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Vladimir Vysotsky

Vladimir Vysotsky

Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky (January 25, 1938 – July 25, 1980) was a Russian singer, poet, theatre and movie actor, and writer. He was the most recognized Russian bard.

Vladimir Vysotsky was born in Moscow, Russia, USSR. His father was an army officer and his mother a German language translator. His parents got divorced not long after his birth, and he was brought up by his stepmother of Armenian descent, aunt Yevgenia. For two years during his childhood he lived on the military base at Eberswalde in Germany's Soviet occupied zone (later GDR). On return, he went to school at Moscow.

During 1955/1956, he attended the Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering but only stayed for the first half of the academic year and left the institute after having passed the first examination. In 1959 he decided to pursue his dream of acting and started working at the Aleksandr Pushkin Theatre as an actor of small roles.

He met his second wife, Ludmilla Abramova, in 1961. They married in 1965 and had two sons, Arkady and Nikita.

In 1964, on invitation of director Yuri Lyubimov, who was to become his paternal friend, he joined the staff of the popular Moscow Theatre of Drama and Comedy on the Taganka. He is remembered for playing the leading role in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Brecht's The Life of Galileo. — He also appeared in numerous movies.

Living in divorce, he fell in love with French actress Marina Vlady, who worked for Mosfilm at that time. "At age thirty, our lives rich with various experiences, several wives and husbands, five children between us...", they got married in 1969. As a side effect, this gave him the ability to travel abroad (outside the Eastern bloc countries) as well as some immunity to prosecution by the government. Working at different locations most of the time, their by no means easy marriage relied heavily on the exchange of letters, telegrams and trunk calls.

A hard worker and a hard drinker, Vysotsky died in Moscow of heart failure at the age of 42. His body was laid out at the Taganka theatre, where the funeral service was held. He was later buried at the Vagankovskoye Cemetery, Moscow. Hundreds of Moscow citizens left the stadiums (as it was the time of the Olympics) to attend the funeral. In the years to come, his flower-adorned grave site became a place of pilgrimage: not the slab-supported meteorite his widow had suggested, but a golden statue, on which his parents decided in an uncompromising way, and which would have suited much better a Hero of the Soviet Union, someone he never was nor wanted to be.

Shortly after his death, nearly all Russian bards wrote songs and poems about his life and death. The best known ones are Yuri Vizbor's Letter to Vysotsky (1982) and Bulat Okudjava's About Volodya Vysotsky (1980).

Years later, urged by her friend Simone Signoret, Marina Vlady wrote an autobiography, portraying her husband and their common years. This book finally allowed Vysotsky's fans to understand the man behind their favourite songs.

The asteroid 2374 Vladvysotskij was named after him. It was discovered by Lyudmila Zhuravleva of the observatory at Nauchnij, Crimea.

The Music

The poet accompanied himself on the guitar, with an intense voice singing ballads of love, peace, war, and every-day Soviet life. He had the ring of honesty and truth, with an ironic and sometimes sarcastic touch, which made him a target for surveillance by the government. In France, he has been compared with French singer Georges Brassens, however in Russia he was usually compared with Joe Dassin, especially since they died in the same year and of the same age. However their similarities are not only superficial. Also, his poetry and performing style greatly influenced Jacek Kaczmarski, a Polish songwriter and singer that touched similar themes.

The multifaceted talent of Vladimir Vysotsky is often described by a short word bard that acquired a special meaning in the Soviet Union, although he himself spoke of this term with irony. He thought of himself mainly as an actor and writer, and once remarked, "I do not belong to what people call bards or minstrels or whatever."

The songs—over 400 of them—were written about almost any imaginable theme. The earliest were Street songs. These songs were based either on the city romance of Moscow (criminal life, prostitution and extreme drinking) or on life in the Gulags. Vysotsky slowly grew out of this phase and started singing more serious, though often satirical, songs. Many of these songs were about war. These war songs were not written to glorify war but to expose the listener to the emotions of those in extreme, life threatening situations. Most Soviet veterans would say that Vysotsky's war songs described the truth of war far more accurately than more official patriotic songs, such as Katyusha.

Nearly all of Vysotsky's songs are in the first person, but almost never as himself. When singing his criminal songs, he would borrow the voice of a Moscow thief and when singing war songs he would sing from the point of view of a soldier. This created some confusion about Vysotsky's background, especially during the early years when information could not be passed around very easily. Using his acting talent, the poet performed his role play so well that until told otherwise, many of his fans believed that he was indeed a criminal or war veteran. Vysotsky's father said that "War participants thought the author of the songs to be one of them, as if he had participated in the war together with them."

Many of Vysotsky's songs were used as soundtracks for films, especially those he appeared in, a well known example being Vertikal.

Not being officially recognized as a poet and singer, Vysotsky performed where and whenever he could - in the theatre, in the university, in village clubs and under open air. It was not unusual for him to have several concerts per day. He used to sleep little, using the night hours to write. In his last years, he managed to perform outside the USSR and held concerts in Paris, Toronto and New York City.

With some exceptions, he had no chance to publish his recordings with Melodiya, the monopolist of the recording industry in the Soviet Union. His songs were passed on through amateur recordings on magnetic tapes, resulting in an immense popularity; cosmonauts took his music on tape cassette into orbit. — His writings were all published posthumously.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Vladimir Vysotsky Facts

OccupationMusician, Actor, Writer
BirthdayJanuary 15, 1938
BirthplaceMoscow, Russia
Date of deathJuly 25, 1980 (age 42)

Selected Filmography

Vladimir Vysotsky
MESTO VSTRECHI IZMENIT NELZYA / Can't Change the Meeting Place / ????? ??????? ???????? ?????? 2 DVD NTSC WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES . VLADIMIR VYSOTSKY
Vladimir Vysotsky Documentary Trilogy: Part 2 Love Fairytale
I have something to sing about
Where Are You, Wolves?!
Vladimir Vysotsky Documentary Trilogy: Part 3 the History of Sickness
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