Thursday, November 26, 2020

Vinyl Generation: Records for the Revolution

I used to hunt for LPs nearly every day. It was a harmless and often culture-affirming pursuit that could have gotten me fired and possibly arrested had I lived under Communism in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. Yet, those forbidden grooves helped fuel the Velvet Revolution. Tom Stoppard did not lie in his great play Rock & Roll. Some of those slightly older record hounds look back on the era of revolution and underground music in Keith Jones’ documentary Vinyl Generation, which releases today on VOD.

opens with its best scene, capturing a meeting between two 1980s-era record collectors in the park where they used to surreptitiously buy and swap vinyl. Tellingly, they both admit they are still a little freaked out by the sudden appearance of cops, when one happens by, purely by chance. They then chronicle the bands and underground venues that emerged during their youth, while also explaining the influence of Western recording artists on the Prague scene, particularly that of Frank Zappa and Lou Reed.

For those have a taste for uncompromising punk and hard rock, the first forty-five minutes of
Generation will be pure Nirvana (in the Eastern religious sense). Jones and his talking heads do a nice job establishing a connection between the music scene and what was concurrently happened in art, poetry, and samizdat journalism. Yet, utterly inexplicably, the Czech band The Plastic People of the Universe only appears in passing, even though their arrest and imprisonment directly prompted the Charter 77 Movement, which in turn brought Vaclav Havel to international prominence.

Indeed, everyone still maintains a high degree of respect for Havel, but several of Jones’ interview subjects express their ambivalence over the current Czech state of affairs (as of four years ago). Yet, their frustration over the messy sluggishness is arguably misplaced. Checks-and-balances that challenge sweeping and potentially arbitrary changes are actually the cornerstones of a stable democratic republican government. Regardless, it is cool to see them rouse their old passion on behalf of Pussy Riot, the dissident Russian punkers.

Generation Vinyl
inspires nostalgia for medium and the 1980s, when we had confidence in our president, because he had confidence in American values. Jones doesn’t do a perfect job of it, but there is still plenty of good stuff in the doc. Recommended as a good supplement to more comprehensive films (like The Power of the Powerless), Vinyl Generation releases today (11/26) on VOD. Music, freedom, capitalism, and democratic governance—all things to be thankful for today.