Celebrating a personality

On January 12th, Vladimir Mulyavin would have celebrated his 75th birthday

On January 12th, Vladimir Mulyavin would have celebrated his 75th birthday. Who knows what would have become of him were it not for that fatal car accident in 2002. Perhaps he would have continued to represent himself and the legendary band he created, or attend important concerts as an honorary guest, perhaps head of the jury at the Eurovision national qualification rounds. He could have also suffered the natural diseases and disappointments of the elderly; these might, in turn, have inspired new original songs that his audiences would have welcomed, not only appreciating his past successes and the possibility of singing their favourite songs, but for the talent that proved stronger than the cruel twists of fate. 75 years is no great age for a significant artist. Pesnyary’s famous band and musicians who knew Vladimir Mulyavin well are certain that he would have continue to compose new music had he survived the consequences of the terrible car accident.


Pesnyary band, 1977


When in hospital, music was at the forefront of Vladimir’s mind. He made plans and discussed his hopes for the future, there was even a moment when friends and doctors believed he might recover. Sadly, Pesnyary’s future (without Mr. Mulyavin) was not destined to follow the path that the band’s founder member envisaged during his last days. After his death, the songs and the glory remained. Pesnyary’s numerous clones were even more inventive in their homage to his memory than the Laskovy May band (the latter known for their trick of making it appear that the band was performing simultaneously in different geographical places).

Everything relating to his professional estate has been split according to the law and, in early February, the most famous Pesnyary singers will perform at the State Kremlin Palace. Posters devoted to Mr. Mulyavin’s memorial concert are displayed across the city of Moscow; for the first time in twenty years, these also feature the names of Leonid Bortkevich, Valery Daineko, Anatoly Kasheparov, Vladislav Misevich, Igor Penya, Leonid Tyshko and the other musicians whose histories coincided with the first Soviet vocal-instrumental band and its international fame. Numerous forums devoted to Mr. Mulyavin have sprung up on the Internet. Not everyone is convinced that the artists will put aside their criticisms of each other to eventually perform on a single stage. Some hope that the miracle of unity will happen and the famous Pesnyary, kings of the Soviet psychedelic rock and favourites of John Lennon, will be seen together.

Leonid Bortkevich and Vladislav Misevich are keeping up the intrigue by refusing to discount rumours of a reunion. It would be hardly possible to repeat Pesnyary’s 1970s success when the band were idols across the entire USSR, Europe and America. A book devoted to Vladimir Mulyavin, With Heart, With Thoughts, covers not only Pesnyary’s music but also many previously unknown facts and episodes in the lives of the band members. Mr. Mulyavin experienced a great deal of personal drama, little in his life remains a secret, but this is unimportant compared to his music which will continue to be uplifting and give pleasure to all those who hear it for a long time to come. It’s common knowledge that Vladimir had no musical education but this was no barrier to him elevating our Belarusian folklore to a global level.


Guitar

“Controversial opinions are still to be found, there are those who point out that Mr. Mulyavin would not have succeeded were it not for his musicians. I think differently, however,” Mr. Misevich tells us. “Something different would have happened instead. We would not have been unemployed of course, but it’s unlikely that we would have achieved such fame. Vladimir made a bid for popularity from the very beginning; he knew how to use it wisely.” 

“I remember our first meeting in the Officers House where the orchestra rehearsed; I was on my army service and we saw a bald guy with a guitar, concentrating hard. He stopped and smiled at us and I immediately felt the strength in his eyes. Vladimir’s eyes were those of a serious and mature man. By then, I’d heard a lot about him and realised immediately who he was. During our early years working together, we had no time to rest. I remember when we went to Yalta; Pesnyary did not exist then. Even then, Vladimir went to the beach only a couple of times, he spent most of the time in his room composing music. There was no sign of our future success then and we were beholden to no one but in his own way he was enjoying his holiday and nurturing his talent at the same time.


Having a drink

“Sometimes we had 3-4 concerts a day; there were up to 120 performances a month,” added Mr. Kasheparov. “We also had rehearsals daily. To be honest, none of us would have ever agreed to that without Vladimir. Many people don’t remember or realise that Pesnyary played live music at the Olimpiysky Stadium, in front of an audience of 44,000. No artists worked like this then. By then, we had actually a plane of our own to transport the Pesnyary musicians and equipment. We enjoyed our own language and style of performance. Our fame was tremendous. Often we returned home or went to remote villages where there were few good roads. We never literally sang the songs we heard from the village women while having a drink with them, we mostly went to the villages not to collect folklore but to accumulate new impressions.”


Watchmen

“We followed this hectic schedule for many years, even decades,” continued Mr. Misevich. “We rehearsed our Song for Fate at night, making friends with the watchmen at the Philharmonic. Truly, nobody else would have provided us with a stage for a month. I could recall plenty of examples of the kind... Now, when unknown musical score of The Beatles is discovered this is viewed as a world scale event. Meanwhile, Mulyavin had plenty of such unknown musical scores — enough for dozens of concerts. However, because of various reasons the audience couldn’t assess them.


Hospital

“We threw away over half of all our songs,” Mr. Bortkevich told us. “Mr. Mulyavin followed his own system: we rehearsed and then performed our new songs in a rural village. If the people were lukewarm about any of them, Vladimir never sang it again. Can you imagine how hard he worked! He composed so many songs, compositions and rock operas, in addition to all those which are well known. Interestingly, he disliked Vologda. He did not enjoy straightforward hits but was always attracted by complicated music. However, Vologda is still a favourite among the fans thanks to his original arrangement and Tolya Kasheparov’s voice.” 

“It was he who insisted we tour Israel, although he had his doubts. Vladimir even kept his famous sense of humour when in hospital. No one expected his sudden death, he was joyful — composing songs and trying to stand up from his hospital bed…”


Fame

“It was important to him for everyone to be happy,” said Mr. Kasheparov. “He found flats for musicians, and sometimes looked after them in his own apartment. If he saw that someone didn’t have any winter clothes, he would give them his own coat. In the years of Perestroika he made no attempt to force any of us to stay. Vladimir said, “Guys, you must do what you think is best for yourselves with your lives.” The USSR collapse resulted in the collapse of everything.” 

“We, Belarusians, needed to take of him. I wish there had been more acceptance of the fact that even the most talented and famous personalities cannot be saint. Any artistic person can experience a period of failure. However, it was a time of crisis when we neglected art somewhat. Even now that I live in America, I often hear that a Pesnyary artiste is performing somewhere but when I visit these concerts I see strangers. The key is that the fame — which Mr. Mulyavin created — is still alive.” 

“I’m convinced that we would have had a new wave of popularity were it not for that accident. We could have enjoyed new songs and I would have definitely rejoined the band. During our last meeting, I saw a different Vladimir: that was the man whom I remembered in our most fruitful years.” 


By Irina Zavadskaya
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