Songs for Fat People

Songs for Fat People: Affect, Emotion, and Celebrity in the Russian Popular Song, 1900-1955

David MacFadyen
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80d7s
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Songs for Fat People
    Book Description:

    The author traces the careers of early singers such as Izabella Iur'eva, Tamara Tsereteli, and others who struggled to continue to perform as they fled the dangers of a Soviet society that had little patience for café-culture. MacFadyen follows their trail through Eastern Europe to Paris and London, then across to New York and San Francisco, and back into Russia through the smoky, émigré bars of colourful Chinese towns. He pays particular attention to the notion of "mass" songs inside the Soviet Union and explores the relationship of official and public approval. By looking at how these performers used success at home and abroad to become recording stars, film stars, and eventually television personalities, MacFadyen avoids the conventional dichotomies about the East Block to show the complexity of Soviet culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7062-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: A QUICK COMMENT BEFORE WE BEGIN IN EARNEST
    (pp. 3-6)

    After cinema, the most popular and important form of entertainment in the Soviet Union was song, either purchased (on paper, vinyl, and tape) or performed (at home and on stage). Several denizens of Soviet entertainment who are still working today have achieved sales figures close to a quarter of a billion records, yet there is no research available on their work, on what Russianslikedto hear. I have tried to rectify this failing with three monographs on Russian song throughout the twentieth century that avoid the crude abstractions of political oratory: this present book and two others, previously published,...

  5. PART ONE IN PRACTICE:: ELEVEN FAMOUS PERFORMERS, LOVED BY TENS OF MILLIONS
    • 1 GRACE UNDER FRIENDLY FIRE: THE GYPSY ROMANCES OF IZABELLA IUR’EVA AND TAMARA TSERETELI
      (pp. 9-37)

      The gypsy had to kill her; she had been unfaithful. Revenge, however, brought the murderer little peace. He was haunted increasingly by his conscience. Eventually he could stand his private anguish no more and sought a denouement to this tragic tale, authored in blood. Close to the tranquil thicket where he had so recently slain his sweetheart, the malefactor threw himself over a cliff. Curtain.

      This terse and rather grim scenario comes from a pre-revolutionary silent film of 1908,Drama in a Gypsy Camp.² It shows very clearly bigcity perceptions of gypsy culture at the start of the twentieth century,...

    • 2 THE ROMANCE IN EXILE: IURII MORFESSI AND PETR LESHCHENKO
      (pp. 38-63)

      Iurii Morfessi and Petr Leshchenko were two Russian idols. One died in Paris, penniless; the other passed away mysteriously in a Soviet labour camp, maybe from a stomach ulcer, maybe from poison. Both of them had been extremely famous – in fact heartthrobs – across all of Eastern Europe. What on earth happened, and how, if things became so grim, could the affirmative stance of their songs have been of any philosophical consolation? Even though Izabella Iur’eva left Russia because of the Revolution, substantial fiscal comfort awaited her in Paris and she later returned home to suffer little critical flak.² The reasons...

    • 3 INTERNAL(IZED) EXILE: THE MYSTERY OF VADIM KOZIN
      (pp. 64-86)

      Vadim Kozin (born 1903) is the first of our singers from a major city, in this case St Petersburg.² He is also the first to be from a genuinely privileged background, since his father, educated in France, headed a very successful mercantile family. His mother, who sang in a gypsy choir, and her influential husband were visited by estrada stars of the time, and on occasion even Morfessi would come by.³ During one visit he sat the very young Kozin upon his knee and remarked, “Goodness, how our successors are growing up!” That same boy would grow up consciously imitating...

    • 4 EXIT STAGE LEFT: ALEKSANDR VERTINSKII AND CABARET
      (pp. 87-113)

      On the first page of his memoirs, the book he would still be writing the day he died, Aleksandr Vertinskii made some observations on the nature of memory and its non-linear modus operandi: “I recall many things both clearly and distinctly, but a lot has also been erased from my memory. So what remains? Scraps … little, multicoloured scraps … excerpts, rags from the past, clippings, and leftovers. That doesn’t matter. After all, you can stitch together a blanket, for example, from such scraps. Or even a rug! True, it’ll be a little motley, but my entire life has been...

    • 5 AFFECTATION AND BUFFOONERY: LEONID UTESOV AND ODESSA JAZZ
      (pp. 114-141)

      Leonid Utesov, like a ridiculous number of otherestradniki, was born in Odessa, and in many ways he is that city’s greatest mythmaker, even more so than I1’f, Petrov, Bagritskii, or Babel’.² He lived within a fairytale atmosphere of jocund diversity, of happy difference, using the actuality or immanence of a southern port. “Greek mythology is a myth,” he once said. “Odessa’s mythology is reality.”³ His story begins among its streets in the spring of 1895, when he was born as Lazar’ Vaisbein (sometimes represented as Vasbein).⁴ Any educational biography at this point will be inescapably curt, since he spent...

    • 6 KLAVDIIA SHUL’ZHENKO: “LET’S HAVE A SMOKE, COMRADE!”
      (pp. 142-168)

      Klavdiia Shul’zhenko was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, on 24 March 1906. Her father, an accountant at the local railways, was an amateur musician and responsible for introducing his daughter to music. He taught her Ukrainian folk songs, while she would read and recite the poetry of Pushkin, Lermontov, Nikitin, and Nadson. Her real introduction to performing, however, took place on an apartment balcony from which she would sing to neighbours, at first anonymously.

      I lit all the lamps in the room, opened the windows, and began to sing … Suddenly I heard applause: “Come on! Show yourself!” Well, of course...

    • 7 MARK BERNES: HUSHED SONGS FROM THE SILVER SCREEN
      (pp. 169-199)

      Mark Bernes was born on 8 October 1911 in the small Ukrainian town of Nezhin. Because his father was a junk dealer, the family moved fairly often. They settled in Kharkov when Mark was five years old, and there he managed to finish (a) school. His parents hoped that Mark would plan for a career in accountancy following further education at the local academy. Once he had experienced the theatre at the age of fifteen, however, there was little chance that he would ever work as purser or bursar. Charmed by limelight and greasepaint, Bernes had first to overcome grave...

    • 8 PRISON AND PRESTIGE: THE FOLK SONGS OF LIDIIA RUSLANOVA AND LIUDMILA ZYKINA
      (pp. 200-234)

      In the rather melancholy comedy of 1987Forgotten Melody for the Flute, director Èl’dar Riazanov depicts with increasing cruelty a grey, crumbling department within the central Soviet bureaucracy. One of its directors sends a large group of female folk singers on a tour of the provinces. As the film goes about its business of disclosing the primary plot, we are offered frequent shots of these women, who simply cannot get home. The pen-pushers in Moscow have bungled the travel plans so badly that the singers appear caught in a lazy, permanent orbit around the shabby backwaters of the world’s largest...

  6. PART TWO IN THEORY:: SOVIET ENTERTAINMENT SEEN FROM TODAY’S PERSPECTIVES
    • 9 TIME TO SPECULATE AND TAKE STOCK: 1 JANUARY 2000 IN RUSSIAN LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
      (pp. 237-252)

      Win a new Volkswagen Beetle on New Year’s Day! Just take a guess at the twenty most popular songs of the century and we’ll give you the car on Red Square! Live on national television!The insanely long odds against such a guess being correct did not deter countless Russian viewers from playing this intriguing game as the year 2000 approached. A few months previously, the television station had invited its entire audience, all the way from the Baltic to the Pacific, to submit a list of its dearest songs – in any language – and then at 00:01 on 1 January...

    • 10 CONCLUSION AND UNSOLICITED ENCORE
      (pp. 253-272)

      And so we come to the end of this evening’s entertainment. It remains only for us to create a brief framework around our study of estrada between 1900 and 1955, to look at where it began and at a couple of performers who show us where it went. We will also draw some final conclusions even broader than those of Deleuze and Guattari, which with their Parisian origins are very much a product of post-’68 France and socialist endeavour. Can we be bolder still and ask some questions about the relationship of sentiment to dogma per se, irrespective of leftist...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 273-342)
  8. AUDIO-VISUAL SOURCES
    (pp. 343-352)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 353-354)