Roll

Leading up to the Soviet Union’s political and social climate in the 1970s there were many historical events that lead to the separation of the Soviet Union from the rest of the world, especially the United States. After World War Ⅱ the Soviet Union feared another takeover as they incurred with Germany, so they sought to protect their communist ideals at all costs. They also heavily rejected any Western influence. Politically they were also trying to show their dominance. This combination of factors made them a political pariah, even with other communist nations like China. Paralleling the Soviet Union’s political alienation, the Soviet population also felt this divide from the rest of the world. In the readings for today, Yurchak mentions this elusive “Imaginary West”. This concept is all about how the Soviet population almost fetishized what the West is because they don’t have physical access to them. The Soviet’s find the West’s celebration of the class system and capitalism unappealing but praised them for their internationalism. Mainly though we see that the Soviet Union black and white thoughts on Western culture restrict its own countries’ cultural growth and diversity. Through the critics that emerge during this time from people like Khruschev and Zhdanov, it easy to assume that while Communist leaders tried to assert what cosmopolitanism was, they didn’t truly have a clear sense of what “bad” music or art was. This vague definition of what music should and should not be was seen before in the Soviet Union when discussing social realism. It’s difficult for lasting music to emerge from regimes like this where even the artist is confused about what kinds of music they are allowed to make. I found it interesting that academic Western input was considered okay, but more criticism came of art, film, and music. I think this criticism comes from what we know about music as a political tool, and that’s backed up by the Soviet’s criticism of Rock and Roll as a capitalist tool in the fight of capitalism versus communism. I personally think that Rock and Roll was a perfect outlet for the people of the Soviet Union who had gone through these politically challenging times and felt oppressed. Ultimately I believe that the spread of Rock and Roll and its subculture contributed to the dissolve of the Soviet Union.   

1) How do you feel the Soviet Union’s political climate affected the citizens socially? 

2)What issues do you find with the Soviet Union’s lack of cosmopolitanism, and how did this impact artistic production?   

3) Can you relate the idea of cosmopolitanism to social realism? If so how? 

4)Why do you think the Soviet Union was more critical of artistic Western works and less so of academic ones? 

5) What motivations do you think the Communist party had for trying to learn more about Rock and Roll?

6) What appeal do you think Rock and Roll had to the youth in the Soviet Union? 

7) How did modernized technology impact rock music and its subculture? 

8) What was the role of the Komsomol, and what impact if any did they have on the Soviet youth’s thoughts on Rock and Roll? 

9) Do you think the lyrics “Dolls are so tough controlled by him, and we believe naively

that a doll can speak.” have a deeper political meaning? What is it? 

10) What contributions do you think Rock and Roll music had to the fall of the Soviet Union? What implications does this genre of music have? 

 Yurchak, Alexei. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More : The Last Soviet Generation. In-Formation Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Soviet Rock & Roll

If any music we listened to so far was obviously political, it would be these five songs. Every one contained a political message, from comparing people to dolls suggesting they were being controlled with lyrics like “dolls are so tough controlled by him” to repeatedly singing “don’t shoot,” the motive for each song was to convey a political message. They seemed to be calls by the Soviet people against the government and each highlighted a problem with the status quo. I especially found the fifth song interesting, speaking kindly of Lenin singing “only our grandfather Lenin was a good leader.” The lyrics went on to compare their following leaders to Korean leaders and even noted that things will be great once they get communism. This suggests that although they see their current government as very flawed, they do not view their current government as communist in the way that Lenin envisioned it. Despite the hardships the Soviet people faced, they still see the communist government as an option. Perhaps, they truly appreciate the idea of all being treated as equals as communism states or maybe they simply are not aware of how other styles of government function, as can be seen in the reading with popular Soviet jokes being made like “I want to go to Paris again” despite never having been to Paris. This lack of awareness of the outside world seems to greatly contribute to their frustrations with their situation as well as the lyrics in Soviet rock and roll.

Youth in the Cold War East

As discussed in Alexeyeva, World War II produced feelings of doubt in the people of the Soviet Union. A country taught to believe they were invincible saw with their own eyes that they were not. Not too long after the fact, Stalin died in 1953 and the country mourned. Many might be surprised to hear that the Soviet Union cried over the death of a seemingly oppressive leader; however, they knew no other life and it was ultimately the end of an era. This postwar society gave rise to a hedonistic lifestyle, but this is not unique to the Soviet Union. The same thing could be seen both in postwar America and postwar Germany, where older generations were shaking their heads at the new music and culture developing. However, this rise of a hedonistic lifestyle in the Soviet Union was unique due to its growth out of a repressive regime that prevented influence from outside and its lack of accessibility to all citizens in Soviet society.

In Edele’s “Strange Young Men in Stalin’s Moscow: Birth and Life of the Stiliagi,” it is established that the Stiliagi are not the majority: they are the privileged, middle class men of society. What they were lacking was not money or access to goods; they were lacking the freedom to express themselves. For example, they sought a secure sense of gender for themselves. Because masculinity was tied to military service under Stalin and these young men were not of age to serve at the time, they had to look elsewhere. Being they could not imitate veterans, they found they could imitate the western style of dress. This extended into Western ideals of fashion, hair, dance, and speech. The Stiliagi soon transitioned into the Shtatniki, but the core idea was the same. The goal was to emulate American fashion. However, the party took this expression of American style as un-Soviet and “rootless cosmopolitanism.” Unlike the truly struggling people of the Soviet Union, this group of people appear to be purely rebelling from a psychological standpoint and had the opportunity to do so due to their privilege in society.

While the Stiliagi and Shtatniki were reaching towards Western fashion, musicians reached towards the West as well. The music was very different than previous socialist realism that was desired by the regime. Some of the music was emotional, even sad, and others have strong pop and jazz influences. The music was clearly not celebratory of communism, with the second song even criticizing the regime having lyrics referring to the soldier as paper “dying under fire for nothing at all.” In many ways, this new music was simple with few instruments and one voice. The lyrics told a message rather than what we saw in propaganda music like “Life is Better,” designed to support the government instead of being an expression of the individual. This new music was another way in which the people of the Soviet Union were slowly growing their own individual identity following a collectivist government.

  1. Why was the Party not able to once again repress music as they did before?
  2. Why did the people of the Soviet Union mourn Stalin’s death?
  3. Why do you think the people were shocked to find out Stalin was a criminal knowing how they personally were living?
  4. Why out of all of the genres did music go in the direction of guitar poetry?
  5. Why do postwar societies often turn to hedonism?
  6. If the Stiliagi was more reserved for the privileged middle class, what were the poor doing? Were they turning to the West as well?
  7. Do you think the result of the Soviet Union would have been different had following Stalin’s death, they did not strive to continue to repress Western influence or were their doubts in communism already too strong?
  8. Why do you think some when given the opportunity to study anything (Thaw Generation) chose to study Lenin and Marx?
  9. Why were women seemingly left out in the readings and music/How did gender play into this discussion?

Beethoven: Nazi Germany – Making Claims, Making Do (Kailee Havrda)

The great Beethoven…but which version? During the first World War, Beethoven was used as a propaganda symbol and with the war ending in very sad terms for Germany it might be expected that Beethoven’s image was tarnished. Nope. He instead was viewed as a tool for Revolution. No matter the view point one took in politics, Beethoven was the symbol you wanted. Except who Beethoven was and what he would have stood for was completely different depending on who you asked. To people on the left side he was this ‘broad and rough,’ aggressive man that would have scared the Bourgeoisie and would would have enlisted in the Revolution without hesitation (pg 90). Yet, to the right he would have been the complete picture of an Aristocrat. Beethoven became a shapeshifter of a man who ultimately was the ideal of Revolution for this time. Plus with the new technology and media of the time, people used every possible resource to get Beethoven’s face out there for everyone to see him and their beliefs. Around the time of the Third Reich, people were practically worshipping Beethoven and quote “fighting tooth and nail to demonstrate that he belonged exclusively to their circle of life.” (pg 142) Beethoven had turned into about 6 different men to different people. It was all the same music from the one man, yet he was taken in so many different ways. Then Hitler came to power and all of that stopped. Beethoven was viewed in one way and under one light, and that light was coming from the right side. People that supported modernism or were Jewish or non-conformers were kicked out because they were ruining the transition to this new age (and it quite frankly, affected a lot of people). The Nazi regime used the many forms of mass media to make sure this version was promoted and more importantly to ensure that without a doubt Beethoven was a PURE German, which meant clarifying his family life. (pg 146). Overall, Beethoven was used throughout time by many people to essentially unite people as one whether that is before or during the Third Reich or after. The only slight issue was whether or not, looking back, the real Beethoven was the uniting factor or was it who people wanted him to be at the time.

  1. There are two most notable parts in the second clip of Beethoven’s Fourth Movement that are soft almost quiet to an explosive intense, in-your-face, sound (6.55 and 15.58). Do you think this was done with a purpose? If so what? And do you think this explosiveness added to his sound and his legacy?
  2. It appears that one of the most notable things about his music is that it is powerful or intense (at least for me). Kurt Weill (page 93) comments that Beethoven’s music was ‘music of freedom’ then goes on to explain why. Would you have to or do you agree with this claim? Did the leftists have a strong claim to say that Beethoven was the ‘eternal rebel’ (pg 92)?
  3. The Nazi regime practically remade Beethoven, not only taking him from a right-winged perspective, but also completely twisting his family history. What do you make of this? What does this show of the Nazis and/or of the people of Germany?
  4. Who was the real Beethoven? It seems that everyone created their own form of Beethoven from how he looked to who he was. And because of this, do you think it started to feel that it no longer was about the music but more so the name, ‘Beethoven’?

Dennis, David B. Beethoven in German Politics: 1870-1989. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

The Threepenny Opera

Before I discuss the plot of the opera I wanted to connect it to the theme of satire in the Weimar Republic. I thought that this piece was satirical because it was making light of Germany’s current situation after World WarⅠ, including people’s frustration with the middle class and their control over the government. During this time historically there are many political parties rising to create political unrest, there are high unemployment rates, and there is overall economic distress. Poor conditions like this lead people to leading lives as poor beggars. This opera was geared towards that audience. Taking a form of art that had been historically for the bourgeoisie, and making it affordable and available to a working-class of people. In the film, these themes of unfair class systems and inequality are blatantly seen, at least in my interpretation. To see examples of this we must analyze the plot of the opera. The Threepenny Opera opens with a man, who is introduced as Mackie, walking down the street towards a crowd. In the middle of the crowd another man sings a song about Mackie explaining that he is a wealthy gangster that takes advantage of the poor beggar class (Weill, Kurt.The Threepenny Opera 4:33). As the film continues it is clear that Mackie likes to indulge in things like nice clothing, food, and other luxury items. We see that his gang members fear him, and do his illegal bidding for him. When he prepares to marry Polly he asks one of his men to secure a full wedding outfit for her, and then later we see piles of goods waiting for them at the stables (Weill, Kurt.The Threepenny Opera 27:53). This was interesting to me because the gluttony that we see in this scene perfectly shows the despair between the two classes of people mainly represented in the film, the poor beggars and the wealthy gangsters. Tiger Brown tells Mackie that he must try to stay out of trouble because Polly’s father Peachum wants him arrested. In order to lay low, he goes to the local brothel. Here he runs into Jenny, and she turns him into the police. What I found interesting is that it was Mackie’s old lover who told the police where he was. This shows what people will do desperate times, mimicking the thought process of the Germans during the end of the Weimar Republic era. While Mackie’s in prison, Polly starts a bank with his men, and a huge protest breaks out over outrage surrounding Mackie’s arrest. During the chaos, Jenny offers herself up to the other men in the prison so that they will help Mackie escape. Similar to our readings from last week we see how women fit into the narrative of life in the Weimar Republic in music and film. She, like Lola, uses her body to get what she wants. So, Mackie escapes and he, Tiger Brown, and Peachum all agree that they should give up their old ways and begin banking. This ending seemed a little silly to me because I didn’t think that it fits well with the rest of the plot. The way the opera was structured was interesting though because it was filled with noise, but the music and songs also occurred at significant parts of the film. Overall I found the music to be fun to listen to and catchy. 

Weill, Kurt. YouTube, October 2, 2ⅠⅠ014.

  1. Do you think that Mackie is representative of the bourgeoisie? If Mackie represents the bourgeoisie, then what do you make of his crimes and corruption? 
  2. Do you think the shots of the building that have messages are significant? (Weill, Kurt. The Threepenny Opera 11:30, 44:03, )
  3. Do you think that the film connects to some of the things we discussed from our reading about the cabaret? If so what do you make of Polly and Jenny? Do they share characteristics with Lola? 
  4. What political messages were apparent in the film if any? 
  5. Do you see any connections between the plot of the film and the political unrest in Germany?