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Post details: Girls from our Kindergarten

Girls from our Kindergarten

"Times they are a changing" - croons Bob Dylan in one of his better known songs. And the Times have plenty of company in this regard. Nothing on this planet is really immune to the virus of change. Sometimes in ways that are unexpected, sometimes perplexing and often farcical. A Czech folkrock band AG Flek summed it up nicely in the refrain of one of their songs: "At the end, time turns everything into a joke".

I grew up in a small totalitarian regime once known as the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Life behind the Iron Curtain was uncanny and full of bizarre realities that were mostly derived from Soviet Empire's acute sense of Insecurity: information censorship, exit visas to travel abroad, ubiquitous net of informants, forced attendance in "demonstrations", etc. Even though the only form of public resistance in vogue then was beating the Russian Ice Hockey Team on occasion, the Czech Communist leaders were well aware that theirs was a Potemkin Village and routinely displayed more signs of paranoia than a two inch steak at a shark family reunion. Their obsessive fears became the dominant force of the political system, especially after the Russian invasion, and eventually spilled into all areas of social life, including pop music.

The bearers of Stalin's torch took no prisoners. Not only they banned those that openly criticized them, such as Karel Kryl, Marta Kubisova or the Plastic People of the Universe, but as their ideology petrified, they looked distrustfully upon anything that depicted lives of colorful and emotionally rich people as opposed to bloodless starched zombies of the "socialist realism". The state sponsored art had to be populated with trouble free marionettes singing odes to the Five Years Plan and to the brilliant leadership of the Party. Period.

One victim of the tendency to weed out anything controversial was content. It was watered down beyond the grayest boredom. Songs tasted like raw tofu. In those years, Britney Spears, had she been born and let into the country, would sound unfathomably profound in comparison. One of the pinnacles of the socialist insanity was a perky but almost comically inane song named Girls from our Kindergarten (Holky z nasi skolky). Its lyrics, consisting in large parts of reciting rosters of little girls names, was guaranteed to offend no one. Certainly not the vigilant cultural apparatchiks who were guarding the ideological purity of art from their well upholstered offices. Over the years, this song became a symbol of meaningless kitsch of waning communism, the market bottom of substance, the audio version of sickly sickle, a musical travesty ridiculed by many. But times - oh boy - they kept a changing.

The local Czech community in Northern Virginia organizes a semiannual dancing party, where they play many songs from the 70s and 80s, including the Girls from our Kindergarten. This spring, some twenty years later, I realized that the little opus had morphed into a time paradox. Youngsters, who were barely born when the song was written, were hopping and popping to its rhythm, completely oblivious of the contempt their parents would bestow upon it. It was like watching a bunch of kids playing soccer with a Styrofoam bust of a formerly formidable dictator. Like a falling feather of a vulture which does not quite stir the same fear as the vulture itself, the song had lost much of its offensive aftertaste. Its emptiness had been gutted and replaced with the stuffing of personal memories. The vulture turned into a turkey.

Time has an amazing ability to suppress bad associations and emphasize the good ones. The injustices of the Brezhnev era have been forgiven, the sterile feel of Formica forgotten, the memories of sneaky brainwashing have fizzled out - all replaced by a nostalgic medallion: a musical compact filled with the taste of ripe raspberries, the sound of cascading creeks and the smell of your high school sweetheart's hair. Yes, even the life behind the Iron Curtain had its cherishable moments.

There is a reason people so often talk about Good Old Times. Human memory likes to retouch the reality. That's why the Victorian England is often portrayed in an idyllic manner although I have little doubt that experiencing the Industrial Revolution first hand must have been a living hell - what with the scarcity of toilet paper and the complete lack of Reality TV.

Every so often, the invisible hand of Time takes a lipstick and puts a smiley face on a few bad apples from the past. I am not sure how appropriate it is to put lipstick on the Girls from our Kindergarten, but without this act, the life on this planet would be much less fun.


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