What's all that hootin' and groovin' in Moscow?

Rock music, which pulsated through the turbulent 1960s in the West, has begun to send waves through Soviet society.

It will probably never become a revolution, but an amplified, electrified, foot-stomping battle for the hearts of Soviet youth has already been won by rock. It is a defeat the authorities are only beginning to acknowledge.

No matter how much the official arbiters of Soviet musical taste may object, the hard-driving rock music of groups like Magnetic Band, Time Machine, Akvarium , Kruise, Arsenal, Sunday, and Karnival is here to stay.

Unlike the majority of Soviet ensembles, which break every now and then into a tired rendition of a Beatles song or other Western fare, these groups have created a new genre - Russian rock. Composing their own music and writing their own lyrics, the Russian rock musicians feel that they speak to the everyday concerns of today's youth. Their admirers concur.

''We promised ourselves we'd never leave the straight and narrow, but somehow it seemed fated. . . . To tell the truth, everyone's afraid of change, but what are you going to do?'' says a hit by the grandfather of the rock groups, Time Machine.

Such lyrics may seem tame to Western listeners, but to Russians they provide a welcome contrast to the sickly sweet fare that is put on stage by official concert organizers and labeled rock.

''We don't sing about good things all the time,'' explained Time Machine lead guitarist and songwriter, Andrei Makarevich. ''Our main purpose is to get the audience to think, to argue if necessary. The main thing is not to remain indifferent.''

Another group, Kruise, makes an effort ''to say something that our audience can understand,'' said lead guitarist Valery Gaina.

''Life is like a top, new faces all the time. You can't get to know all of them. Sometimes it's so hard to find good people to be your friends,'' says a Kruise song.

Another rollicking number belts out the advice: ''Listen to me, man. You're a man, not an animal. You were given a brain to think with, so don't be a robot.''

Although stifled for decades and driven to share equipment, news, ideas, and - most precious - records and magazines from the West to survive, the rock groups are finally finding friends in high places.

There are the grudging ones, who realize rock music must be allowed its place in the sun if only to avoid alienating the under-30 generation, who like Beatles and rock music as much as their Western counterparts.

Other supporters, themselves young, are moving into positions of power, bringing policy changes in their wake. Young and enthusiastic managers negotiate bookings for their groups. Compromises are made over song choices. The concert is a success.

Young reporters write favorable reviews. Word gets out about a new talent, and kindred souls who feel the time for rock has come work to repeat the sequence in a new locale.

In its 1982 yearbook the Novosti news agency published a commentary remarkable in its progressiveness and indicative of the new attitudes toward rock music. The article applauded the new rock groups, Time Machine in particular, and deplored the public ''pop'' music fare.

The yearbook labeled it a ''paradox'' that the best rock bands are not allowed to cut records and do not, for the most part, appear on television. ''As a rule,'' it said, ''the pop groups cater to the tastes of the public and are undistinguished by any stylistic excellence.''

It welcomed a recent ''crack'' in their popularity that could lead to the ''downfall of these mediocre ensembles.'' Young people, it said, are rejecting ''secondary products which are nothing but a rehashing of the old numbers.''

The new groups like Time Machine, Novosti said, may suffer from lack of technical proficiency or expertise, but ''they are free of sugariness and false sentiments. They are genuine. The voice of the new ensembles is pure and clear, and they sing about the things that are important in life.''

Such enthusiastic endorsement does not mean troubles are over for the emerging artists. The official press continues to hound rock music, charging it with spreading bourgeois ideology and morals. The leading youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda last year stated that ''music has become a venue of relentless struggle for the hearts and minds of young people . . . trying to ideologically disarm our younger generation, deflect its interests from social issues."

In the Soviet view, all art should work to better society. It should educate and uplift, inspiring all who look or listen to nobler efforts to improve the lot of the masses. Emphasis on individual sorrows or triumphs is discouraged. In art, one should accentuate the positive and the progressive. Happy themes are best. The Volga State Choir, for example, sings cheerfully, ''I was entrusted with space,'' or ''Let's go to Lake Baikal.''

Rock music, on the other hand, ''is intended to vulgarize moral standards and sow seeds of evil and aggression,'' Komsomol-skaya Pravda said. The Communist Party newspaper Pravda agreed when it wrote in May that ''the flashing lights, smoke screens, and convulsive twitching to the beat of the music turn on some of the listeners, who start to stamp their feet and whistle. The performers view all this as a sign of success.''

The newspaper Soviet Russia took another tack, simply pronouncing disco dead. Disco, it said disapprovingly, was ''rosy romantic slush, laced with sentimentality . . . the aesthetics of Hollywood of the '50s, accompanied by electronic beat and synthesizers.'' Ironically, some would say that description better fits the music of groups like the Happy Fellows or the Singing Guitars.

The criticism does not seem to deter the rock musicians, many of whom followed official precepts for years while developing their own styles and tastes in private.

These musicans do not view themselves as in any way subversive. On the contrary, they are proud of having worked their way through to a Soviet rock style that is more than a watered-down version of the Western original. The most talented are no longer tied to the Western model that the authorities so distrust.

''I guess maybe we still kind of repeat what the West has done, but there is the start of a kind of independent thought and character,'' said Kruise's Gaina. ''You can see musicians coming into their own.''

The more exposure they get, the more confident the musicians become. So far, audience contact is made through concerts and amateur tapes. Not many of the groups have cut records, and Time Machine is banned from Moscow, yet disco dance halls have tapes of Russian rock music that have been prepared with sophisticated equipment.

''Many of the kids who come to our concerts know the words to our songs better than I do,'' said Gaina. ''They learned them in the nightclubs.''

The new groups perform anywhere - in parks on open-air stages, in houses of culture, houses of youth, factories, beaches, even at rock festivals. They go on tour, often finding more freedom to perform in the provinces than in Moscow.

Everywhere, audience response is warm. The customary public restraint is broken by the infectious music, prodding the listeners to hoot, holler, or stamp. Backstage, groupies flood the young stars with flowers and requests for autographs.

Dress is by no means as bizarre as Western groups can afford, but sequins are in. Kruise wears outfits in all colors of the rainbow invented by Zaitsev, a leading Moscow fashion designer.

Performing styles vary, apparently getting more outre the farther from Moscow. The Leningrad group, Akvarium, wore T-shirts emblazoned with obscene slogans at the 1980 Tbilisi rock festival. Akvarium's lead guitarist occasionally plays his guitar with his teeth.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.