Sunday, July 15, 2012

What do Bastards listen to?


I've been doing the blog tour thing for Rasputin's Bastards for the past month or so. In the course of it, I've been asked a lot of smart questions and invited to post my own thoughts on a lot of smart blogs. We've covered a lot of topics: what's with the Cold War, what's with free will, what's with the insane number of branching and intersecting plots and all those characters whose name start with K. One thing that hasn't come up so far, is a deep discussion of the novel's musical elements. What was on the playlist Friday nights at City 512?

Well, if you were to visit the place these days, you'd probably hear a lot of Gogol Bordello

and maybe a smattering of t t.A.T.u.
But Rasputin's Bastards is a 20th century novel. And the characters who were born, raised and ultimately fled City 512 had one thing in common, musically. This guy:
Ivan Rebroff. In the 1970s, he was kind of a musical ambassador for pre-revolutionary Russian folk music. My relatives at the time couldn't get enough of him. The dude had a range like a piano, and sang songs about Cossacks and girls called Natascha and the green, green fields of home. He was nostalgia embodied--kind of a slavic Liberace for my grandmother and her peers. I am not ashamed to admit: at the time, I could see the appeal. He could sell Russia like nobody's business.  Including, arguably, his own. Rebroff wasn't Russian at all--or at least, no more Russian than I am. He was born in 1931 in Berlin, under the name Hans-Rolf Rippert, of a Russian mother and German father. He made his name in musical theatre, playing in a 1968 Danish production of Fiddler on the Roof. He toured all over the place, singing Russian folk songs and musical theatre standards, including If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler, in French,
and a colour-blind rendition of Ol' Man River from Showboat that must be heard to be believed:
I gotta say, I love Ivan Rebroff. He is boldly, courageously uncool--and probably always has been. But he's the sort of guy that you listen to over and over again, if you've taken flight from Mother Russia at a certain time and for certain reasons, and in a cold Canadian winter that doesn't hold a candle to the winters they used to have in St. Petersberg, he's the sort of guy you need.

And you can take my word for it: that goes double for psychic spies and their thralls.