Everything Old Is New Again, Ukraine War Edition


Boris Grebenshchikov is a Russian singer/songwriter. Sometimes called “Grandfather Of Russian Rock”, he performed this song in London on March 2. He said that “The war between Russia, Ukraine and Russia is madness” and “The people who made it are shameful of Russia.” According to various sources (e.g. here, here, or here), both Grebenshchikov appearances as well as performances of his work were banned by Russian authorities. I don’t know if that is true.

This performance was very moving to me. While the sentiment itself is not new, Grebenshchikov and the occasion give it weight. Then I looked more closely, and saw that it was in fact not novel—it was written in 1917, by the great Russian singer and songwriter Alexander Vertinsky, apparently prompted by the death of young anti-Bolshevik soldiers in the Communist revolution. (Grebenschikov’s translation changes a few words but not much.

The song is deeply pessimistic, and it comes from an area of the world which has always had much to be pessimistic. This is my poor, and unapologetic, translation for those who cannot read Russian.

It’s not clear why or who would need it.
With an unshakable hand, who sent them to their deaths?
It is only that merciless, evilly, and without need.
They took them down into eternal rest.

Silently, the observant spectators huddled under their covers.
A woman who has a disfigured face
The dead man was kissed on the blue lips
She threw her wedding band at the priest.

They covered them in branches and then mixed the dirt with it.
They went home to talk in secret.
It’s about time for the end of disgrace.
It will be soon!

No one thought to just kneel
Tell these boys that this country is not talented.
Steps are all that’s required to achieve valorous feats.
Through the vast abysses to the unaccessible spring