Czech Republic - Full Moon 32 - 05/30/99
Banjo Band Ivana Mládka
Back in the 70's, in the darkest days of 'normalization' that followed the
invasion of Czechoslovakia, Ivan Mládek provided a much
needed breath of fresh air. He managed to sell millions of records during
the most depressing times and many of his hits imbedded into the
subconsciousness of the nation are now passed on to the new
generation, very much like folksongs.
So what was it that made his deceptively simple ditties instant
classics? An adequate banjo player, an OK song writer and a pretty
average singer, Mládek captivated millions with his incredible
sense of humor. Hits such as Medvedi nevedí (ze turisti
nemaj zbrane) (Bears Don't Know Hikers Don't Carry Guns), or
Zeleznicní vlecka povalila krecka (A Railroad Car
Knocked Over My Hamster) showed off his talent as an engaging story
Nováková ranks among the highest achievements in
Czech Dadaistic tradition. Loosely translated, Mládek slowly
unveils the following saga:
"Kathy told Mary
to say that Karen
thought that Joanne
With repeated listening you may also make out in the
background a sad chorus of male voices:
"C sharp, B, G sharp
E flat, C"
in other words, the very names of the notes they are
Shortly after the Communist government officially banned any
English expressions in Czech songs, Mládek and his band
released Jez (Dam), which is of course pronounced "yes" and
which featured the very common Czech suffix -nou, pronounced
"no." And his song Pochod Praha-Prcice did wonders to
popularize the yearly march (pochod) between these two cities.
Originally Nashledanou! (Goodbye!) came out in 1977 as their
second album, but on this CD re-release Bonton added 8 singles from
1976 and 1983. The mood is set by the record-handling instructions from
the original LP:
- Store the record only in a dry, cool, quiet
- Before retiring for the night, give your new record a
gentle bath followed by a thorough massage.
- Your record
requires fresh air at least once a week. Take it jogging with you, but
remember: only in the dark!
- In winter months the record should
have a warmer cover. You can fashion one yourself out of any suitable
- Warning: During the break-in period, do not exceed
11 rpm! To prevent warping, bring the record up to full 33 rpm only after
the first year of use.
- Remember to play the record inside out.
Nashledanou is the first recording in Czechoslovakia that also
protects your turntable; instead of wearing the needle down in the
center, after playing this recording from the inside out the needle will
automatically fly off.
The single Jozin z bazin (Joe from the Swamps) leads off.
Characteristically, it is a combination of Central Europe oom-pah music
and dixieland - with a kazoo. Story is about a swamp monster that
specializes in devouring citizens of Prague and which can be destroyed
only by a crop-dusting plane. Similarly, Dívka s
dolícky (Girl With Dimples) features a kazoo instead of the
trumpet, a violin instead of a clarinet, and a story about a girl injured by a
cloth-pin. Hlasná Trebán (a settlement just
outside of Prague) is an a cappella marching song with the
commander barking instructions throughout the song.
favorite is the underrated last cut Az pujdes spát (When
You Go To Bed), which sounds a lot like Squirrel Nut Zippers.The lyrics
were written by Zdenek Sverák, the Oscar-winning star of 'Kolya:'
||When you go to bed |
|tak nech si zdát
you have a dream |
|ze ti padám jak ten
z nebe na kabát. ||That I'm falling like a little rain
all over you. |
dál ||I will soak through |
|az pod kabát
your coat. |
se ||Don't worry, I'll evaporate |
|nebot' mám te
rád. ||Just because I love you. |
Unlike most of the other cuts, this one really swings. The drumming
and the bass guitar (instead of the usual tuba) are less plodding, the
banjo, the guitar and especially the melodeon (credited as a violin) drive
the song forward, and even the musical arrangement is a little more
inventive than usual.
It is difficult to convey all of Mládek's contribution as a
lyricist, satirist and an engaging storyteller. His greatest achievement
however was in providing a much needed escape and an witty diversion
during one of the most difficult periods of his nation. For that he
deserves the greatest credit.
Copyright © 1999 Ivan Sever