The iconic Russian balladeer, singer, 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 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, the actress Marina Vlady, stayed at his Los Angeles home.
Mish provided to RFE/RL a truncated recording of a song Vysotsky performed in Mish’s home studio in 1979. While the song is well known, this version has never been released to the public.
The song, titled Apples Of Paradise, is a grim allegory replete with religious imagery and featuring, as noted by Sergei Roy, a prominent translator of Vysotsky’s songs, allusions to Stalinist terror.
Its narrator tells of his future death, which sends him to the “gardens of paradise,” which he discovers is a “wretched hellhole” watched over by St. Peter and populated by haggard masses and guards that shoot “straight between the eyes.”*
The recording Mish provided to RFE/RL, which is just over four minutes long, picks up at the third verse of the song. Due to potential copyright issues, RFE/RL is publishing a only a short excerpt of the recording.
"I know this old man by the tears upon his worn cheeks:
It is St. Peter -- he is an apostle, oh and I am just a fool.
Here is the orchard, with many frozen apples,
But the gardens are guarded, and I’ve been shot straight between the eyes." *
-- Carl Schreck
*English lyrics based on a translation by Adrian Erlinger