Singing Cities: Images of the City in Ex-Yu Popular Music

/, Essays, Blesok no. 45/Singing Cities: Images of the City in Ex-Yu Popular Music

Singing Cities: Images of the City in Ex-Yu Popular Music

If these rather optimistic adorations of the city were characteristic for the late 1950s and up until early 1970s, the spectre was beginning to change in the late 1960s. The generation change was reflected in performers and audiences, and as well politicians. People that grew up with this kind of music eventually came of age, and subsequent generations practiced different musical tastes, rendering the old ones obsolete, although far from being forgotten. Besides, it was the ever greater quantity and availability of different musical genres and ways of expression, that facilitated inevitable fragmentation of audiences and dispersion of contents, creation of subcultures. Concomitantly, fusion and invention of new genres and styles followed.26F
Late 1970s saw the rise of new social movements, from pacifists, gay movements, environmentalists, which in the light of growing instability of the state and the death of Tito, became the tools of cultural elites to politicaly articulate their discontent. Although opposing views in the politics led to ever greater nationalisation of Yugoslav cultural and political space, yu-rock became a trans-national forum for expression of discontent with contemporaneous state-of-things that Yugoslavia found itself in.
This collapse of the Yugoslav dream resulted in redefinition of the city that as the sight of opportunities into the sight of oppresive atmosphere. Although Đorđe Balašević sings in ‘Tri put sam video Tita’: ‘I ja sam video visoke peči/fabrike dim, široke njive/gradove što, slobodni žive/decu i mir, i jatu ptica’,27F praising the achievements of the regime, it must nevertheless be taken into account, that the song was written soon after Tito`s death. In the song ‘Jesen’, on the other hand, Videosex sing the contrary: ‘Grad je mrtav, gledam hladne ulice/Kiša pada tako mračno je vse/Sama sam izgubljena u mislima/Sivo-siva, sivo-siva jesen je tu’.28F What is telling enough is singing about autmn and portraying the cold lifeless city, depriving the songscape of sun and optimism. And what is more, the city at night became oversaturated with cold neon lights, the buzzing sound of which invade the privacy of home and thought. As the lines show: ‘Neonska reklama,/Ispod moga prozora/Svako veće osvetljava ulicu/Zelena i crvena boja/Razlivena po sobi […] A misli mi odnosi taj prokleti zvuk reklame’.29F However, in relation to attempt to modernisation in the light of deteriorating economy and changing international situation of the 1980s, escapism is apparent. The lines: ‘San je moj, ne želim da stojim u redovima/Hoću barem malo američkog sna’,30F reflect the orientation towards the idealised image of the West that looked even more a techni-colour dream, when compared to domestic reality. An interesting read offers the song ‘Vozi me vlak v daljave’ that was originaly recorded in the 1960s. However, Videosex did a cover version in 1986 with the same lyrics albeit music pattern a bit modified. In the original, the lines: ‘Vozi me vlak v daljave/Daleč tja v širni svet/Glej, zdaj se zde planjave/Vse ko en sam pisan cvet’,31F can be read in the context of innumerous opportunities that lay beyond one`s home, town, city, and that could be realised in the world of peace and plenty. It seems that this was quite wide-spread optimistic view in that period, at least in retrospect. In the 1980s however, these same lines can be understood as, on one hand, leaving the machine de surveillance for the pristine nature just outside the city, epithomised in: ‘Reke, polja in gore/Urno mimo nas hite’.32F On the other hand, it offers the impression of leaving the state, regime, the town and country in order to go abroad, to Europe: ‘Vozi me vlak v daljave/tja zdaj želi si, tja zdaj želi si srce/tja misli mi hite.’33F
The imagery of the city, thus, is highly disenchanted. As the Zagreb-based group Aerodrom was stating: ‘Pogledaj tu gomilu kretena bez sluha/Zuje kao roj onih zelenih govnarskih muha/Pogledajte janičare duha, što preziru provinciju/Koja ih odhranila prvom korom kruha’.34F The city is as a home of corruption and incompetence, opportunism and klientelism feeds itself on neglect and exploitation of rural areas, where majority of citizens originate. Additionally, Pankrti sang in ‘Lublana je bulana’: ‘Lublana ma pet občin/največja je Šiška/pol je Center/pol so Moste […] Na Viču so še kmetje/v Mostah so delavci/kmetje delajo na polju/delavci v tovarnah.’35F Hence, Ljubljana, although divided in distinct city municipalities, along which very local identities were formed, is still quite far from being urban centre.36F Moreover, Aerodrom in the same song sing: ‘Ubija me taj, kvazi-intelektualni smrad/Koji prodaju Zagreb, Ljubljana i Beograd’ and finish in resignation: ‘I što sad, i što sad/Budi prljavi đanki, budi frigidni peder, budi gori od svih/Sve je bolje, nego da si jedan, jedan od njih’.37F The city figures also as a place of devalued interpersonal relationship, as an ant-hill of alienated passers-by that do not know anything about their co-citizens. Zagreb-based Film thus sing: ‘Tisuču kola na ulici/I plavi neon sjaj/To nije ljubav, to nije mržnja/Osječam samo prazninu’,38F evoking images of partially fulfilled dreams of possessing material object and a place in the city, but, in exchange, losing the warmth of co-existence. Similar depiction is given in the lyrics of Beograd-based band Bezobrazno zeleno. In the song ‘Beograd’ they sing about great white city with great white people, counterpoised in the next stanza by the following lines: ‘Velik sivi grad/ludaci i narkomani/siledžije i naučnici/veliki sivi grad/to je moj grad Beograd’.39F Again, the city life is on the decline, without much perspective, as the city becomes a great deidealised pot of co-existing and clashing life-styles. Also present is the clash between the urban and the rural, that is, the consequences of always present link of the city to the country, caught in the lines: ‘Miris kupusa iz podruma/i rakije iz usta/moj veliki otac/i moja velika majka/to je moj grad Beograd.’40F One of the more poetic accounts of the city in yu-rock is the song ‘Ljudi iz gradova’ performed by Belgrade-based band Ekatarina Velika. Apparently sang from the outskirts of the city, the song conveys images of people neither within nor without. ‘Priđi bliže i pogledaj dobro/Kuda vode ovi tragovi/Tamo svetla gore u noči/I ta su svetla naši gradovi’,41F portray the city as a place to be, where there is light in the dark. However, even though ‘Svako svetlo je jedan stan/U stanu krevet stol i stolice’42F gives the expected interior of a thousands of supposedly identical flats, it is through the line: ‘Plavo svetlo preko plavih lica/I plavi svet iz plave kutije’43F that those people are portrayed as detached from each other, only alive in the light of TV set that immobilises them in their existence. What is more, ‘Ljudi iz gradova’ are perceived as substantially different: ‘Dali možeš prepoznati govor/Govor ljudi iz gradova/Dali možeš prepoznati lica/Lica ljudi iz gradova’,44F even incomprehensible.

Tia DeNora states, that the ‘most common metaphor for musical experience in post-nineteenth-century Western culture is the metaphor of “transport”, in the sense of being carried from one (emotional) place to another.‘45F Although she derives this analogy from a slightly different context, it still applies well to this analysis. It also applies to songs` contemporaneity, either as a means for the journey towards future or idealised past or, nevertheless, as a vehicle to escape from the burden of the present, to ‘sing the way out of it’. Indeed, music can bring about memories and evoke images of times and places we have/will never seen. Especially popular music can have quite a universal but still very intimate appeal. It is the relationship between the words and melody, where different words fit the same musical pattern that render it arbitrary and contingent46F to reality and widely applicable and interpretable.
However, this selection represents a very small part of cities singing songs. The songs from the earlyer period of Yugoslav era generally give an impression of a sunny Sunday afternoon. Life of course was not such alltogether. The fact is that the medium of music, popevka type of popular song in particular, did not allow for as much of resistence and contestation as the subsequent variegation of genres and diversification of the sphere of popular culture. Thus, for instance, the abolition of the tram in Ljubljana soon after the World War II that changed the city infrastructure and considerably altered the cityscape, to my knowledge did not find immediate place in popular music. Also, the ring road built in the early 1970s that cut and deformed the city promenade leading from the centre to the Tivoli. The underpass was built that became a scar in the cityscape and soon assumed the reputation of a place where one can get robbed, bullied, where ‘juvenile delinquents’ make graffitti.
The impression given by the songs from the 1980s, on the other hand, is just as well only a part of a wider and more complex socio-political situation that was not at all that noir. Still, there might be a correlation between the deformation(s) of the city and the imagery transmitted through the lyrics. The selection reflects the fragmentation of Yugoslav society and culture in the light of changing generations and permeability of boundaries. Nevertheless, the political actions and the downhill of economy that were predominantly designed in and conducted from the cities, too, contributed to these processes. The selection also hints at the problems the post-World War II high-paced modernisation and concomitant urbanisation initiated but ended in a sort of un idle run. The music of the 1980s expresses also the wider feel of disillusion that significantly informed the last two decades of twentieth century, when ‘meta-narratives’ became questioned and deconstructed.

Barber-Kersovan, Alenka, “Tradition and Acculturation as Polarities of Slovenian Popular Music” in Simon Firth, World Music, Politics and Social Change: Papers from the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1989), p. 73– 89.
Chion, Michel, Glasba v filmu, (Imago, Ljubljana, 2000)
Dragičević-Šešić, Milena, Neofolk kultura, publika i njene zvezde, (Izdavačka knjižara Zorana Stojanovića Sremski Karlovci, Novi Sad, 1994)
DeNora, Tia, Music in Everyday Life, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
Dolenc, Ervin, ‘Culture, Politics, and Slovene Identity’ in Jill Benderey and Evan Kreft (eds.), Independent Slovenia: Origins, Movements and Prospects, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994), pp. 69-90.
Janjatović, Petar, Pesme bratstva i detinjstva, antologija rok poezije SFR Jugoslavije 1967-1991, (Nova, Beograd, 1994)
Laušević, Mirjana, “The Ilahiya and Bosnian Muslim Identity” in Mark Slobin (ed.), Retuning Culture, Musical Changes in Cental and Eastern Europe, (Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1996), pp. 117-135.
Lefebvre, Henri, Writings on Cities, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1996)
Milčinski, Fran, Butalci, (Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 1964)
Ramet, Sabrina P., “Shake, Rattle and Self-Management: Making the Scene in Yugoslavia” in S. P. Ramet, Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia, (Westview Press, Boulder, CO and Oxford, 1994), pp. 103-132.
Ramet, Sabrina P., Balkan Babel, (Westview Press, Boulder, CO and Oxford, 2002)
Simić, Andrei, The Peasant Urbanites. A Study of Rural-Urban Mobility in Serbia, (Seminar Press, London and New York, 1973)
Stankovič, Peter, “Uporabe ‘Balkana’: Rock in nacionalizem v Sloveniji v devetdesetih letih”, Teorija in praksa, let. 39, 2/2002, pp. 220-238, p. 226-228.

Songs cited
Aerodrom, “Zagreb, Ljubljana, Beograd”
Balašević, Đorđe, “Tri put sam video Tita”
Bele vrane, “Na vrhu Nebotičnika”
Bele vrane, “Šuštarski most”
Bezobrazno zeleno, “Beograd”, LP Artistička radna akcija, 1981, reprinted in Janjatović, 1994.
Deržaj, Marjana, ‘Vozi me vlak v daljave’;
Deržaj, Marjana, “V Ljubljano”
Ekatarina Velika, “Ljudi iz Gradova”, Ljubav,
Film, “Zagreb je hladan grad”, LP Zona sumraka, 1982, reprinted in Janjatović, 1994.
Grupa 220, “Kule od riječi”, LP Rođenje, 1974, reprinted in Janjatović, 1994.
Kesovija, Tereza, “Parkovi”,; [accessed 08/03/05]
Marjanović, Đorđe, “Beograde”
Pankrti, “Lublana je bulana”,
Robić, Ivo, “Zagreb, Zagreb”,, [accessed 08/03/05]
Videosex, ‘Vozi me vlak v daljave’, Videosex Arhiv, Dallas Records, 1997
Videosex, “Jesen”, Videosex Arhiv, Dallas Records, 1997
Videosex, “Neonska reklama”, Videosex Arhiv, Dallas Records, 1997

26. See Milena Dragičević-Šešić, Neofolk kultura, publika i njene zvezde, (Izdavačka knjižara Zorana Stojanovića Sremski Karlovci, Novi Sad, 1994), p. 12-23; See also Alenka Barber – Kersovan, p. 86-87.
27. Đorđe Blašević, “Tri put sam video Tita/I`ve Seen Tito Three Times” ;[And I saw high chimneys/Factory`s smoke, wide fields/Cities that live in fredom/Children and peace/And a flock of birds].
28. Videosex “Jesen/Autmn”, Videosex Arhiv, (Dallas Records, 1997); [The city`s dead, I see cold streets/It`s raining and it`s so dark/Alone, I`m lost in my thoughts/Greyish-grey, greyish-grey is the autmn here].
29. Videosex, “Neonska reklama/Neon Sign”, [Neon sign/Under my window/Every evening it lights up the street/Green and red/spilled in the room … The sound of the neon sign take away my thoughts].
30. Videosex, “Jesen”, [The dream is mine/I don`t want to wait in line/I want at least some of the American dream].
31. Marjana Deržaj, “Vozi me vlak v daljave/Train takes me far”; Videosex, “Vozi me vlak v daljave”; [Train takes me far/Into the wide world/Look, the plains seem as a coloured blossom].
32. Ibid., [Rivers, fields and mountains/swiftly pass us by].
33. Ibid., [The train takes me far/That`s where my heart wants to go/There my thoughts take me].
34. Aerodrom, “Zagreb, Ljubljana, Beograd”, [Look at that pile of idiots/They drone like a swarm of shit-flies/Look at them, janissories of the mind, that despise the province/That fed them the first slice of bread].
35. Pankrti, “Lublana je bulana/Sick Ljubljana”; [In Ljubljana there`s five communities/the largest is Šiška/Then is the Centre/and Moste … In Vič, they are still peasants/In Moste there are workers/Peasants work in the fields/Workers in factories].
36. This is especially interesting in light of a satiric depiction of the Slovenes by Fran Milčinski in Butalci. “A three hour walk after the Carnival Sunday, there lays a village, it is called a town. In the middle of the village, a brown puddle it is called a brook. On either sides of the brook there stand cottages, they are called them houses. Two or three hoses have got floors, such houses are called mansions.” Fran Milčinski, Butalci, (Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 1964), p. 5.
37. Aerodrom, “Zagreb, Ljubljana, Beograd”; [It`s killing me, this quasi-intellectual stench/That Zagreb, Ljubljana and Belgrade spread]; [So what to do now/Be a filthy junkie, be a frigid queer/Be worse of them all/Anything is better than to be one of them].
38. Film, “Zagreb je hladan grad/Zagreb is a Cold City”; [Thousands cars in the street/And blue neon glow/That`s not love, it`s neither hatered/I only feel the void].
39. Bezobrazno zeleno, “Beograd”, LP Artistička radna akcija, 1981, reprinted in Janjatović, 1994; [Great grey city/Lunatics and drug addicts/siledžije and scientists/Great grey city/That`s my city Belgrade].
40. Ibid., [Smell of cabbage from the cellar/Of rakija from the mouth/My great father/And my great mother/That`s my city Belgrade].
41. Ekatarina Velika, “Ljudi iz Gradova/People from the Cities”, Ljubav, [Come closer, take a good look/Where these traces lead/There lights glow in the night/And these lights are our cities].
42. Ibid., [Every light is one flat/In the flat there`s a bed, a table and chairs].
43. Ibid., [Blue lights accros blue faces/Blue world from the blue box].
44. Ibid., [Can you recognise the speach/The speech of the people from the city/Can you recognise the faces/Faces of the people from the city].
45. Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000), p. 7.
46. Michel Chion, Glasba v filmu, (Imago, Ljubljana, 2000), p. 196-7.

AuthorMartin Pogačar
2018-08-21T17:23:17+00:00 November 1st, 2005|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 45|0 Comments