Musical Communities and Youth behind the Iron Curtain: The Socialist Beat in the Soviet Bloc

AHA Session 139
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Erie Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Kate Transchel, California State University, Chico
Rock and Roll, Disco Mafia, and the Collapse of Communism
Sergei I. Zhuk, Ball State University
Aesthetic Upbringing in the Soviet Union, 1957–64
Gleb Tsipursky, Ohio State University
Christopher Ward, Clayton State University

Session Abstract

This panel submission is part of a workshop consisting of a linked panel and roundtable, composed of contributors to William Risch and Kate Transchel’s edited volume, The Socialist Beat in the Soviet Bloc. It is meant to coincide with the publication of this work in late 2011. The panelists, like the book itself, address key issues in the history of music, youth, communities, and socialism in eastern Europe and the USSR during the latter half of the twentieth century. These presentations go beyond recent scholarship that has emphasized the subversive political influence of “western” music, jazz and rock'n'roll, in socialist contexts, for example in the works of Timothy Rybak and Sabrina Ramet. Instead, the papers contextualize “western” music as a constitutive part of late socialism, something that Alexei Yurchak has stressed in his scholarship on the 1970s and 1980s.  While benefiting from Yurchak’s claims, the presenters expand the boundaries of historiography by enriching our understanding of the relationship between socialism and “western” music, both chronologically and thematically. The panel members explore interactions between young people and “western” music that fostered indifference to the values of late socialism, as noted by Sergei Zhuk’s case study of Dniepropetrovsk, or the transcendence of political issues altogether, as seen in Thomas Cushman’s study of Leningrad. In turning to state and Communist Party policies toward “western” music and young people’s leisure time, the panelists note important divisions between public policy makers over what appropriate role “western” music could play in young people’s lives. The papers reach back into the 1960s, 1950s, and even late 1940s, tracing the history of jazz as well as rock'n'roll in the Soviet Bloc, a story whose history has been barely uncovered, with the exception of the GDR, as explored by Uta Poiger and Mark Fenemore. By examining the values expressed and formed by communities of “western” music listeners and performers, the presentations explore the various cultural intersections between the local and the global.  Here, the panelists suggest that these “western” music taste publics, communities expressing and communicating these values, revealed important issues not just about youth cultures worldwide, but also issues of regional, national, or multinational identities affecting the Soviet bloc.

The panel will launch a scholarly dialogue on all of these issues, through three presentations based on a variety of primary sources, including archival documents, newspapers, instruction booklets, films, music, literature, memoirs, and oral history interviews. More specifically, the three panelists will present papers on three different types of music communities. Sergei Zhuk explores the ties between the “western” music fan community and the collapse of communism, William Risch compares hippies in Poland and Ukraine, and Gleb Tsipursky investigates the Soviet government’s efforts to create normative music fan communities. While the presentations will provide a forum for beginning the conversation about the issues of music, community, youth, and socialism, the linked roundtable will offer the opportunity to further expand this dialogue and solicit extensive audience involvement from historians studying music, youth, and communities in other fields of history.

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