Bulat Okudjava was born in 1924 in Moscow. Graduated the Tbilisi (Georgia) State University Philological Department in 1950. One of the founders of the Russian artist's song genre. Wrote his first well known song in 1946. Boulat Okoudjava died on June 12, 1997 in Paris.
Okudzhava has left.... There is no longer anyone to assure and convince us that the blue trolleybus will pick up anyone who has crashed in the night. No longer anyone to teach us how not to disappear alone.
The great Soviet poet has died. Not the Russian poet, not the Georgian poet, not the Armenian poet. But right the Soviet poet. The son of a Gerogian father and an Armenian mother, Bulat Okudzhava spoke and wrote only in Russian. This was because his mother, who spoke Georgian, Azerbaydjanian, and of course Armenian, has always requested that everyone who came to visit her house "Please, speak the language of Lenin - Russian". Only in the country called Soviet Union could a father be shot as an enemy of the people, and his son be sent to war to protect these same people.
While singing and listening to his songs, we have for a long time not imagined how this person looks like. On the other hand, we have well known his voice, and even when it was possible to televise and show his performances Okoudzhava could rarely be seen on the screen. Possibly, he awaits the posthumous fate of the Russian poet Appollon Grigoriev. Who today can describe the appearance of this poet,who died 130 years ago? And yet his gipsy songs are being sung over and over: "Ech, raz eshe raz, eshe mnogo, mnogo raz..." To hear Okudjava's songs we have bought our first tape-recorders. All the other bards, their greatness notwithstanding - Visotsky, Galich, Visbor, Kim, and others - have appeared later. They might have been stronger in politics, but Okudzhava was still the first. It was he who opened the tiny door to freedom for all of us. On the tape recorder, one could record any kind of songs, and not be forced to listen to the music that was being blown into our ears by the public radio and television.
"Happy is the home in which the voice of the violin leads us to the right path and gives us hope - the rest will take care of itself."
In the late `50's our homes were a bit happier because they were filled with the voice and the guitar music of Okoudjava. Later, professional artists of film and theater began to perform his songs in movies such as "The Star of the Alluring Happiness", "Belorussian Train Station", and "The White Sun of the Desert". Sing at least one line of any song from these movies, and you will be joined by the whole country once known as USSR. The soft voice of Bulat Okudzhava has ceased...
The generations for whom he performed have stopped listening to songs and have gone about their own business, he has moved from Moscow to Peredelkino. There he battled mosquitos and diseases, remenisced about the ones who have left and the ones who have died, wrote poetry and prose about his life - at first by hand, then re-writing his work on the type-writer. He distrusted the computer, which could have made this process easier. He said: "...I don't understand anything about computers. I was often told that it is easier to make corrections on it, but I must first see what it is that I am correcting."
"This is why I write using a ball poing pen, crossing words out... I console myself with the thought that Mozart was using a harpsichord and still managed to write good music." Like a true country dweller he worked in his garden, listened to the verses within himself and searched for melodies. The verses came, but not the melodies. He said: "Maybe it is my age?... And maybe they (the melodies) are no longer needed..." He picked bluebells, hung them in his room, where he wrote: "Bella gave me this one...this one is from Bulgaria..." (there were many bluebells, he remembered the story of each.) He smoked one cigarette all day, extinguishing it in the tiny ashtray. Then lit it up again and later extinguished it again. He said: "I am saving, but not cigarettes of course, but - ha ha ha - my health. The doctors said: 'If you smoke, you'll die..." I said: " If I don't smoke, I'll die even sooner!.."
He was rumored to have been friends with famous poets and wirters, yet he said, laughing: "To be friends with them, one must drink a lot, and I can't dirnk as much as they do." He considered his best friend to be not some writer or artist, but an engineer who was his neighbor and whom he knew for many years.
He said: "Once I was suddenly invited to go to the United States to visit several universities. I thought that the trip would require me to read some of my poetry. I was very happy, I got ready for the trip... Finally, the night before my flight, someone called me and said I was going there to lecture on modern literature...I have never lectured before in my life...mmm...I wasn't ready...but frightened half to death I reply: "Alright!" because I really do not want to refuse to go on such a trip. As I am on the plane I am feeling as if I will faint. Upon my arrival I am greeted by professors, and as we are in the car I ask them: " Where are we going? To the hotel?" They answer: "No, you know, the plane was a bit late, and that is why we are going right to the university. They are already waiting for us..."
"...We got to the University. I was warmly greeted by students and professors. I told them in all confidentiality: "I couldn't refuse this trip, and lied that I would lecture...But I know nothing. That's why , since I"m here, I thought that I would tell you my detailed biography. If it suits you all..." They said it did. So for fifteen days that was exactly what I did. Of course I didn't talk only about myself, but about our life in general, about how I was a pioneer, a school boy, how I went to war, how I was wounded and how I had to stay at the hospital..."
Of course I will not talk for fifteen days, but very briefly I will say...What happened on the war front? Nothing good. I didn't join voluntarily, but was drafted after ninth grade, when I was 17. When I look at 17 year olds now, I can't even imagine how I, with that thin neck, and those crooked legs had managed to go as a soldier to the front. I now remeber myself as being funny, very funny, always funny - although everything was very tragic back then. Well, I tried to do all that was expected of me. Althought it was all very hard..."
He said: "After the front, after the University, I was sent to Kaluzhsk, to the local school to teach Rusian and literature. I wrote poetry, a little, just like everyone writes poetry. Very unprofessional. I began to send my poems to the local newspaper and always the answer was the same: "Read more Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrasov..." I was myself a teacher and of course have read Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrasov. But my poems were not being published. Once I came there myself and went to the editor. They asked me: "What is your name?...Okoudzhava?! How nice! (they remembered it for a year!) Did you bring anything new?.." I gave them those very poems that they refused to publish, and they published them. I received a little prize, of which I was very proud. I thought I have reached the highest of heights. I have even acquired a few fans in Kaluga, about 8 people. What else did I need?..
At first I wrote the kind of poems that would not irritate anyone - neither the editors nor the public... Very comfortable poetry. I wrote for all the holidays and different seasons. Everyone was satisfied. Although somewhere there dwelled a worm of doubt. I understood that it was all too easy and not what it was supposed to be. Then I came back to Moscow..."
He said: ' Once I had the desire to accompany one of my satirical verses with music. I only knew three cords, now, 27 years later , I know seven cords, then I knew three. I sang, my friends liked it, and I liked it. Then I sang a second poem and a third... Tape recorders have just come out then. I sang to my friends, and recorded it , then someone else made a copy of that recording, it started going around... Every evening I would get a call from someone inviting me to a house I've never visited before, and that is how I went around Moscow for a year, singing. Gradually a scandal began. The compositors hated me. The singers detested me. The guitarists were terrified by me. And that is how it went on, until a very well known poet of ours announced: "Calm down, these are not songs. This is just another way of presenting poetry." And everyone has indeed calmed down. Everyone went about their own business... Eventually I matured, eventually I grew old... Why don't I just sing you a song - that first one... Just for keepsake...You'll remember it later..."Why did you bother Vanka Morozov? It wasn't his fault..."
In the later years journalists have asked Okudzhava, as if he were a prophet: "Say, what is the meaning of life? " But he simply did not talk about it.
Maria Vardenga, Yana Zubtsova, Dmitriy Makarov
Back to Russian Music Page