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Conclusion (RnR)

Aleksandar Raković

Rock and Roll in Yugoslavia 1956-1968. A Challenge to a Socialist Society (Belgrade 2011)

(Rokenrol u Jugoslaviji 1956-1968. Izazov socijalističkom društvu, Beograd: Arhipelag 2011)

At the very beginning I feel bound to elaborate the structure of the conclusion. It consists of two parts. The first one consists of the resumes of the seven chapters of the book. The second one consists of confirming the thesis and describing in what manner rock and roll used to be “a challenge to a socialist society”.

The first introductory chapter deals with a musical evolution which led from the cotton fields of the American south to rock and roll and its global expansion. Further it shows by which means rock ad roll pulled down racial, cultural, political, social, ethnic and religious barriers in the whole world. It also presents us with the history of rock and roll’s development by its subgenres from the mid 50s to the end of the 60s. It describes its development in the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, which is very important because of Yugoslav rock and roll musicians and other enthusiasts who showed interest for the music that came from these countries. Then it describes the evolution of rock and roll as a culture, from youth subculture through a subculture to a counterculture and in the end the mainstream culture. Rock and roll was defined as both a music and a culture. Finally the analysis of Yugoslav newspaper articles dealing with the topic is given, showing Yugoslav people being aware that the music of electric guitars, whatever it was named in a certain period, happened to be a unique phenomenon. It described how Radio Luxemburg, military and pirate radio stations spread the sounds of rock and roll over the Cold War borders.

The second introductory chapter shows the Yugoslav society being overwhelmed by the influence of foreign (diplomatic) cultural centres, film and popular press introducing Western pop culture. Great popularity of the cultural centres of the United States and Great Britain, the cinema repertoire having at least 75% of Western films and popular press up to 98% of Western topics pointed to the interest of Yugoslav people in Western entertainment and topics in general.

Speaking of the third introductory chapter about popular music, it can be said that jazz and pop music did not have the same history. For jazz music it was far more painful all the way through to the end of the Yugoslav clash with the Cominform, after which it gained its place due to opening borders to the West. This was not welcome among music artists who considered jazz music to be a naïve music leading young people away from acquiring a sophisticated musical taste. Thus in 1957 a dispute about a quality of jazz and pop music similar to the debate about rock and roll in 1966 was launched by the press. Some stated that jazz connected Yugoslav people with the whole world, while Yugoslav pop music which was yet to acquire a special feature (like Italian pop music), was aimed at becoming an internal cohesive element. That is why in 1958 the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (the Party) suggested composers, arrangers, musicians and singers a more serious approach to creation of a Yugoslav estrada. While Yugoslav jazz music receded by mid 60s, partly because many jazz musicians left the country, partly because rock and roll was becoming popular, Yugoslav pop music was developing under protection. Western kind of entertainment was accepted, integrated and applied in Yugoslavia in all possible means that did not bother the Party’s ideology.

The first main chapter tells us of young Yugoslavs acquiring knowledge of rock and roll from mid 50s, of Yugoslav press changing attitude to it from extremely negative in 1956 to a more affirmative by the end of the decade. It shows how Yugoslavs found out about the role of rock and roll as a phenomenon in surpassing all social barriers which divided the world. Rock and roll gained a similar function in Yugoslavia as well, although it seems that during the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s young people coming from old Belgrade families and children from the families of the Party’s officials listened to the same kind of music still in separate groups. Until the visa liberalization in 1961 sportsmen and chess players played a pioneer role of bringing rock and roll records in the country. Speaking of the latter, their reputation certainly suggested skeptics that there was a field in which rock and roll should be considered more seriously. This chapter also states that the first Yugoslav rock and roll performance took place in 1957 in Belgrade. Apart from that it shows that rock and roll in Yugoslavia at the turn of the 50s and 60s was considered to be more of a dance than of a music. Rock and roll dancing was at the same time the most popular kind of having fun at dances in the cities of Belgrade and Zagreb, that being the topic of American press; the information of which reached official Belgrade by diplomatic means. Yugoslav dance mania transferred from rock and roll dance to twist, the new kind of dancing that followed rock and roll music. The end of the 50s and the very beginning of 60s in Yugoslavia brought out the first strictly affirmed “rockers” who stayed embedded in rock and roll announcing the “electric [guitar] era”. This chapter proves that the classic rock and roll on the big stage in Yugoslavia was a few years behind the West. It tells us about the path of the Yugoslav “light pop” rock and roll leading to the Soviet Union and showing that Yugoslav pop musicians were the pioneers of rock and roll in the communist empire.

The second main chapter shows us Yugoslav press and audience perceiving development and the changes of rock and roll through British beat and rhythm and blues. By the end of the 60s the press and the radio were covering the world’s rock and roll novelties on a large scale, thus widening knowledge of rock and roll as a global phenomenon. It describes Yugoslav rock and roll from emerging from the back door to the main stage in 1963 all the way to mass rock and roll festivals (Gitarijada) in 1966 and 1967 and rock and roll bands becoming more professional. It has been pointed out that Yugoslav rock and roll during the 60s was not behind the world’s rock and roll developments. On the other hand there was a serious disadvantage of bands rarely choosing their owns songs. During the 60s social barriers of people listening to rock and roll were mostly overcome, as far as the interest in music is concerned. In spite of that the statistics at the time showed that there were differences in the perception of rock and roll among youth choosing general and vocational education: the first group knew more about rock and roll, the second was listening more. The attitude of the Yugoslav public to rock and roll after 1966 became more positive, if we put aside some exceptions. At the end of the period presented here Yugoslav rock and roll did not emerge from the bounds of subculture. The facts pointing out to Great Britain sending rock and roll bands to Yugoslavia and other countries of the Eastern Bloc during the second half of the 60s as a means of cultural policy, should be stressed as well.

The third main chapter tells us about mostly positive attitude of Yugoslav press, music authorities and the Party’s analysts to countercultural phenomena which upset American society: the Beat Generation, anti-militarily oriented youth (students of the New Left) and the hippies. The Party in 1968 perceived the possibility of the hippies in cohesion with the ideas of the New Left inducing a revolutionary potential in the United States. Therefore the field for hippie ideas in Yugoslavia was easily achievable. By his first attendance to a rock and roll performance, President Josip Broz Tito made rock and roll in Yugoslavia legitimate on May 24th 1966. Also, he legitimated hippy influence on Yugoslav youth on May 24th 1969 through his presence to a rock musical Hair.

The fourth main chapter points out to the similarities and differences in the development of rock and roll in the Eastern Bloc and Yugoslavia. It contains information about Western subversive activities to the countries of the Eastern Bloc, by means of rock and roll. At the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s, when rock and roll was considered to be a dance and music fun of young people, the Eastern Bloc did not put up strict obstacles. However, when the subversive role was spotted in mid 60s, some countries of the Eastern Bloc became angry. East Germany was the first one to set out to prevent spreading rock and roll in mid 60s, and was followed more or less harshly by other countries. In the countries having rock and roll stage already thriving, only Hungary enabled it’s free development, but with integration of socialist ideas. Rock and roll in Poland became quiet, Czechoslovakian rock and roll was suffocated after the Prague Spring.

At the turn of the first part of the conclusion to another we will only mention what kind of political power rock and roll was bearing. During the second half of the 50s, the example of Elvis Presley showed the calculation that the American presidential candidates made concerning the possibility of his support for them. Furthermore, the support the Beatles gave to the Labour Party led them to victory on the elections and the formation of the government. Similar examples existed elsewhere in the West. The hippie counterculture was plotting to overthrow the president of the United States through their political influence. These were not minor facts and every regime would have to pay attention to them.

Now comes the second part of the conclusion which will show what challenges rock and roll presented Yugoslav socialist society with. Structurally, this part of the conclusion belongs to the chapters about rock and roll in Yugoslavia, but it was presented in another form due to easier survey of the main thesis.

The first challenge which rock and roll presented the socialist society with during the other half of the 50s was in a form of a vigorous dance that was never before seen or performed. Rock and roll dance was attacked publicly and considered to be just an indecent and poor-quality phenomenon. It was not considered to be a threat to the socialist morale. The following example was the twist, at the beginning of the 60s. Both rock and roll dances were widely accepted, there was no true rival for them at the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s.

The next challenge of the rock and roll to the socialist society was a released female sexuality at the turn of the 50s to the 60s. This challenge, like the previous one was not considered to be a violation of the socialist morale, but the violation of a patriarchal morale. As soon as it reached Yugoslav dances during the second half of the 50s, rock and roll was “accused” of revealing too much of the sexuality. Yugoslav public got to know more about the connection of rock and roll and female sexuality at the turn of the 50s to the 60s. Hidden from the public eye young people emerged upon the first free touches at youth parties, while listening to music under dim lights. Parents were very worried because of the things happening at youth parties which were mysteriously concealed. Youth parties were the main problem, and rock and roll was an additional one. However, at the beginning of the 60s things began to change. Girls stated freely that they wanted to have sexual relationships before marriage and were supported by their male friends of the same age. At the same time within the League of Communists an opinion prevailed stating that comparing the pre-war and post-war morale was completely wrong and Yugoslav youth were estimated as well-behaved. That does not mean that the revealed female sexuality was at the same time accepted. Even during mid 60s Yugoslav girls still encountered problems while wearing mini skirts (beat fashion) both at home and at school, although it was a benign means of revealing. From that time on the borders were being moved. Acquiring sexual freedom went its way in accordance to the same phenomena in the West.

The next challenge to the socialist society was the most serious. By mid 60s rock and roll prevailed so that it was defined as a cultural movement by the Party’s analysts and described as a phenomenon which is not temporary. Through the Party’s analysis and press articles it is easily discerned that rock and roll was one of the many topics which in 1966 refracted through the two Party’s “fractions”. The victorious “liberal wing” was accusing the defeated “conservative wing” of wanting to induce a clash with young people who danced predominantly to the rhythms of rock and roll. Actually there were personal challenges in the Party, far from official policy, to prove rock and roll bands dangerous to the “socialist morale”. So the issue was no more about patriarchal morale solely, but there were harsh words having an ideological background. However, there could be no clue that the “conservative wing” which was at the same time struggling for the centralizing Yugoslav federation, would aim at a clash with young people. In any case youth and rock and roll were then used as one among many arguments over which the Party’s inmates disputed. It was a good basis for a “liberal wing” to express official support to young people’s new qualities. Belgrade’s first big rock and roll festival in 1966 brought up disputes on various scientific and political levels and became a turning point in the history of the Yugoslav society. Since 1966 rock and roll bands played every year for president Tito on Youth’s Day. Yugoslav rock and roll became enforced and it gained a form of a subculture with its special kind of music, fashion and social life through clubs, magazines, radio and television broadcasts.

Connected to the previous challenge is the challenge of the “rockers” to the socialist society through the attitude to the Communist Revolution in Yugoslavia (the Revolution). According to the Party’s statistics of the 60s Yugoslav youth was estimated as well-behaved and socialist-oriented, regardless of the fact that it was oriented to the Western popular culture. It was necessary to find just the right model to bring up a well-behaved Yugoslav young person in such a fusion. Since rock and roll became the “official music” of the young Yugoslavs in 1966 older people and war veterans were to be persuaded that the long-haired young men were loyal to the revolutionary heritage. Rock and roll bands already played their versions of revolutionary, partisan and brigadier songs but older members of the Party did not listen to that because they were not interested. Therefore at the beginning of 1967 a dispute about the attitude of the long-haired young men to the Revolution was opened publicly. The admirers of rock and roll claimed, according to the press, that the Revolution was a holy thing for them and they no more wanted to listen to constant accusations regarding their not being well-behaved young men because the music seemed more important than the glorious past. The message was of course in accordance to the fact that was annually repeated by the Party’s analysts: the youth is well-behaved and the morale of the old and the new times were not to be confronted. The Party’s membership was shut no more for the long-haired men.

A very strong challenge came in the form of a hippie movement. It appeared at a time when the Party accepted rock and roll bands as a cultural movement, and a relationship of the Party to the hippies raised the connection to rock and roll to a higher level. Hippie counterculture which was in the United States joined also by some from the Beat Generation and students of the New Left shook up the American establishment in the other half of the 60s. The counterculture supported pacifism, anti-colonialism, anti-segregation, equality, it opposed a consumer capitalist culture and supported the ideas of the Left. Therefore it is understandable why the Party’s analysts came to a conclusion that the hippie movement had even a revolutionary potential. Unlike politically-oriented hippies in the United States who bitterly fought the establishment Yugoslav hippies at the same period recorded some of the most beautiful songs about the Revolution and socialism. Taking into consideration the Yugoslav nonalignment policy (Non-Aligned Movement) which had mostly similar goals as the hippie counterculture, this kind of compromise of rock and roll and the Party was not unusual. Therefore the hippies in Yugoslavia never became a counterculture.

During the second half of the 50s and the whole of the 60s rock and roll in Yugoslavia brought up several challenges to the socialist and patriarchal society. At the very beginning the issue was mostly a generation gap through which the parents searched for a protection of morale for their children. Afterwards the generation gap was inflicted by dangerous ideological elements. However, history showed that the League of Communists of Yugoslavia accepted every challenge by meeting it halfway. By that compromise both sides gained, the Party and rock and roll, that is to say, youth. The Party enabled rock and roll to develop freely, and rock and roll kept the socialist youth, who couldn’t care less about the social and ethnic differences, under the Party’s influence. Rock and roll proved to be a cohesive factor in Yugoslavia in general, following the path of the previously popular music.

At the turn of the 50s to 60s we saw that a well-behaved socialist youth in Yugoslavia inclined to Western popular culture, that is to say to Hollywood movies and popular music. Back then, the pop-cultural model did not have room for rock and roll which thrived on minor stages. Half a decade later circumstances changed, by the end of the 60s a well-behaved young man listened to rock and roll, was allowed to wear long hair and become a member of the League of Communists. Rock and roll did not only find its place in Yugoslav pop-cultural model, but also became its advocate all the way until The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia fell apart at the beginning of the 90s.