Slavic Saturday

This post too is a sort-of crossover between Behind the Iron Curtain and Slavic Saturday.

Karel Gott was an important figure of Czech culture. He was a stable star of our music scene for sixty years – my whole life and some more. His parents wanted him to have a respectable working-class job, but he wanted to be an artist – specifically a painter. But by coincidence, he ended up famous not as a painter, but as a singer.

He was exceptional in one way – even during the communist regime, he became very popular in West Germany, to the point that the regime went to quite a long way to actually keep him as a valuable source of revenue. So after he once overstayed his visa, the president himself has pleaded with him to return. He was allowed to come back and he was not punished for flirting with emigration.

However, he has somehow managed to not tarnish his name by any shady collaborations with the regime – too much. Most of his support was by filling concert halls and selling records, and only once did he openly shill, by reading a pre-prepared speech chastising the movement Charter 77.

But his popularity was such that even after the regime fell, it did not suffer. He got involved in the velvet revolution just enough to show he knows where the political wind is blowing, and afterward continued as if nothing happened. There were attempts to dig up dirt on him, and he did indeed do some stupid things when he was young, but nothing could shake his star from the top of Czech musical heaven. He was a bit of a clueless idiot when it came to politics – for example, he thought that Trump is a good politician and that refugee crisis in Europe is a result of some conspiracy – but that could not tarnish his reputation either in a nation of clueless racist idiots, so there’s that.

Nothing could shake him. Nothing but death. He died this week after a prolonged battle with leukemia, at the age of 80.

I did not particularly like him. I do not know why, but his singing has always rubbed me the wrong way. I never found his voice to be pleasant to listen to, with some exceptions. But I have always felt some connection to him, partly because we share the first name and partly because he was simply everywhere.  I have also read his book “Říkám to písní” (I say it with a song) and he seemed like a reasonably nice person then. But his opinions about Trump and his conspiratorial theorizing were just daft babblings of a privileged dude who has no clue. I have mixed feelings now.

He recorded this song in 1966 when he was young and I was not born yet. But it is a song about the inevitable end of his star and his life and for some reason one of those that I like.


  1. says

    Well, he’s best known here for singing the title song to “Maja the Bee”. His slight accent added to the charme and well, kids don’t have much taste anyway but will love the title song to their favourite show.

  2. Gelaos says

    He was a bit of a clueless idiot when it came to politics

    This is one of the reasons why I didn’t like him sometimes (and why I often don’t like other celebrities in general) -- mixing popularity and uninformed opinions. I don’t think that it makes him either bad or a good man -- simply as you said: “a privileged dude who has no clue”.
    Personally I never liked his music much. He was a good singer and entertainer and had some catchy songs but that was it. He was skilled and talented, but I always found his voice and songs a bit bland. When I wanted to listen to something innovative / exceptional / with deeper meaning, I wouldn’t find such thing in his repertoire.
    Anyway, his overall popularity and iconic status can be demonstrated with following story. In 2013 he appeared at Rock for People festival. At first this seemed like stupid idea -- the visitors of the festival are mostly younger people (not Gott’s target audience, he was much more popular among the older generations) and the festival focuses on rock, punk and heavy metal (which are genres far from what Gott sang). However, even before he appeared on stage, the crowd started screaming “My chceme Karla!” (“We want Karel!”, 0:03 in video) His one hour long concert was considered by many to be the highlight of the festival, the crowd loved the show, Gott enjoyed it as well. I think that only few Czech/Slovak singers could own it the way he did. For example, see crowd’s reaction to “Včelka Mája” (“Maja, the Bee”, song starts at 8:36).

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