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Apples Of Paradise: RFE/RL Publishes Rare Vysotsky Recording Made In California

  • Carl Schreck

Vladimir Vysotsky (left) and Marina Vlady at the Los Angeles home of friend Michael Mish in the 1970s

Vladimir Vysotsky (left) and Marina Vlady at the Los Angeles home of friend Michael Mish in the 1970s

The iconic Russian balladeer, actor, and poet Vladimir Vysotsky wrote some 600 songs during his short, turbulent life, only a tiny fraction of which were ever officially released in the Soviet Union.

His music, instead, circulated on bootleg audio recordings made at his concerts and performances in friends' apartments -- both in the Soviet Union and abroad.

Vysotsky, who died 35 years ago this past July, recorded many of his songs while traveling in the United States in the late 1970s, including at the Manhattan apartment of ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1974.

He also recorded songs at the home of Michael Mish, a California-based musician with whom Vysotsky and his French wife, actress Marina Vlady, stayed at his Los Angeles home.

Mish provided to RFE/RL an excerpt of a song Vysotsky performed in Mish's home studio in 1979. Due to copyright questions, RFE/RL earlier this year published a 30-second clip from the recording, which had previously never been released to the public.

Having obtained the necessary permission, RFE/RL is now releasing the full four-minute excerpt of the recording from Mish's home to the public for the first time. The song, titled Apples Of Paradise, is well-known and replete with religious imagery and allusions to Stalinist terror.

The protagonist and narrator arrives by horse at a destination he expects to be a paradise. Instead he discovers a "barren wasteland" and a gate that leads to a "paradise" that is a clear allegory for a Soviet prison camp.

This "Eden" is watched over by St. Peter and populated by haggard prisoners and guards that "shoot between the eyes without fail."

The audio file Mish provided to RFE/RL, which is just over four minutes long, picks up at the third verse of the song and features minor lyrical deviations from previously known recordings of Apples Of Paradise.

Vysotsky wrote the song in 1977, just three years before his death. During this period, he made several trips to the United States, where he visited prominent Soviet dissident emigres, including Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, who admired Vysotsky's poetry.

Vysotsky, who died of heart failure on July 25, 1980, made several stopovers in Los Angeles during the final chapter of his life. He had hoped that a screenplay he had written would be produced in Hollywood and even land him a movie role in Tinseltown, according to his friends.

In her memoir, Vlady recalled the period in Los Angeles when Vysotsky recorded this version of Apples Of Paradise, which was made during his final visit to the United States. She wrote that her husband was spending "entire days" recording his music in Mish's home studio.

She also wrote that around this time, Vysotsky had essentially given up his earlier attempts to sober up. His alcohol and drug abuse -- his friends say his morphine addiction escalated in the final years of his life -- are widely seen as a critical factor in his early demise at the age of 42.

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