The poet Lyosha Nikonov is the lead vocalist of the punk-band “Last Tanks in Paris” (Petersburg), whose name plays on the title of Bertolucci’s famous film. As Nikonov puts it: “The revolution ended, and post-modernism began.” Hence, tanks as a symbol of post-modernism’s destruction. This, at least, is how Nikonov defined himself in 1998. But this is 2006…
Aleksandr Skidan: I don’t want to delve too deeply into history, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it wasn’t too long ago that rock was still associated with non-conformism and often had something to do with direct political protest. Notwithstanding all the differences between the situation in the Soviet Union and the West, it was a gesture of defiance to make this kind of music at all. Today, one gets the impression that rock’n’roll is worse than dead, that it has become part of the dominant ideology. What’s happening to all those rockers?
Lyosha Nikonov: By now, most of them are opportunists who are ready to do anything for money. They rose to fame on a wave of protest, but now Boris Grebenshikov goes to pay his respects to the president. And Yuri Shevchuk of DDT? All over the world, people sing against war, but our main Russian rocker travels to Chechnya to cheer up soldiers who are basically fighting against their own people. The only ones who have nothing to lose are independent groups without any contracts. Whoever has a contract or their own studio could be closed down by tax inspectors at any moment. This is why they aren’t interested in recording groups involved in social or political protest.
AS: What’s going on with Last Tanks in Paris today? I read some of your poems online. You started out with erotic lyricism, which underwent a gradual transition toward much harder social themes…
LN: Many people develop in the opposite direction…Anyway, the thing is that for the last one and a half years, we’ve been traveling around the country a lot, playing the provinces. If you travel around Russia and don’t stay in Petersburg all the time, it’s impossible not to sing social songs. In the provinces, everything is falling apart; people make about $250 a month, sit in their doghouses, and don’t even go outside, because if the cops don’t shake you down, the hoodlums will…
AS: I also read your manifesto on post-modernism and globalization. Don’t you think that it is a little outdated? In the sense that war with post-modernism is a battle with windmills?
LN: I’ve always felt that the cultural revolution will come first, and the social revolution will follow, and all I really wanted to say is that it’s high time to end all that post-modernist stuff, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the language the people speaks. It looks more and more like a charade that the intelligentsia invents for itself. I think that there has to be revolution in people’s minds before a social revolution can ever occur. Hence, my desperate appeal for anarchists to turn to the arts.
AS: You’re still an anarchist?
LN: I hope I’m an anarchist, though hardly in any Bakuninist sense. I don’t accept centralized power as the final solution to all problems. I’m for the self-organization of the masses. But those are all stereotypical definition, formulas that come from the 19th and not even the 20th century.
AS: What has to happen for the masses to self-organize and join forces in struggle for their rights?
LN: The only thing that leads in this direction is a worsening of economic conditions; in this sense, I agree with Kropotkin. As soon as our country stops mainlining oil and everything goes to all fuck, I hope the masses will start self-organizing. But I’m afraid that this still won’t be political self-organization. The state will never direct this organization into a political direction.
AS: I see some contradictions in what you’re saying. On the one hand, you say that cultural revolution comes first, but now you’re resorting to absolute economic determinism, even fatalism…
LN: Both factors are in operation here. But in my manifest, I focused on art, because I’m a poet and I can’t really talk about much else more or else systematically.
AS: There’s another thing I wanted to ask you. Rock music is all about erotic energy; it’s something very physical. How can you revolutionize pleasure, and not just “discharge” its energy into the form of the spectacle, thus transforming it into a commodity?
LN: I think this is what Marquis de Sade was doing. He may have suffered a terrible fiasco, but he also went down in history as the author of “Frenchmen! One More Effort If You Wish To Be Republicans!” I can’t image anyone writing such pamphlets today. I’m afraid that the creative intelligentsia does not allow ordinary people to realize themselves in this sphere. Maybe things like this happened in the 1920s and 1930s, in avant-garde poetry or constructivism. Which, basically, is the only original thing our country has ever produced. The rest is derivative. But in the 1920s and 30s, thanks to a revolutionary surge of energy, we had great new forms in both art and people’s consciousness.