Rock Behind the Curtain


One of the most important effects of the emergence of “Rock & Roll” in the United States during the 1950’s was the social revolution that came along with it. The older generations were shocked by Elvis Presley and the way he shook his hips, the sexual energy of performers like Little Richard, and the personal controversies of people like Jerry Lee Lewis. As the 1960’s came into view, The Beatles encouraged young men to wear their hair longer, Bob Dylan encouraged political protest, and more African American artists then can be named gave face the plight of African Americans in this country then ever before. Rock music represented social revolution in a way that few had seen before.

While all of this is important, it can be easy to forget that Rock was not a phenomena at the same time, once it did come around, the response was largely the same. When I looked at the sources provided by 17 moments, it was interesting to see how the older parts of Soviet Society responded to the liberalism that rock encouraged amongst the youth in similar ways to their western counterparts. In the article entitled “Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth”, the writer argued that teachers needed to, “protect young people from bad influences and vulgar tastes. It is not only proper behavior that we are inculcating, after all, but also civic virtue and patriotism” (Western Styles…). In typical Soviet manor, they tied the need to protect the youth in a patriotic way, something that their American counterparts never tried when fighting against rocks influences. Even more interesting was the official attempts at supresing the distribution of Jazz and Rock records in the early 1960’s. In the film Shadows on the Sidewalk, authorities attempted to these records distribution, seeing them as a threat to the Soviet values most likely. Interestingly, during this time Left thinkers from the Frankfurt School were coming out against jazz, but this is more a coincidence.

Another interesting strategy that the Soviet’s took to discredit rock music was to attack its commercial leanings. In an article entitled “Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”, contained an interesting passage on the commericalization of rock music as a form of critiquing it:

“The founders of this musical genre called it a “revolutionary art form,” but with time it has become clear that powerful “pop culture” has turneditinto just one of its commercial enterprises. Rock ‘n’ roll quickly became a form of business. Rock songs, many young Americans still feel today, challenged their “fathers’ culture.” But what happened? The fathers had experience and business acumen on their side. “Get mad, but only on the playing field,” they said to themselves. “Don’t go beyond that, or we’ll punish you.” (“Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”)


While this line of thought has some validity to it, I think one could argue that great innovation can happen in these circumstances. The greatest works are those that are able to take these restrictions and able to work against them. Additionally, coming from a regime that routinely created propaganda films in its native industry and then would hide them if they didn’t show everything in a favorable light (“Don’t go beyond that”), it seems rather hypocritical to criticize American rock music for its comericialization.

The Soviet response to rock music is interesting. Like their American counterparts, they were scared of the liberal ideas that came with it, that it would inspire youth to rebel against their leaders. It goes to show that the fear of youth culture and the new values it often represents always scares the parents and leaders of the youth, whether its in America or behind the Iron Curtain.

This post earned a Red Star award from the editorial team


“Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”

Western Style Infect Soviet Youth

Shadows on the Sidewalk

6 thoughts on “Rock Behind the Curtain

  1. It’s funny how similar rock n’ roll was in both the United States and the Soviet Union. It is generally thought of as a strictly American phenomenon but you do a great job of showing how it rocked Soviet culture as well as American. Thanks for sharing!


  2. I wrote about how Soviet youths were being affected by western culture. I think you really explained it well about how older generation, American or Russian, were worried about the new ideas teens/young adults would get. The quote I found most interesting from Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth was “consider that youngsters sometimes go from trying on foreign fashions to trying on foreign ideas.” It was interesting to read how America and Russia kind of mirrored each other in terms of rock music.


  3. I always find it interesting that music genres can cause rifts between parents and children. It happened in our parents’ generation and it happens in ours. What is most intriguing, although not surprising, is that the Soviet government disapproved of rock music for kids. Parents thought rock music would ruin their children’s morals, and so did the Soviet regime. In a period usually known for liberalization, the Soviets exercised some paternalistic care.


  4. “Interestingly, during this time Left thinkers from the Frankfurt School were coming out against jazz, but this is more a coincidence.” No coincidence!!!! It’s so cool that you commented on this — Adorno’s critique of jazz and popular music draws on the same objections that elders in the US and the Soviet Union had against rock – that real “Culture” had to be mastered and honored, that popular, improvisatory forms were degenerate and therefore suspect — not uplifting or elevating the way “real” art is. Love this post. Can you fix the cite to the Current Digest article? (need to use the “stable URL”)


  5. This is a really great post. I learned a lot about how rock, a super commercial genre, could be met in a state that abhorred commercialism. Pointing out its commercial leanings is a really interesting way to discredit it because a lot of rock is about being antiestablishment and revolutionary, movements that seem opposed to commercial interests.


  6. Youth/liberal cultural will always find a way to express itself, and I think this post sheds light on a topic that proves that. I am pretty impressed with this post and I think that this was one of the better ones this week!


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