A. Bašlačëv e la sua chitarra a 12 corde. Fonte: Muzej Balšlačëva A. N

A. Bashlachëv and his twelve-string guitar. Source: Muzei Balshlachëva A. N

“The Man Who Sings”, Aleksandr Nikolaevich Bashlachëv, was born in 1960 in Cherepovets during the era of the so called  ‘plastinki na rebrakh’ (rib recordings) and Beatlemania. In the 1970s, rock music developed and found its own identity also in the USSR, where it was influenced by Slavic folklore and Russian songwriting traditions. By the 1980s original music was replacing imitations of Western models and it was this last decade of the USSR’s history that Bashlachëv left his mark on the Soviet rock scene. According to the music critic and journalist Artemii Troickii, Bashlachëv made rock worthy of the Russian music tradition’ with a spiritual energy comparable to Tarkovskii’s films (Troitskii 1990: 45). Evgenii Evtushenko considered Bashlachëv a poet of a new generation of artists born during the Thaw.
Bashlachëv had applied to the Leningrad Faculty of Journalism, where a lack of publications prevented him from passing the second admissions test, before enrolling at the Ural State University A. M. Gor’kii. It was during these years that he first began playing seriously.  After university, Bashlachëv returned to Cherepovets and worked as a journalist for the magazine “Kommunist”. For the most part, the job didn’t match Bashlachëv’s aspirations (cf. Muzei A. Bashlachëva), but it gave him the opportunity to write a column which he called ‘Seven Notes in the Notebook’ about music and concerts (ibid.). In 1985, thanks to the reporter Leonid Parfënov, Bashlachëv met Artemii Troickii (Troitskii 1990: 46) who was extremely impressed by him and helped him to perform in concerts in several cities in Russia. Shortly afterwards, Bashlachëv moved to Leningrad and from 1985 to 1987, the most intense period of his creative and artistic activity, he performed in more than 200 concerts (ibid.), including kvartiniki (domestic concerts). For Bashlachëv, interaction with the audience was fundamental and he never recorded an album in the traditional sense. He simply performed with his guitar, without a band (he could not bear the limitations of a drum kit), varying his extremely personal rhythm from performance to performance. The nature of Bashlachëv’s performances brought him close to the bardy tradition (cf. Roitberg 2020, p.67). However, he is different due to his rock aesthetics.  Bashlachëv also inherited the artistic and performative style of Vladimir Vysotskii, the artist who perhaps epitomises the spirit of Soviet era rock in terms of styles, mediatic reception and performative energy (cf. Domanskij 2001). On 17 February 1988, at the age of only twenty-seven, Bashlachëv threw himself out of the window of the flat where he was living in Leningrad. The circumstances of the incident have never been clarified, but it was probably suicide, perhaps due to the prolonged artistic crisis he experienced in 1987.
Bashlachëv’s famous quote, I know why I walk on the earth; it will be easier for me to fly away” (in Naumov 2017: 99) has become an allegory of his life and tragically early death. During his lifetime Bashlachëv’s work only circulated in relatively small circles but immediately after his death interest grew and today a whole field of studies, Bashlachëvedenie, boasting hundreds of publications, is dedicated to his work. There are multiple factors behind the interest in Bashlachëv. Although by the 1980s, Russian rock had definitively switched to electric instruments while Bashlachëv continued to insist on acoustic sound, his lyrics are representative of Russia’s rock tradition: his songs speak about and to individuals, society, and an era full of change and contradiction. He often quotes from Soviet cinema and popular culture. When the first collection of his poems, Pososhok (The Stirrup Glass) was published in 1990, it was a great discovery for many, and his song Vremia kolokol’chikov (The Time of the Bells) would become the retrospective Soviet rock anthem of the 1980s.
Scholars have sought to divide Bashlachëv’s artistic career into four to six different periods. However, his entire known production [1] includes only around 60 poems written over about three years and is thematically and stylistically cohesive. Up to 1984 his work is characterized by simpler more transparent metaphors and themes, after which his images are gradually more obscure and at times almost metaphysical level. A critical edition of the works is not yet available and the main source for his music remains his recordings, while for texts and biographical material researchers draw on the third edition of Lev Naumov’s biography: Aleksandr Bashlachëv: chelovek poiushchii (Aleksandr Bashlachëv: the Man Who Sings) (2013).  Perhaps unexpectedly for an author born and raised in a family of the intelligentsia in industrial Cherepovets, Bashlachëv poetry returns again and again to images of rural Russia, depicted as a world inhabited by wheat, bells, zvonari [bell ringers], fire, frost, and mills. References to the seasons also recur, for example in Zimniaia skazka [Winter Fairy Tale], Osen’ [Autumn], and Peterburgskaia svad’ba [Petersburg Wedding].
In September 1984, shortly before leaving his job at the “Kommunist” newspaper in Cherepovets, the poet wrote the song Slët Simpozium (Reunion-Symposium), described by the author as his last reportage (Bashlachëv 1992). The poem is set in the fifth reunion-symposium of the cities of the Vologda region; in the text, the author takes an ironic stance towards Stakhanovism.  The high-flown rhetoric is interrupted by a breakfast invitation from European diplomats.  The participants refuse saying they have more important things to do (Bashlachëv in 2017: 81). During the reading of a telegram that “humbly insists” the delegates continue to refuse the invite for which Brussels will cover the expenses (ibid.) and the “tense and oppressive” silence is broken by “a hungry rumbling in the blind bowels of Shisha”, a fictional small town whose name is a play on the colloquialism ni shisha [accident].
The allegories and metaphors of Bashlachëv’s universe often relate to the ‘poet’s mission’ of conceiving, creating and shaping art, giving voice to the people, and the contrast between the discourses of society and religion and the words of the malen’kii chelovek [little man], as in Vremia kolokol’chikov [The Time of Bells].
A fundamental symbol in Bashlachëv’s works is wheat, found in songs such as Kak vetra osennie [Like Autumn Winds] and Testo [Dough].  The symbol is connected to the verses in John 12:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (Jn 12:24) used by Dostoevskii, as an epigraph to “The Brothers Karamazov” (cf. Bondarevskaia 2007: 80).  Bashlachëv probably inherits the metaphor of the seed indirectly, reaffirms its artistic potential and traces its roots to a pre-Christian Slavic folklore tradition. In the poem ‘Dough’ the poet leads us through a succession of verbs in the infinitive into a recipe for poets (cf. Starodumova 2010).
Given the richness of his intertextuality and biographical similarities Bashlachëv has been compared to Pushkin. In part, such an association stems from a desire to incorporate Bashlachëv into the Russian literary canon. Bashlachëv’s inclusion in school textbooks [2] is further proof that his work is considered to be worthy of academic study. Indeed, his obsession with the construction of words and his playing with idioms and phraseology confirms his literary merit. An example of his literary sophistication is Petersburg’s Wedding, in which the hero of the poem takes a ‘synesthetic journey’ through dramatic scenery where olfactory and auditory elements (the bell ringing, the horses dripping with sweat) are heightened by the deprivation of sight. The poet’s mysterious “poor friend” is blinded by black lights that reach him on his cracked pince-nez. The verses play with the phrase siniak pod glazom which means having black eyes due to a blow. The violence described as the song unfolds because connected with the personified city of Saint Petersburg, at the same time executioner and victim.
The density of historical reference and levels of irony in Bashlachëv’s works should not prevent his texts being read as statements of political dissent. The voice in Sluchai v Sibiri (It Happened in Siberia) sings of his resentment when a provincial listener, interprets his songs in an anti-Soviet key “I was ashamed to have sung. The way he understood it /<…> Because he could add horns to my icon”. Bashlachëv’s icon is a sacred but desecrated symbol, a tragic representation of the author’s inner world and of a Russia of ancient Slavic sounds in the arcane time ‘of the bells’.  Bashlachëv thus stands out as a central figure capable of fusing Russian lyric poetry with Soviet rock culture.

Musej Bašlačëva

Musei Bashlacheva

[1]An extremely small collection of his work is preserved in manuscript form in the family’s private archive in Cherepovets, which donated a great deal of material to the local museum dedicated to Bashlachëv.

[2] For example, the poem Rozhdenstvenskaia [Christmas Poem] R.N. Buneev, E. V. Buneeva, V Odnom Schastlivom detstve [In a Happy Childhood], chast’ 2[second part], S-INFO – Ballas, Moskva 1994.


Sara Manzi
[30th June 2023]


  • Bashlachëv A. N., Pososhok, Zhitinskii (vstupitel’naia stat’ia i sostav.), oforml. S. Zachar’ianca, Lira, Leningrad 1990.
  • Bashlachëv A. N., Taganskii kontsert (3LP), (2CD), Zapis’ sdelana Andreem Zachësovym 22 ianvaria 1986 goda v teatre na Taganke, Moscow 1992.
  • Bondarevskaia O. A. Ėpigraf kak kliuch k khudozhestvennomu tolkovaniiu romana F. M. Dostoevskogo “Brat’ia Karamazovy”. Kliuchevoe slovo “Zerno”, “Vestnik TGU”, №4, Tomsk 2007, online, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/epigraf-kak-klyuch-k-hudozhestvennomu-tolkovaniyu-romana-f-m-dostoevskogo-bratya-karamazovy-klyuchevoe-slovo-zerno (last accessed: 30/06/2023).
  • Domanskii J. V., ‘Provintsial’nyi tekst’ leningradskoi rok-poėzii, in Russkaia rok-poėziia: tekst I kontekst, 1, 1998, online, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/provintsialnyy-tekst-leningradskoy-rok-poezii (last accessed: 30/06/2023).
  • Domanskii J.V, Fenomen Vladimira Vysockogo v kul’ture russkogo roka, TGU, in Vladimir Vysockii i russkii rok, Tver 2001 (Pril. k ser. izd. “Russkaia rok-poėziia: tekst i kontekst”): 110-127.
  • Evtushenko E., Ne dopisavshii, ne dopevshii, in “Novye izvestiia” 20 March 2009, online https://newizv.ru/news/2009-03-20/ne-dopisavshiy-ne-dopevshiy-100588 (last accessed 30/06/2023)
  • Gavrikov V. A., V poėticheskoi vselennoi Aleksandra Bashlachëva, Bull Terrier Records, Moskva – Kaluga – Venice 2019.
  • Gavrikov V. A., Ėskhatologiia Bashlachëva, Moskva – Kaluga – Venice 2021.
    Jarko A. N., Kolokol’chiki Aleksandra Bashlachëva: funktsionirovanie simvola
  • v tekste, metatekste i vne teksta, in ‘Znak i simvol’, Lodz’-Tver’: 132-141.
  • Muzei Bashlachëva A. N, online https://xn--80aaaadikgf8bjgw7bl8ho.xn--p1ai/ (last accessed: 30/06/2023)
  • Naumov L., Aleksandr Bashlachëv: chelovek poiushchii, Vyrgorod, Moskva 2017.
  • Roitberg N., Rok-poėtika. Smysli i postulaty, Izdatel’skie resheniia, Ekaterinburg 2020.
  • Shaulov S. S., Funktsii poėticheskoi traditsii v lirike A. N. Bashlacheva, ‘Vestnik ChelGU’, Filologiia. Iskusstvovedenie. № 32, (286), 2012: 130-132.
  • Starodumova V. I., Stikhotvorenie A. Bashlachëva “Text”: popytka prochteniia, “Gumanitarnye issledovaniia v Vostochnoj Sibiri i na Dal’nem Vostoke”, №4, Vladivostok 2010, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/stihotvorenie-a-bashlachyova-testo-popytka-prochteniya, online, (last accessed: 30.06.2023).
  • Troickii A. K., Tusovka, Rock and Styles in Soviet Culture, EDT, Turin 1990.
  • Kushnir A., 100 magnitoal’bomov sovetskogo roka 1977-1991: 15 let podpol’noj zvukozapisi, Agraf, Moskva 2003.

To cite this article:
Sara Manzi, Aleksandr Bashlachëv, in Voci libere in URSS. Letteratura, pensiero, arti indipendenti in Unione Sovietica e gli echi in Occidente (1953-1991), a cura di C. Pieralli, M. Sabbatini, Firenze University Press, Firenze 2021-, <vocilibereurss.fupress.net>.
eISBN 978-88-5518-463-2
© 2021 Author(s)
Content license: CC BY 4.0