"Vysotsky's Soul Packaged in Tapes": Identity and Russianness in the Music of Vladimir Vysotsky
Publication or External Link
This study examines the relationship between music, identity, and Russianness as demonstrated by the songs of the bard Vladimir Vysotsky. The career of Vysotsky occurred within the context of Soviet Russia, but more broadly, his songs embody characteristics specific to Russian culture. For this study, I draw on the fields of ethnomusicology, history, and cultural studies to assist in the interpretation of music and identity in a cultural context. By investigating the life and career of this individual, this study serves as a method in which to interpret the identity of a musical performer on multiple levels.
I gathered fieldwork data in Moscow, Russia in the summers of 2003 and 2004. Information was gathered from various sites connected to Vysotsky, and from conversations with devotees of his music.
The role of identity in musical performance is complex, and to analyze Vysotsky's Russianness, I trace his artistic work as both 'official' actor and 'unofficial' musician. Additionally, I examine the lyrics of Vysotsky's songs for the purposes of relating his identity to Russian culture. In order to define 'Russianness,' I survey theoretical perspectives of ethnicity and nationalism, as well as musical and non-musical symbols, such as the Russian soul (dusha), all of which are part of the framework that creates Russian identity.
In addition to Russian identity, I also address a performer's musical identity which focuses mainly on musical composition and performance. In determining Vysotsky's unique musical identity, I compare the compositions of his avtorskaya pesnya ('author song') to two other bards who were his contemporaries. This comparative analysis demonstrates that even within the same musical genre, performers employ distinctive compositional and performance practices particularly identified with that individual.
I conclude that identity is a multi-layered framework, and that this framework is, in actuality, comprised of different identities. In the case of Vysotsky, some songs display a national identity, whereas in others examples, he displays an identity based on social status or ethnicity. The arrangement of these identities can change, and interpretation of the identity framework is dependent on specific music examples and performance contexts.