Saturday, March 3, 2012

Plastic People of the Universe.

THE SCENE IS RIGHT out of a dialectical fairy tale: a band that once upon a tim became a subterranean legend, an avatar of freedom and refusal, reunites to record a live album. The group reaches back almost a quarter century into its repertoire to dredge up the now-quaint signature tune "Waiting for the Man." Only this isn't the Velvet Underground finally paying a call on a stadium-full of adoring fans somewhere in Europa, but a much more obscure and mysterious outfit that sprang from such fandom itself in the waning days of 1968: the Plastic People of the Universe.

Born in the wake of the East-bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia--Soviet tanks in the streets on a mission of "normalization," rolling over the socialist reforms of the Prague Spring--the Plastic People were as much a secret society as a band. Keeping alive a forbidden language of disorder inspired by smuggled-in Western music (the Velvets, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, the Doors), hounded by the authorities (denied instruments and venues, their clandestine concerts raided by the police, their members eventually imprisoned for "disturbing the peace"), they were a resistance movement unto themselves. In hit-and-run performances and privately circulated recordings (some of which in turn were smuggled to the West, to receive their only official release), they …

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