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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28 - Velvet Revolution
Velvet Underground

lou reed roxy 6-a96

On November 28, 1989, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced that it would relinquish its power and dismantle the single-ruling-party method of governing that nation. The decision came on the day after the Czech citizenry staged a 2-hour general strike, causing everything to come to a screeching halt. Since November 16 of that year, the nation was overcome with a series of peaceful protests and work stoppages. People had the power indeed. A month later, the absurdist playwright and rock n roll fan, Vaclav Havel was elected president.

The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed was once an idol of Havel's and then later, the two men became friends.

Havel, himself during his life as a playwright committed his own act of literary punk rock agitprop in 1975 (a year in which many future punk rockers were indeed formulating their own agitprop) when he wrote an open letter to Czech dictator, Gustav Husak outlining just how the Communist regime was destroying the lives and morale of the citizens... to quote him:

So far, you and your government have chosen the easy way out for yourselves, and the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity; of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power.

These words kick-started a dissident movement... and copies of the complaint/manifesto were distributed samizdat style, copies of copies were photocopied and handed out... the copy was read over Radio Free Europe... and like the early punk rock days, sparks were ignited in the minds of people everywhere... that "we too can make our voices heard." And thus, what eventually became the Velvet Revolution began to get its fighting words together.

cale mic 1small

Coincidentally, it was the unjust persecution and prosecution of a Czech performance group called The Plastic People (modeled after Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and who included songs from the black market copy they had of The Velvet Underground and Nico) that became a turning point for the dissident leaders such as Havel... whose defense of rock n roll, freedom of speech, expression and plain and simple civil rights laid the foundation for the human rights organization Charter 77.

lou reed roxy 1-a96 cale at piano - small - grey

Back in 1989, I had the great good fortune, while working like a dog in a top law firm in New York, to be fully immersed in these Velvet Revolution developments as they happened, as one of the attorneys there represented Havel. It was that attorney's greatest wish to introduce two of his playwright clients - Havel and Samuel Beckett - to one another, as they had so very much in common... but Beckett passed away during December of 1989, and the two playwrights never met.

What does this all have to do with punk rock? Quite a lot, I think, in the ethos area... each of the Velvet Underground, Vaclav Havel, the Czech citizens and Samuel Beckett, their literature and all their anti authoritarian acts (Beckett was a member of the Resistance during WW2) all possessed that same ethos and spirit that punk rockers codified for my generation.

This post is for my friends who alas don't get to use their literature degrees on a daily basis... I just wanted to show them how I get to!

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