April 22, 2015
Music Video Wednesday: Lyube, “Horse”
This is a weekly Fort Russ feature. To view earlier installments, please click on the Music Video Wednesday tab above the title.
The song Horse was written in 1994 by Igor Matviyenko (music) and Aleksandr Shaganov (lyrics) of the rock group Lyube. It has since become a veritable cult hit, to the point of being sung by nearly everyone in Russia who can sing and quite a few people who can’t. There are literally thousands of amateur music videos on youtube featuring that song, which clearly hit a nerve or two, to the point of sometimes being labeled as “Russia’s unofficial national anthem.” Not bad for a rock group! But if one looks at the song closely, it’s easy to see why this song has enjoyed this level of success.
So here are two videos, each sung by people who know how to sing, each subtitled (though not translated exactly the same way–literary translation of poetry and lyrics is much harder than dealing with technical or political language).
The top video is sung by Russia’s Bruce Springsteen, Nikolay Rastorguyev of the already mentioned Lyube (named after the “tough” Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy), whose rendition of Horse never fails to give me goosebumps. The lower video features a Horse rendition by the Sretenskiy Monastery Choir, also a very impressive performance (and, of the two, with the better English translation of the song).
Notice that there are four distinctive actors and locations featured in the song: the Field, the Horse, the Rider, and the Dawn.
The “boundless” Field which belongs to the Rider is (in this and so many other Russian songs), of course, Russia.
The Rider represents the political elite, while the Horse (the title of the song, no less) is the Russian people (once again, a rather common metaphor, seen for example in an early scene in Brest Fortress, namely the race between the horseman and the truck driver).
Notice, however, that the Rider does not “ride” the Horse, not in the sense of controlling the Horse’s movements. As the song makes it plainly clear, the Rider hops onto the Horse, and then lets the Horse take him across the field, and maybe even take him to see the fourth “hero” of our song, namely the crimson or scarlet Dawn.
The overall political implication here is that the song depicts Russia
ruled not by authoritarian tyrants ruling over an enslaved people, but
rather by leaders whom are seen by the people as best suited for the
role of the Rider. Should the Rider mistake the relationship between the
Horse for one of domination, he will quickly find himself bucked from
its back and trampled (just ask Nicholas II, a tone-deaf Russian ruler
if there ever was one, how that worked out for him). But the great
Russian leaders, from Ivan the Terrible through Peter the Great, Stalin,
and to a certain extent even Putin owe their greatness to their
understanding of the people whom they govern, and the correct
understanding as to what the Horse expects the Rider to do. In 1994, when that song was written, the need for precisely that kind of leader was sorely felt.
But let’s get back to the Dawn. Aside from the belief in the cyclical nature of history, which is rather well expressed by the song’s lyrics in more than one place, it represents a political renewal which, alas, comes at a cost of considerable social upheaval, even to the point of bloodshed (hence the “crimson” or “scarlet”, depending on the translation, nature of the “Red” Dawn). Are things going badly? No worries, that too shall pass. All the Rider needs to do is let the Horse carry him to the source of the Dawn (which, unsurprisingly enough, is actually located somewhere within the confines of the Field–Russia’s source of inner strength, its Ring of Power, is self-contained and not an alien creation that has to be borrowed from without).
This, too, is not exactly an uncommon theme in Russian art. Very Brezhneva’s seemingly very different Good Morning contains a virtually identical message. Brest Fortress has an important scene in which the setting Sun represents the collapse of yet another Western power, which illustrates the other half of the historical arc (the Sun rises in the East, and it sets in the West).
However, for the Western power’s Sun to set in the West, it first has to rise in the East, and historically this has been how Russia had met and seen off foreign military threats over the past several centuries. This is how it will overcome the current one as well, and the fact that the current round of Russian mobilization is far less extreme than the 1930s version is due to the simple fact that the West today does not pose nearly the same level of military threat as it did in the 1930s. Should that change, there’s little doubt that Russia’s internal politics would quickly start to resemble those of the 1930s. The Horse will take the Rider to the source of the Crimson Dawn once again…