The '80s generation, to which I belong (for my views were formed then), was much cheated by a lack of information, the Brezhnev regime and the Afghan War. We lacked bright impressions and many other things. In our teens we were interested in music, but in the '70s rock could hardly be heard in the Soviet Union. At about the age of 12, I heard something of the Beatles -- I don't remember the song exactly, though I liked it greatly. The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Kiss didn't touch me much. I was 14 when my uncle, a graduate of the Law College, a young "Pinkerton" and a music fan, brought home a confiscated tape recorder with tapes. I couldn't even have dreamed of such a miracle! Once, I dared to listen to the tape -- in spite of my uncle's strict prohibition. It was the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar," by Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice. It made me start learning English seriously, and to listen to more music. I knew nothing then of country music. Neither my friends nor I had heard anything of the Newport Festival in 1965. We knew nothing about historic Woodstock. We associated nothing with such names as Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Pete Seger or Bill Monroe. Only Elvis Presley was lucky enough to be heard by us, the Soviet teenagers of the '70s.
To that time I refer one more of my discoveries. Once (about 1975) I was looking through some old records, brought by my school friend from his parents' collection. I found nothing interesting until I laid my hands on a very old, thick and hard-as-a-rock record produced by the Aprelevka Record Factory (near Moscow). It contained songs of the world. There were sambas, rumbas and much more. I was attracted by the last song on the disk. It was a salty, nostalgic blues sung in the basso pro-fundo of Tennessee Ernie Ford (as the inscription read). Penned by Merle Travis, and entitled "16 Tons," it was a miner's song:
Now, some people say a man's made out of mud,
But a poor man's made out of muscle and blood,
Muscle and blood, skin and bones,
A mind that's weak, and a back that's strong.
You load 16 tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store.
The peculiar thing was that the song was known by the Soviet people. I had heard a Russian variant of it to the same melody: "16 tons -- a dangerous cargo/ And our plane is going to bomb the Soviet Union." So, the folklore of the Russians had interpreted the song in an anti-Soviet way - a very bad Uncle Sam, killing the Vietnamese people in the war, was going to bomb the socialist Motherland --and the thought of it made us suffer greatly. It was a real blues song! "16 Tons" was the first song that didn't resemble any rock song, to my mind. And then, I got to know the real contents of the song, having translated it into Russian.