Legends of Russia: Viktor Tsoi

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Get to know virtually any Russian of a certain age — and by certain age, I mean spent any part of their formative years in the 90s — and you are bound to hear them at some point wax poetically about Viktor Tsoi and his band Kino.

A few years ago I spent the day with my friend Kostya, walking around Petrograd Island in the center of St. Petersburg as Kostya explained to me the historical and cultural significance of different buildings and monuments when we stumbled upon a street band playing Kino hits. Crowds gathered around and I could see a real sense of joy in their faces as Kostya proudly explained that the band was giving tribute to Tsoi.

“But what is so special about this singer” I asked. To me, he sings alright, but I didn’t see anything in the music that particularly stood out as something that moves an entire generation. “It’s his lyrics and the soul in which he sings them” came the reply. I’ve heard similar many times over the years from many different Russians of a certain era.

На холодной земле стоит город большой.
On a cold ground there is a big city

Там горят фонари, и машины гудят.
The street light are shining there, the cars are honking

А над городом ночь, а над ночью луна,
And the night is above the city, the moon is above the night

И сегодня луна каплей крови красна.
And tonight the moon is red with a drop of blood

Припев – Refrain

Дом стоит, свет горит, из окна видна даль.
There is a house, the light is on, there is a panoramic view from the window (“the faraway is seen”)

Так откуда взялась печаль?
So where does the sadness come from?

И, вроде, жив и здоров, и, вроде, жить не тужить.
And you seem to be alive and healthy, and you should be living happily

Так откуда взялась печаль?
So where does the sadness come from

А вокруг благодать – ни черта не видать,
And the bliss is all around – you can’t see a thing*

А вокруг красота – не видать ни черта.
And the beauty is all around – you can’t see a thing,

И все кричат: “Ура!” и все бегут вперед,
Everybody is shouting Hooray! and running forward

И над этим всем новый день встает.
And above all this the new day is rising
>Припев 2x
Refrain 2x

* Ни черта не видать – literally: you can’t see a devil

Viktor Tsoi ( 21 June 1962 – 15 August 1990 ) was a legendary Soviet, Russian singer and songwriter who co-founded Kino, one of the most popular and musically influential bands in the history of Russian music.

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