Saturday, 3 July 2010

Vratislav Brabenec

Vratislav Brabenec is a Vršovice resident who is best known as a leading member of the Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), the avant-garde rock group originally formed in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of August 1968. The band was heavily influenced in its early days by the work of The Velvet Underground, whose music was anathema to the communists. When Brabenec joined in 1972 as saxophonist and lyricist, he directed the band towards the work of philosopher-poet Egon Bondy, whose writings were officially forbidden. (One of their albums, recorded in 1974, is called 'Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned', a title which also deliberately invokes the free-thinking music of the Beatles.)

To the dismay of the authorities, the Plastics continued to attract a large underground following, and in 1976 Vrat'a and the other band members were arrested for 'organized disturbance of the peace' and sent to prison, an act which led the dissident playwright Václav Havel to draw up the influential document Charter 77, criticizing the Czechoslovak government for its failure to respect human rights.

The story of the struggle for those rights, which reached its zenith in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, is told by Tom Stoppard in his 2006 play 'Rock'n'Roll'. The play makes reference to the Plastics throughout; and when in 2007 the Czech version was premiered at the National Theatre in Prague, the band themselves played live on stage.

This picture was taken in Vrat'a's favourite watering-hole, Shakespeare and Sons, which is soon to close before re-opening under new management with a new name. But Vrat'a - who is, after all, well used to regime change - will, I'm sure, be back.


Tom Phillips said...

Another brilliant reminder, Wenty, of our visit to you in Vrsovice. You and I headed off to Shakespeare & Sons after a game of Monopoly (in Czech!) while Sarra and the kids bedded down in your flat. Vrat'a, of course, was there: "The garden is open," he said. I now realise that's the title of a song by The Fugs, another anti-establishment American 60s band, much like the Velvets (in attitude if not sound) that influenced the Plastics. We were also 'engaged in conversation' (roughly) by a man called Wolf who claimed that I resembled Abe North (Scott Fitzgerald's failed alcoholic musician). It was clearly rather jolly, either way as the handwriting in my diary is somewhat shaky for that night. Tomx

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