Some acquaintances took us to see the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum today, near the Taganka theatre. It was just fascinating, everything from Vysotsky's guitar to his childhood letters to his mother and earliest school excercise books, furniture from his dacha, a model of his apartment, postcards from France, America, and other travels, clips of his films, videos of his songs. Imagine Elvis, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Marlon Brando, and Frank Sinatra all rolled up into one, and you'll begin to get someone like Vysotsky. He's in the tradition of the Russian "Bard" and that of Pushkin, as well. He died tragically young, during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. His funeral crowds stretched for blocks. His history is the history of Russian culture, dissidence, poetry, song, theatre, and film. Technology played a role, as samizdat tape recordings spread his fame throughout the former USSR. There were even some photos of Vysotsky on tour in Tashkent, with some comrades from the Taganka theatre, including Vysotsky's director Lubimov, who returned to Russia from exile in Paris during Perestroika, and still is working at the age of 87 (this year is the 40th anniversary of the theatre). We bought tickets to see his rock musical version of Dr. Zhivago next week (we kid you not, as Jack Paar used to say...). Don't miss cases devoted to Vysotsky's Hamlet and his performance in The Cherry Orchard, incredible versatility as an actor and performer--as well as perhaps best representing the sufferings of the Russian soul. Our tour guide explained that Vysotsky's distinctive voice was the sound Gulag prisoners. When half the country returned from imprisonment, and heard Vysotsky, they heard themselves and what they had suffered, she explained. There were crowds in the museum this afternoon, so his popularity is still evident, twenty-five years after his death.
Why is Vysotsky not very well-known in the West, except among students of Russian culture, Russian emigrants, and Russophiles? Perhaps because of years of cultural indifference to those who suffered under Communism. Ironically, the most authentic and most enduring voice of protest from the 1960s may have belonged to a protester against the totalitarian system in the USSR: Vladimir Vysotsky. FIVE STARS *****.