Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
Side One Dummy
very immigrant group has its own variations of the story told here. Of Ellis Island or anonymous airports, of processing facilities, of diasporas and finding a community in the shadow of skyscrapers and the negotiations that one makes between the old world and the new world, being part of an immigrant community and a naturalized one. It’s the story that begins America—and sustains it.
Gogol Bordello is one of those. A Ukrainian Jew singing in Russian and English about these issues? This is the archetypal immigrant text. It continues a long history, one with its own newspapers, writers, filmmakers, musicians and poets. The fact that he is almost doing klezmer would help with that definition. Klezmer, from Eastern Europe and sung in Yiddish was the trans-global, multi-lingual, music of the isolated.
But this is Steve Albini-produced Klezmer that’s hyped out, distended, and broken apart. "I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again" boils over, with quicksilver accordions, raw, dental drill fiddles, thrashed out guitars and the steady beat of the drum—a drum described by Gogol as the one "he learned how to make…from a fish can" and the one that provided him freedom from "the barricades of embassies." It’s a reference, of course, to Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum and it’s a cogent one. Gogol resembles both the main character Oskar and Gdansk, the city in which he was born. Oskar screams and shatters: glass, jails, sanitariums, and the immigrant experience. Gogol does the same with the tidal fury of Immigrant Punk: he refuses to be part of the melting part, refuses to be naturalized, and considers himself part of the Interzone of punk rather than some fake America. Gdansk was the original Interzone, in its 1000-year history of being Russian, Polish, Prussian, German, Free, and Soviet (among others).
The schizophrenia of this experience moves outward, instead of metastizing inwards. The calling forward of immigrant desire for something unrelated to states and power, continues in “60 Revolutions a Minute,” while “Avenue B,” which I am sure you can dance the Hora to, claims "no one learns anything from that damn history," and talks about the Chechen rebels in both English and Russian. He talks of weddings, claims to be a child of Mama Diaspora, and has lines that break one’s heart from the sheer honesty of the enterprise (in “Oh, No” he talks about how difficult it is to make music while escaping from the tyrants: "There is more music / Made with the buckets in the park / Girls are dancing with the flashlights / I got only one guitar! / And you see brothers and all engaged in sport of help / Making merry out of nothing / Like In refugee camps.") It is not only Klezmer though, and it is not only variations of the Russian diaspora that are mentioned here—there is Spanish hip-hop, dancehall, reggaeton, and other forms on display. His theme is the constant question: how do you fit in as part of the creative class when desperation replaces hipness?
This is a complicated, emotionally raw record…and I can imagine that music appears like this in Jew and Romany refugee camps, places one step away from isolation, torture, and death. (And fought it with eating, fucking, dancing, and singing.) In Eastern Europe and Russia there is a great increase in hate crimes to these people, and though it sounds originally like a crazy party album, and it has enough of a cock swagger to maintain it (i.e. “Think Globally, Act Locally”), it encapsulates the experiences of immigrants all over the place, it finds patterns in the immigrant narrative, telling us that things have not changed as much as one hopes.
All of this is encapsulated by the name. Nikoli Gogol, who wrote the best pisstakes of a world caught in seismic changes. Nikoli Gogol whose family could not decide if they were Rutheinan, Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian. Nikoli Gogol who had to flee to Rome when he became too good at poking fun. Now imagine a whole whorehouse filled to the rafters with Inspector Generals…this album is what that would sound like.
Reviewed by: Anthony Easton
Reviewed on: 2005-10-21