A Russian Rock Legend – Viktor Tsoi
I’m always caught completely of guard when one of my students introduces me to something new about Russia. This time was no exception. “He’s a rock legend” , she told me, look him up on the internet you’ll learn a lot about him and the rock music of his time. Well his time was my time, the only reason I’d never heard of him was that I was half way around the world. So who is he, Viktor Tsoi of course. When Guns n Roses, Bon Jovi, and Van Halen were popular in the States, Viktor was a rising star with his band, Kino in Russia.
What made him different? Well more than anything else he didn’t follow the mainstream. He understood that the problem in Russia at the time was that nobody wanted to take chances. He wanted to experiment with lyrics and music to create something fresh that no one had ever heard before. He got his chance after meeting Grebenshchikov, who had already been a relatively established musician in the Leningrad underground (Leningrad Rock Club) scene. He was very impressed by Tsoi’s talent and helped him start up his own band. “Kino” then went on to record their first Samizdat album 45. They went on to display more of their political views and incredible talent at the 2nd Leningrad Rock Club Concert. The band won the competition with Tsoi’s anti-war song “I Declare My Home… [a nuclear-free zone]” (Russian: Я объявляю свой дом … [безъядерной зоной])
A Normal Everyday Guy
One of the biggest reasons for Viktor Tsoi’s success was that he was an everyday normal citizen of the USSR. He kept his old job working in a boiler room of an apartment building, a fact that surprised many people. Tsoi said that he enjoyed the work and he also needed the money to support the band, as they still received no government support and their albums were copied and passed around the nation via samizdat free of charge. This made Tsoi even more popular among the people because it showed that he was down to earth and they could relate to him.
Playing the Protagonist in “The Needle”
He went on to star in film. Viktor Tsoi then played the protagonist in a film directed by Rashid Nugmanov . It was entitled The Needle (Russian: Игла,Igla) . The plot is centered around the character Moro, who returns to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to collect money owed to him. While waiting out an unexpected delay, he visits his former girlfriend Dina, and discovers she has become a morphine addict. He decides to help her kick the habit and fight the local drug mafia responsible for her condition. But Moro finds a deadly opponent in “the doctor,” the mafia kingpin who is exploiting Dina. You can watch the first part of the movie above.
An Untimely Death
His unexpected death occurred in Latvia, on 14 August 1990. He had fallen asleep while driving his car coming back on Sloka – Talsi road from a fishing trip when his Moskvitch 2141 Aleko collided with an Ikarus 250 bus outside Tukums at high speed. He died instantly.
On 17 August, Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the main Soviet newspapers, had the following to say about Tsoi and his meaning to the youth of the nation:
Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock.
He may be gone, but never forgotten. He will remain a Russian Rock Star Legend.