In which Agent Kafka and I differ on popular culture
"Slezynka plunged deep down the orphanage well
To smother her shame wrought by Szekler lords fell.
But "crack!" went her bones on a rocky outcrop -
The Szeklers had stolen the water as well.
"Poor Slezynka knew that to stifle her sob
And drown out her heart like a leper boy's bell
She would weep booming tears that droplet by drop
Filled the well and her lungs from bottom to top."
The audience at Zhakhiv Cultural Agitational Facility No.17 in the Name of Bragg was struck dumb and, in a few happy cases, deaf, by "Szkeklers Shamed Slezynka", the latest in a long series of poems about violated orphans of the monarchy era read by the author herself, Symona "Shmonka" Cheshetsya - Deputy Minister of Peasantry and retired People's Popular Folk Bard (1952).
Agent Kafka and I applauded as freely as our NAKRO-issued civilian suits allowed. These garments came in two sizes - too large and too small - and were fashioned from the clothes cut off the pulped bodies of CIA infiltrators at the Comrade Samantha Smith Memorial Execution Ground and Timber Mill.
As no bourgeois spy ring had bothered with Ruthenia since the notorious Yankee Incursion of 1947, this left the Ruthenokex State Textile and Haberdashery Trust with a small selection of brown shorts, green arms patches and a whistle (minus nutritious pea) from which to kit us out.
According to the History of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia (Medium Course), CIA agents masquarading as a group of so-called Hungarian Boy Scouts had crossed the border in 1947 using the cover of an invitation from the Ruthenian Scouting Association.
They were immediately intercepted by a detail of the Internal Retentive Border Coordination Guards. Their private possessions were redistributed along collectivist principles among various individual commanders, and the alleged scouts themselves were given the fraternal opportunity to dance with Bodjo the Largely-Tamed Bear - a gift from the Moldavian Socialist League for Animal Cruelty - while the Guards put on a reciprocal display of virtuoso slyvovytz drinking.
The Guards then retired to consume a festive meal of mamalygha and papanasz, leaving Bodjo to forage for himself among the Scouts.
Provocative questions from the wholly-compromised Hungarian "government" led to an urgent NAKRO investigation of the incident. This concluded that the Border Guards had acted correctly in disarming the insurgent unit of "American-trained paramilitary dwarves", and rewarded Bodjo with the title of Progressive Woodland Ranger, a peasant ration book (grade IX) and several conjugal visits to the infirmary at Political Prison No.49 in Szeumas-on-Myłn - at least once at an inmate's request.
NAKRO later arranged a visit for the leaders of the Ruthenian Scouting Association to the scene of the incident, where the Internal Retentive Border Coordination Guards and Ranger Bodjo were happy to re-enact the events of that day with them.
For Kafka and myself, this meant that the clothes allowed me to raise my right hand to an almost horizontal position, while Kafka struck his with knee-length lapels.
We squinted at full attention as the crowd shuffled in the pews and pulpits of what had once been The Cathedral of The Interrupted Ascencion, and prepared for the main event of the evening - the Battle of the Bands.
Socialist Ruthenia had fought a stern rearguard action against the advance of music throughout the postwar period, prompted by Comrade General Secretary Yütz's displeasure at a performance of Symphony No 5 in G# Minor ("The Bastard") by People's Popular Composer Uzz Kalnis.
Massed timpani had hammered out the Morse Code for "Starve The Comprador Latifundistas!" a few metres from the General Secretary's box, while a chorus of Fishwives for Peace chanted "Fist Up, Fist Up, Comrade Yütz!" during the 20-minute ondes Martenot improvisation in the scherzone.
The Central Committee's decision was swift. Kalnis was called up for a "lap of honour" second stint of military service, this time in the 8th Experimental Submarine Parachute-Launching Brigade, despite his advanced years and inability to breath underwater.
The new principles were cascaded more broadly across the portfolio of the Ministry of Applied Culture. All music had to accord with the 1949 Yütz Theses:
- It must accord with the Will of the People, as expressed through the mood of the General Secretary.
- It must be played on instruments whittled, ground or stolen by workers, peasants and ill-nourished soldiers, and at a distance of not less than one county from all members present and future of the Præsidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Acting Organs of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia.
- It must not exceed five minutes in length (considerable debate followed as to whether this referred to individual pieces of music or all music composed in the People's Democratic and Popular Republic. Much of this debate was conducted in prison).
- All public performances in the capital must feature young Gypsy women in bodices a size too small.
Then came Beatlemania, and the country was flooded with six reels-to-reel of songs by what turned out to be The Scaffold. By 1981, the authorities felt they had to intervene - especially as Lily the Pink was taken to be an attack on Comrade First (General-)Secretary Novak's wife Liljljanja and her allegedly Polish tendencies.
The Ministry of Cultural Reassignation therefore empowered itself to create two singing ensembles in order to stem the "rising tide of subjective melody and crypto-Francoist rhythm" ("Sotsjalystychna Muzsyqa", editorial, 4 March 1983).
These two "bands", as they came to be known ,were recruited by the People's Self-Defence Army Penal Battalion from a group of conscripts found trying to mount an accordion in the backyard of a distillery. They were joined by four prostitutes and a drummer who, on medical examination, proved to be a barbary ape donated to Zhakhiv Zoo by the government of Algeria.
The ape was shaved carefully and emerged as the leading songwriter of Kava Break, the marginally faster of the two groups. The other band, Izotop, played up to its fondly-imagined "bad boy" image with single-entendre song-titles like "(Swing From) My Girder Of Love" and "(Politically-Engaged Miners) Slide Down My Shaft".
They alternated as winners of the annual Battle of the Bands, filmed live and shown five months later by Ruthenian State Television on lignite-powered sets in many interrogation centres of the less mountainous parts of the republic's maritime territory.
This pattern was briefly interrupted in 1987, when the Party decided to show solidarity with the Progressive Palestinian People by adding the category "Least Zionist Ensemble" to the competition criteria. That year's winners, Izotop, pointed out that this objectively made Kava Break the Most Zionist band in the country and therefore liable for re-education and confiscation of their possessions.
NAKRO and at least two other security organs, one of them subsequently believed to be Izotop dressed in Bulgarian marching-band uniforms, turned up, turned over and turned in Kava Break. They got 15 years hard labour: five for lack of Semitic awareness, five for not understanding the charges, and five for each year they had failed to reveal their Zionism.
The ape got off with a suspended sentence after convincing the judges that he was a member of Neturei Karta. He then joined Izotop, making it Ruthenia's first super-group.
Izotop enjoyed its three-year run as default winner before successfully petitioning the Supreme Higher Party Council of Organs (Verxvysszstrankradorh) to pardon Kava Break on the condition that the freed musicians should undertake Izotop's solidarity tour of South Yemen.
Izotop generously relinquished the ape as well - rumour had it because lead singer Lev Basar resented his sidelocks and college-girl following.
Kava Break scored a commanding musical and ideological comeback with the ape's drum-led single "Golda Meir Stole My House" [translator's note: the song later enjoyed a copyright-free afterlife as a remixed trance track on the Tel Aviv dance scene.]
Now, the two bands mounted the stage to compete once again for Ruthenia's highest popular music award - the continued waiver of their military service. In keeping with the the Party's drive to economise on power, time and individualism, both bands performed their latest hits simultaneously and on the same instruments.
This policy was dubbed "Creative Lamarckism" and promoted the adaptation of a citizen's limbs to the eventual ideal of Socialist multitasking in gunfire, forgery and the seduction of West German Embassy clerks.
As the bands tussled over their dulcimers, Kafka nodded towards the bar as vigorously as his crumbling garments would permit. We crabbed our way through the throng, with Kafka rather undermining our cover by brandishing his Laika pistol and NAKRO club card at anyone who stood between him and 500 grammes of slyvovytz.
"What do you think of this competitive element in popular music, Agent Kafka?" I inquired as he crunched the cap off another bottle with his eye socket. "I mean, surely it's an inherently capitalist approach to what ought to be a collaborative effort?"
He downed the spirits thoughtfully, pausing to belch a blue flame of satisfaction around his Karbin filtertip, and said: "I void myself on them, on their music, on the nuns that bore them, and on the Slovak who comforts the pig that sired them. And then on that pig, too. But most of all, Zhatko, I crack open my codpiece and..."
His words were drowned by the bitonal, overamplified version of the banned royalist anthem "Hey Ruteni, masluy mi sztifli!" (O Ruthenians, Oil My Boots!") being blasted out of the sound system. Kava Break and Izotop gestured in vain that they were not playing their lyres, hornpipes and gamelans as the local militia and music-lovers seized the opportunity and backing vocalists and stormed over the footlights, truncheons and skinning belts aloft.
Banners strung across the stage proclaimed that all concerned would Put The Resolutions of the XIIIth Congress of the Workers' Democratic and (United) Socialist Party of Ruthenia Into Life. They suddenly fizzed and sparked into life, leaving behind the stench of sulphur and these letters stencilled into the proscenium - ZHIJE NAXAJLO! - Naxajlo Lives!
"He focked us," Kafka concluded. Not for the first time, Agent Kafka was understating the matter. As gouts of slyvovytz-scented khaki ichor erupted from our every accessible orifice, we turned to the barman. He was gone.