E. Europe rock keeps youth dancing - and officials on toes
Warsaw — ``Pershing'' is about to blast off. ``Broom'' is ready to sweep up. ``Pershing'' and ``Broom'' are two 17-year-old Polish punk rockers. One cuts her brown hair to resemble a broom. The other, a black-haired girl dressed in a black-leather outfit, does wild dances that her friends say resemble a nuclear missile ready to explode.
Along with a thousand more Polish teen-agers, the two punks are rocking to the screams of a hard-rock group Siekera at the government-operated Remont Riviera club.
In an eerie echo of America in the 1960s, rock-and-roll is rolling across Eastern Europe, shaking up societies that once prided themselves on the behavior of their young. Polls show that many Eastern European youngsters, such as ``Pershing'' and ``Broom,'' are frustrated with school, and jobs, and are fearful of their future. Like their Western counterparts 20 years ago, East European youth are making rock and roll the creed of their generation.
The music presents East European communists with a dilemma. After long years of trying to suppress rock, authorities now tolerate concerts at places such as the Remont Riviera - while worrying whether they can keep the music, and the problems it illustrates to them, within acceptable bounds.
``When I was in Munich and Budapest recently, I visited pop clubs,'' says Michal Szymanczak of the Polish Institute of Youth Problems. ``In Munich, there were no punks and the music was mellow. In Budapest, the club was filled with punks and the music was alienated and aggressive.''
The Soviet Union is also affected. A film playing to packed houses in Moscow, called ``Is it Easy to be Young?,'' profiles young people at a rock concert in Latvia - and finds none of them interested in communism. East European youth organizations confirm this disenchantment with official ideology, reporting declining numbers of young Communist Party members and candidate members.
``Youth here are scared because the economic perspective is bad,'' says Gabor Ferencz, a director of the Hungarian Party Youth Union. Waiting lists for apartments now stretch on for years in many East bloc countries, forcing youth to live with their parents even after they marry. Says Mr. Ferencz: ``The party doesn't give convincing answers to these problems.''
Opposition movements do not attract these dissatisfied youngsters, either. In a recent study, researcher Szymanczak divided Polish youth into three categories, pro-party, antiparty, and undecided. ``The pro-party group was bigger than the antiparty group, but the vast majority of youth considered themselves undecided,'' he says.
``Pershing'' and ``Broom'' seem typical. When asked to list their heros, they name rock-and-roll singer Buddy Holly. What about Lech Walesa, leader of the banned independent trade union Solidarity? ``Politics are nonsense,'' they answer, ``all politicians want to do is declare war and make people stupid.'' They say they want ``a way to escape from the drudgery of our daily lives.''
As in the West, this translates into different forms of adolescent rebellion. Many East European teen-agers reject their elders' sexual mores. According to researchers Kurt Starke and Walter Friedrich, the average East German woman loses her virginity at age 16 and changes partners more often than her mother did. Others turn to alcohol and drugs. In Poland, Szymanczak says, ``since 1981, there has been a big rise in both young alcoholics and drug addicts.''
But music represents the most prevalent and public expression of this rebellious, youthful spirit. Grzegorz Brzozowicr, director of the Remont Riviera Club, says ``there's been an explosion of rock here in the 1980s.'' Popular rock records, he says, sell up to 500,000 copies, and the Polish rock group Manaam has sold 1.5 million records - in a country of about 35 million. Manaam and other groups can fill concert halls of 10,000 or more people.
After long years of trying to ban rock, authorities now are trying to use rock to their benefit. Gabor Novai, the lead guitar player for the Hungarian group ``Dolly Roll,'' remembers having to listen to the Beatles on jammed broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. But during the last decade, he says, Hungarian radio began playing abundant selections of the American Top 10. Former East German leader Walter Ulbricht once labeled Western rock ``ape culture;'' now the East German government organizes rock concerts. When the breakdance craze came to East Germany, they even sponsored breakdance contests.
Just as the authorities learned to accept Coca-Cola after regarding it as a corrupting Western influence, says guitarist Novai, ``they realized rock-and-roll wasn't all bad.''
Regimes less liberal than Hungary's had no choice but to accept rock. During the 1980s, the hard-line Czechoslovak government tried to keep the lid on the rock explosion, only to be confronted with the emergence of underground rock groups. Last June, the Prague authorities finally succumbed and organized its first major rock festival.
Promoting such festivals helps keep youth in line. After the 1981 declaration of martial law in Poland, Remont Club director Brzozowicr says rock received an ``official green light.'' Censorship on lyrics was eased, concerts were promoted, and official radio played the music.
``The authorities decided,'' Brzozowicr says, ``that it was better to distract young people with rock than politics.''
Admittedly, conflicts still emerge when this desire to distract young people expands into a desire to control the music. After refusing to perform at a meeting of young communists celebrating ``Polish-Soviet friendship,'' the Polish group Manaam's music was banned from the radio and the group prohibited from performing in public for a year.
``The government wanted to tell us what to do,'' says Kora Ostrowska, the group's lead singer, ``but we won't put up with any propaganda.''
Musicians who sing overtly anti-communist songs may suffer even worse punishments. Two members of the East German band Rennft Combo were jailed after singing a song criticizing their country's military and prison system. Members of the Hungarian group Public Enemy went to prison for singing ``Russian Nukes are no Nukes; They are here to caress you.''
Just last week, the leaders of Czechoslovakia's celebrated Jazz Section, an independent cultural organization, were sentenced to prison terms. The Jazz Section's activities included publishing articles which, while not overtly political, were a channel for intellectual opinion.
``If they had stuck to music, they would have no problems,'' insisted a Czechoslovak official. ``But they insisted on involving themselves in politics.''
At the Remont Club, these nuances matter little. The tone of the music gets more somber and bitter, the rhythm ever more insistent, the imagery ever more apocalyptic. ``War, war is coming,'' runs one lyric. ``Love, love - it's like blood.''
Backstage, lead singer Tomasz Adamski collects his thoughts. Yes, Western music influenced him, hard-rock groups such as Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. Yes, he has had trouble with the censors, not for the political content of his music, but because they considered it ``obscene.'' For him, music ``must be aggressive.'' That's why he named his group Siekiera - which means ``axe.''
``Broom'' and ``Pershing'' approve. ``We want to feel the music,'' they say. Both criticize some contemporary American popular music as too ``sweet.''
Polish rock, they say, is tougher. ``It has to be, because our lives here are tougher.''