Alexander Tarasov


'Kill the Yankees' a Mantra of Counterculture


If you believe what you see on television, no songs of protest are being sung in today's Russia.

But that's a false impression. In the hungry, penniless provinces, where social, property and class contradictions are all the more obvious than in Moscow, a particular world, a particular youth culture has evolved, one opposed not only to the present political regime, but also to the "culture" that regime endorses. This youth has created its own culture, including its own music. They have their idols, groups like Che Dance, Mental Depression, AK-47 and others that are never on the hit parades because of the openly subversive content of their songs. That's understandable; what sane DJ would dare play, say, a song by the group Ilich Ramirez Sanchez with the refrain, "I'd rip Chubais' balls off"? (Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is the well-known terrorist "Carlos" who is doing a life sentence in a French prison.)

But most popular of all is Alexander Nepomnyashchy, a rock singer and one of the leaders of the "new left" organization Violet International. This is a unique phenomenon. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of adolescents (and not just adolescents) throughout the country are crazy about his songs, which have never been played on radio or television.

Nepomnyashchy combines in his music the Russian national tradition with the traditions of Western rock (creating a kind of country-rock). Nepomnyashchy is one of two Russian rock musicians who perform true, unsimplified reggae based on poetry in Russian ("All Who Love Babylon," "Ja Won't Leave Us"). The second person who performs true Russian reggae is Umka, the living legend of the Soviet hippies, also totally ignored by the mass media. Umka also hates the new "masters of life." The essence of market reforms that have taken place in this country are expressed in one brilliant line: "Take the pie with the nails on the shelf - sink your teeth into it" ("I was with my people").

But the main thing Nepomnyashchy offers is not so much his music, but his lyrics. Here are words from his "Kill the Yankees" ("Ubei Yanki"):

Burn the shop with the American shit!

Advertise the hard-currency store with a brick!

Blow up with a grenade their pretty Chevrolet!

Draw a hammer and sickle on their advertising logo!

Kill the Yankees!

And all who love the Yankees!

This is one of Nepomnyashchy's most popular songs; thousands in Russia know it by heart.

They stuffed the Stars and Stripes in the john.

There's no future - there's Russian punk rock.

Feed the yuppie with "Pedigree Pal" kasha -

And add a little lead, so he doesn't run away!

Kill the Yankees!

And all who love the Yankees!

This isn't so much nationalism as it is a "classical approach." Yankees (and all who love the Yankees) represent the world of the sated, rich, satisfied, the world of the New Russians, managers, businessmen, bureaucrats. Nepomnyashchy stands on the other side of the barricades, with the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, regardless of their nationality or the color of their skin:

Jello Biafra is Russian, born in Moscow,

Kurt Cobain is Russian too, also born in Moscow,

Jim Morrison is Russian, and born in Moscow,

Jimi Hendrix is Russian, born in Moscow.

Kill the Yankees!

These lyrics were printed immediately in several newspapers of the "new left" and even in a radical Komsomol newspaper called Bumbarash-2017. At Nepomnyashchy's concerts, the audience sings "Kills the Yankees" in unison, as a choir, standing.

The Voronezh "new left" newspaper Mass Protests published the text of another Nepomnyashchy song entitled "All Who Love Babylon":

Buy Tampax tampons,

Chew Spearmint gum,

Eat a Snickers bar,

Drink Hershey's -

No matter what, a bullet will be found for you.

No matter what, a bullet will be found for you ...

Have a Barbie doll,

Live on planet Reebok,

Smoke Camel cigarettes,

Wash your hair with Procter & Gamble.

No matter what, a bullet will be found for you ...

Live in concrete prisons,

Chop up the wood for them,

Save up all the money you can

For a long, well-fed retirement -

No matter what, a bullet will be found for you.

Nepomnyashchy, Che Dance and Nick Rock-n-Roll serve as substitutes for those dissatisfied with former rock idols: Andrei Makarevich, Boris Grebenshchikov and Konstantin Kinchev. The young rebels disdain them, call them "well-fed prostitutes." Makarevich is especially scorned for his TV cooking show, "Smak." As one 15-year-old girl from the town of Kalachinsk in Siberia said in an interview, "It's the same as if Jesus Christ climbed down off the cross to advertise women's bras and panties. You think that after that there would be even one Christian left on Earth?"

That Nepomnyashchy is wildly popular in the provinces doesn't mean no one in Moscow knows him. During the war in the Balkans, a group of youths besieged and threw everything they could at the U.S. Embassy; many people printed leaflets with the text of Nepomnyashchy's "Kill the Yankees" and brought them to the embassy. Next time, they might bring his "Counterculture Blues":

Behind the scenes, everything's going according to plan:

For example, the bombing - and the baby will die before morning.

You can't fight it, it's fate: The F-16 has taken off with its cargo.

Uncle Scrooge has made his profit, the general has calculated the coordinates,

The Mason's got his apron and compass, and the wing flashes by as a black shadow -

With the mouse next to the screen, it's reached "Level 5,"

Mister Architect, kind Prince of this World -

And figures are running around. Except those who don't want to run ...

These kids also have their own rock festival, "Oskolskaya Lira," based in Stary Oskol. At it, they sing true songs of protest, true political rock. No television program or major newspaper has covered the festival. But those who listen to Nepomnyashchy and come to the festival don't read Izvestia or Moskovsky Komsomelets. They have their own world, their own newspapers.

They believe the future belongs to them. They believe the day will come when they will kill live Yankees - and all those who love them.

April 26, 2000.