Alex Abramovich

Alex Abramovich is working on a history of American music.

From The Blog
25 April 2022

The first Siege of Sevastopol – a belated response to Russia’s first annexation of Crimea – took place in 1854-55. Tolstoy wrote about it in Sebastopol Sketches. Mark Twain referred to the battles in Innocents Abroad. Poems were written, paintings painted; eventually, movies were made. In 1856, Henry Worrall, a musician and artist, published ‘Sebastopol’, a ‘descriptive fantasie’ for the parlour guitar. ‘This piece is intended as an imitation of military music,’ he wrote. ‘The Harmonics in single notes imitate the Bugle. The Harmonics in chords imitate a Full Military Band at a distance.’ Readers were instructed to retune their instruments:

From The Blog
24 March 2022

Bootlegged Beatles tapes began floating around the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, but when a group of students gathered on Red Square to celebrate May Day 1967 by dancing the Twist, Khrushchev called the militsiya out to disperse them. Only in the 1970s did the Soviet establishment grudgingly recognise rock and roll as anything more than a ‘cacophony of sounds’. Under Communism, Russian rock bands were forced into two categories: ‘official’ groups, who registered with the Ministry of Culture and were ‘urged to write and perform songs on topics such as space heroes or economic achievement’, and unrecognised ‘amateurs’ who were scorned, scolded and threatened with jail for social parasitism.

From The Blog
7 March 2022

My father, Igor Abramovich, once told me that when he was nineteen, in 1956, he went down into Moscow’s Metro with fliers protesting against the invasion of Hungary. Seeing that Muscovites now are doing similar things, I gave him a call.

From The Blog
28 February 2022

‘You’re occupiers. You are fascists. Why the fuck did you come here with your guns?’ This is the widely shared video of an anonymous woman confronting Russian soldiers in Henichesk, in southern Ukraine. ‘Take these seeds and put them in your pocket so, at least, sunflowers will grow on your graves.’ That’s my loose translation of a few lines I’ve seen rendered more literally, if more obscurely (‘so at least sunflowers grow when you all lie down here’). The translators are doing an excellent job, catching almost everything, though the full range and depth of Russian obscenities – which overlap with Ukrainian obscenities – is notoriously hard to convey written down, even in the original. In the 1870s, Dostoevsky described a conversation consisting, entirely, of one ‘unprintable noun’.

From The Blog
7 January 2022

For years, Paul Schrader was revered for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, for his other collaborations with Martin Scorsese, and for films he’d directed himself: Affliction, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and Mishima, among others. Then, he hit a lull. Dying of the Light, a spy movie with Nicholas Cage, was taken away from Schrader and butchered in post-production. ‘These people tried to kill me,’ he said, a few years ago. ‘I fell into alcoholism, depression. I thought that was it.’ Approaching seventy, Schrader might have retired. Instead, he made his own cut of Dying of the Light from workprint DVDs. Then, as if to clear the air, he made another movie with Cage: Dog Eat Dog. Manic, violent and slightly unhinged, it looked much more like a Paul Schrader film, though the script was written by somebody else. He followed it, almost immediately, with First Reformed, casting Ethan Hawke as a pastor coming to grips with climate change and the end of the world as we know it.

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