Route 66 and insomnia-induced musings on classic rock
You’ve probably heard the band Scorpions before. They’re the German classic metal group who did “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “No One Like You.” Big hits back in the giant, amorphous blob that constitutes the music our parents grew up with. And in Ukraine, they’re huge.
Strictly speaking, they’re big all over Eastern Europe, and in their home of Germany. Musical taste defies measurement, and I can no more explain their popularity in these parts than I can that of any other group that’s made it big in America. The music industry is global anyhow, so plucking any one group out may be a futile exercise. I do, however, love it, and I especially love Ukraine’s appreciation for classic rock. That’s why Route 66 is probably my favorite bar here.
You would think that with that name, and with Southwestern-themed kitsch all over the place– think bison skulls, Rosy the Riveter, and foosball– it would be an ex-pat bar. If so, the Americans don’t come out on Thursday night: locals packed the place, and the live music centered on a band called The Crazy Khokhols (a derogatory word for ethnic Ukrainians– they were taking it back, so to speak) who pulled off some metal classic covers. Queen, Nirvana, Ozzy, Scorpions (duh!), and plenty of other vintage hits. They even got the American accents down, more or less.
Music doesn’t exactly influence geopolitics, no matter how much some pundits wish it so (possible exception for John Lennon). But it does romanticize far-off places, and it can give expression to some of the longing we feel within ourselves. Plato goes as far as to suggest in the Laws that changes in music signal changes in civilization, insofar as music reflects or even guides the configuration of human impulses– and often away from the “higher” parts of the soul. That’s why Allan Bloom condemned rock music in The Closing of the American Mind, a centerpiece from the last so-called “culture war” in America, as the adulation of human vulgarity. Sex, drugs, rock n’roll: but also, rebellion, individuality, transgression, sin, change, liberation.
Our grandparents probably couldn’t stand this stuff when it came out, but for our parents, it was everything, and for us, it’s part of the order of things. I can only imagine the introduction of rock to the USSR being just as controversial, and especially the sex and drugs part. One Ukrainian in her late 20s (a systematic survey, this is not) explained to me that her parents never were taught any sex education in school growing up, and their parents’ parents especially refused to broach the subject. Her own mother couldn’t discuss it with her verbally as a teen, and could only bring herself to purchase a book explaining all the changes she doubtlessly experienced at that age. “Children came from cabbage in those days,” she joked.
If that’s the case, I wonder how much of a life changing experience classic rock had to have been. And I wonder more if it means anything at all now. We take the Beatles for granted, Pink Floyd for a household name, even though imagining a world without their music strikes me as an act of masochism. So I also wonder if any of the hope that came in that wave of music survives. Sexual liberation has given way to alarmingly high AIDS rates in the region (Ukraine’s is the highest in Europe), hope for a better world to widespread political apathy (a phenomena we Americans are guilty of ourselves, if in a different package). But Route 66 is there to take everyone back to the time when it was all new, and enjoy it in a little slice of a place most people won’t get the chance to visit.
Plus, we definitely don’t have awesome sausage platters at our bars.