After Soviet tanks crushed Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring in 1968, all performing musicians were vetted for loyalty to the new regime, The Economist notes.
The criteria included: no English lyric or band names, and no long hair. “Plastic People of the Universe” failed on all counts. Their inspiration was America’s “Velvet Underground”……
Sometimes rock ‘n’ roll can do more to promote freedom than translating the Federalist Papers, say David Feith and Bari Weiss.
Whatever his personal politics, Reed’s music assumed a life of its own behind the Iron Curtain, they write for The Wall Street Journal, noting that Czechoslovakia’s 1970s’ anti-Communist movement coalesced around the Plastic People:
Playwright Václav Havel documented their trial and imprisonment in 1976, then published the “Charter 77? human-rights manifesto and eventually led the Velvet Revolution against Communism in 1989. The name derived partly from Reed’s band, Havel later said. And when the two men met in 1990, Havel told him, “Do you know I am president because of you?”
As far as we know, Lou Reed didn’t get up in the morning thinking about how he could overthrow the Soviet Union. But his story reminds us that in unfree societies, free expression—whether from Lou Reed or Lady Gaga—is subversive in itself.
So it is today, as regimes try to tamp down the contemporary analogues to the Plastic People of the Universe, Feith and Weiss contend:
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, two members of the punk-rock collective Pussy Riot now sit in prison, guilty of “hooliganism.” In Turkmenistan, the popular singer Maksat Kakabaev, known as Maro, served in a penal colony for two years. In Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, the rocker Miron was accused of creating political unrest and forced into military service. And in Iran, “Samira,” a female rapper, sings: “Captive and prisoners behind the dark walls/ We know our destiny to freedom.”