E. Europe rock keeps youth dancing - and officials on toes
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.''