Vojtech Lindaur - the Czech Lester Bangs who brought Nico to Prague

11-10-2006

Veteran rock journalist Vojtech Lindaur is one of the Czech Republic's most prolific and colourful music writers, whose passion for popular music is comparable to that of the legendary American critic Lester Bangs.

Born in 1957, Lindaur - like many others - first developed an interest in music when he fell in love with Western pop as a teenager in the heady days of the late 1960s.

"I think it was in 1966 or 67 when I heard music in English for the first time. I remember vividly what it was - The House of the Rising Sun an old traditional song performed by The Animals. Everyone can probably remember the Hammond Organ that is played on this track. I was amazed by this and I think it was my first contact with rock music.

He also came of age at a time when the Czech music scene blossomed in the relaxed atmosphere of the Prague Spring and produced top-quality local acts such as Matadors and Olympic.

"In the late 1960s, Czech rock music was something like the best in all of Europe outside of Great Britain. In those days Czechoslovakia was known as the cradle of rock music in the Eastern Bloc."

The burgeoning creativity of Czechoslovakia's music scene of the 1960s came to an abrupt end following the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. Nevertheless, Vojtech Lindaur and other music fans still continued to avidly collect music in the 1970s even though they often had to rely on surreptitious taping and other means to get hold of new recordings from the West, many of which had to be smuggled into the country:

"Every Sunday morning we went outside Prague to exchange the records, although this was illegal. You would go with 10 or 15 of your records to the forest. You would lay a blanket on the ground and display them while you waited for other people to come with their records. And then you would exchange the records or sell them for a few hundred crowns or whatever. It was very difficult because the police would come regularly and the records were banned. But it was the only way in which you could get some modern rock music, because it couldn't be bought in the shops."

Despite the difficulties people had acquiring provocative and interesting albums in the staid repressive atmosphere of the 1970s, Lindaur says that the scarcity of good music meant that he was able to develop a keener appreciation of the records he actually managed to get his hands on.

"When you only got two or three records every month you listened to it constantly. This meant that you knew every single chord and lyric on each record. Nowadays, you get 30 or 40 records a week and most of them go in one ear and out the other."

Even though he studied journalism, Vojtech Lindaur didn't become a music critic straight away, partly because the conditions of the time meant that he couldn't write the sort of criticism he wanted to. Instead he took a job as the manager of a cultural centre on the outskirts of Prague.

Ironically, this post gave him an opportunity to organize one of the most notorious concerts held in Czechoslovakia during the communist era.

The renowned American rock group The Velvet Underground was well known to Czechoslovakia's rock cognoscenti in the 1980s, and they had been a massive influence on The Plastic People of the Universe - the 1970s Czech underground band whose suppression by the state had engendered the celebrated Charter 77 dissident movement.

In 1985, Lindaur received a call from a British acquaintance he had met through a jazz appreciation society, who also managed the hell-raising Hungarian singer Nico a former vocalist with The Velvet Underground.

Lindaur could hardly believe his ears when his friend informed him that Nico was returning overland to Berlin following a visit to her native Budapest and was willing to stop off in Prague and perform there. Although he knew such an event would be frowned upon by the authorities he immediately agreed to host the concert. Shortly afterwards he was to enjoy a surreal encounter with the legendary singer when she duly turned up to perform in Prague.

"She really did come and I got to see her. She had brown hair at that stage and was a little bit fat. She looked through me and asked me to bring her a half-litre of juice and vodka - three parts vodka and two parts juice. I brought it to her and then tried to tell her what a great moment in my life it was to meet her. And she still just looked through me at something far, far away. So then I left her to prepare for the concert."

Although the event was a huge success, with a crowd of more than three times the venue's capacity flocking to see the concert, Nico's unauthorized performance landed Lindaur in hot water with the authorities.

"The concert itself was great. Nico came with a four-piece band who were great and all the new songs they played were excellent as well. But I was jailed during the third song, so I didn't see it and I was fired from my post in one minute. That particular moment was awful for me. But the next day I was out of jail and everything was ok. I then became a window cleaner."

Luckily, Lindaur didn't have to work as a window cleaner for long. His contacts with other music aficionados helped land him the job as editor of the national music magazine Gramorevue in 1986. This post helped Lindaur establish himself as a music journalist and he became well known for championing Czech alternative bands of the time such as new-romantic outfit Precedens, who were frowned upon by the authorities and never heard on the radio even though they weren't banned outright.

After the fall of communism, Lindaur's work with Gramorevue left him well placed to become editor of Rock and Pop magazine in 1990. This music periodical subsequently became a highly influential publication in this country and helped introduce many Czechs to countless Western musicians and songwriters when the borders opened up after the Velvet Revolution.

He also co-wrote the acclaimed BigBit documentary for Czech TV, which provided an exhaustive, historically valuable account of Czech popular music during the communist era,

Today, Lindaur continues to write for various publications and also has his own cult radio show, which is usually the first - and often the only - place where many up and coming international bands are heard on the Czech airwaves.

His show is valued by many local music fans, who have become dismayed at an increasingly commercial Czech music industry, which seems happy to churn out bland songs that are often performed by aging mainstream stalwarts of the communist era such as Karel Gott and Helena Vondrackova.

The irony of the fact that popular music isn't the same political and cultural force in post-communist Czech society as it was in the oppressive socialist era is something that is not lost on Vojtech Lindaur. Nevertheless, he himself feels that the situation is simply part of a creeping creative malaise, which is affecting the music industry as a whole:

"I don't think it's purely a Czech thing. I believe it's a worldwide phenomenon. Music doesn't have the same deep meaning it had in the past. In the 1970s and 80s it was kind of a style of living for many people. Now it's much more like entertainment than anything else. There are new technologies around and there are other important things for young people. As a result, music has been pushed to the side a little bit."

Lindaur's own enthusiasm for music remains undimmed, however, and he even manages to be philosophical about the fact that the freedom Czechs now enjoy to listen to whatever music they want to hasn't exactly improved the quality of the songs heard on the radio:

"I don't think it's so awful. In every country, regardless of whether its Germany or Hungary or wherever, the situation is practically the same. I think it depends on everyone of us what kind of music we choose to listen to. In this sense, we've got much more liberty to choose the music because of the Internet and so on. But our choice depends on each one of us."

11-10-2006