The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Death Of A Real Rock Revolutionary

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: More people in the U.S. probably saw the New York Times obit for Milan Hlavsa, founder of Czechoslovakian rock band the Plastic People of the Universe, than had previously heard of the group, let alone heard them. That's really too bad, but it's reality. In today's world, such values as integrity and morality often don't seem to matter. Especially in the "entertainment" business, where it's all about being signed to a big record corporation, of which there are five (soon to be four, if BMG and EMI get their way). Making music that fits the current vibe of commercial radio, and making a sexy video. Spending much of your time promoting your "product," instead of working on your art. The Plastic People of the Universe did none of those things. As far as I can tell, they were never signed to any kind of record company, although some albums were released outside Czechoslovakia. They made difficult underground rock music. It sounded like it came from the late '60s, fitting with the work of their heroes: Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, the Velvet Underground, the Doors and some others. They weren't sexy. They never had an opportunity to make a commercial video — although I can't imagine they would have wanted one anyway. They rarely had the opportunity to promote their work, and they don't appear in many books of rock history. That's changing, though, and perhaps Hlavsa's death (from cancer on Jan. 5) will help establish the place of this band — which, for most of its life (1968–1988), existed mostly as a rumor — in history. Hlavsa founded the Plastic People of the Universe (named after the Mothers of Invention song "Plastic People") in September 1968, shortly after the Russians arrived in Prague to install a hard-line communist regime. They intended to make radical music, not political statements. But the group quickly found that artistic freedom was not allowed in a communist country, and they were forced to be political just to make their music. "We felt more like a guerrilla group than a rock 'n' roll band," Hlavsa said in 1989, according to Jon Pareles' excellent Times obit. "We didn't play this role intentionally — it was forced upon us from outside." In the end, this band, which just wanted the freedom to play its music for its country's people, helped bring about the downfall of communism in Czechoslovakia, inspiring playwright Václav Havel to write the human rights manifesto "Charter 77." That in turn led to a movement that resulted in the "Velvet Revolution," and Havel's becoming president of Czechoslovakia. Not bad for a shaggy-haired rock band.

Datastream: Calling all music writers! The Fourth Annual International Music Writers Poll has arrived. Rock & Rap Confidential and are currently accepting votes for the top 10 albums of Year 2000, along with comments about the past year in music (i.e., what's your take on such topics as Napster, Eminem or whatever made or destroyed the year for you?). Anyone who actually writes about music can vote; in fact, if you write about music, they really want you to vote. If you're reading this, you're online — so go ahead and email your list of the top 10 albums released in 2000 (along with your comments, if you feel like it) to Be sure to let them know your name, your mailing address and your primary writing outlets. And if you know any other folks who write about music, get the word out to them too. Deadline is no later than January 15, 2001. So there's no time to fool around. Got it?... While the Mekons have no plans to release a new studio album this year, bandmembers have been sifting through live recordings to compile a new CD. No word yet on whether it will be out this year or next. The group's last album, Journey to the End of the Night (released on Quarterstick), was one of the musical highlights of 2000.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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