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THE EXILE - Punk Legend Yegor Letov Dies
 
 
 
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Punk Legend Yegor Letov Dies
Mark Ames ( Email ) on February 21, 2008

Yegor Letov, singer-songwriter for the legendary Omsk punk group Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense), died of heart failure as we put our last issue to bed Tuesday night. He was 43 years old.

blog_photo
Russia's first and only real punk rocker

Punk may have started in New York and London, but the bravest spawn of all was Letov and his followers. When he began in the 1980s, Letov shunned the artsy irony of other anti-establishment bands in favor of raw violence and reckless confrontation against the blandness of the Soviet Union and the vapid optimism of Gorbachev's perestroika. He left every band and every dissident in the dust, and they never forgave him for it.

The first time I saw Grazhdanskaya Oborona play was just a couple of months after Yeltsin shelled his parliament and declared martial law. Actually I didn't see the concert because busloads of OMON troops arrived at the same time as we did. The concert was one of the first opposition gatherings in Moscow, and it quickly devolved into a riot. Cops fired shotguns and attacked bottle-throwing kids with batons, but the kids kept charging them, burning a tram and smashing windows. One punk would get his face broken and bloody, only to be dragged away by his friends, doused with cheap beer, then sent back charging against the line of OMON cops and to certain glorious doom...

One thing about Grazhdanskaya Oborona's teenie-punk fans is that they were always far braver and crazier than their poseur counterparts in the West. Letov himself was the incarnation of what Edward Limonov calls "Russian Maximalism:" the tendency to take things to their extreme. Perhaps that is why Letov and Limonov hooked up for awhile in Limonov's National-Bolshevik Party during the 1990s. While proto-punker Richard Hell confessed that he was afraid to wear his famous "Please Kill Me" t-shirt on the streets of mid-1970s New York, Letov and his followers were charging riot cops in a police state for the sheer life-affirming joy of it.

Letov was one of the great geniuses of Russian literature, and perhaps their last one, given today's hackneyed crop of Sorokins and Pelevins. Letov's art frightened the middlebrows and philistines both in Russia and in the West, leading to accusations that he was even a "fascist," that ol' favorite bogeyman for the dullest of philistine minds (such as this Soviet bureaucratic denunciation of Letov by Dora Apel). Get set now for a belated and nauseating appreciation of Yetor Letov, along with the usual tsk-tsk caveats about how he took things too far.

We'll have more about Letov in the next issue.

--Mark Ames


 
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