Two Translations

Gruppa Kino in Tallin, Estonia, 1986. From left, Igor Tikhomirov, Georgii Gur’ianov, Viktor Tsoi, Yuri Kasparyan.

Below are translations for my two favorite songs by the Russian group Кино (Kino, tr. Cinema or Film), the most important musical act to come out of the pre-collapse USSR.

Kino was formed in Leningrad in the summer of 1981 by Viktor Tsoi (bass, vocals), Alexei Rybin (guitar) and Oleg Valinskii (drums) as Garin and the Hyperboloids, a tribute to a sci-fi novel by Alexei Tolstoy. In the spring of 1982, the band got their first break, teaming up with underground musician Boris Grebenshikov at the Leningrad Rock Club and formally changing their name to the more iconic-sounding Kino. That same year, Tsoi recruited guitarist Yuri Kasparyan, who though “he couldn’t play,” according to journalist Evgenii Dodolev, quickly became the most important member of the band after the scruffily handsome half-Korean frontman. From 1983 to 1985, the band experienced a period of conflict, reforming in 1986 in its final lineup, with Tsoi on vocals and backing guitar, Kasparyan on lead guitar, Igor Tikhomirov replacing Aleksandr Titov on bass and Georgii Gur’ianov on drums. Still, that didn’t stop them from putting out consecutive unofficial releases during those years, 45 in 1982, 46 in 1983, Начальник Камчатки (Nachal’nik Kamchatki, tr. Boss of the Boiler Plant) in 1984, Это не любовь (Eto ni liubov’, tr. This isn’t Love in 1985, partly to establish a training ground for Kasparyan, whose abundance of sex appeal couldn’t quite make up for his lack of proficiency.

Between 1986 and 1989, they achieved mainstream success, beginning with Ночь (Noch’, tr. Night), their first official studio album, swapping their DIY approach for for professional recording equipment. In 1986, ten-thousand copies of their split with fellow alternative group Akvarium (Aquarium), Красная волна (Krasnaia volna, tr. Red Wave), were smuggled out of the USSR and distributed in California, making it the first Soviet release in the West. In 1988, they came out their most mature and critically-acclaimed effort, Группа крови (Gruppa krovi, tr. Blood Type, lit. Band of Blood), triggering what became known as “Kinomania” and even receiving a write up in the Village Voice. In 1989, they followed up with two more albums, Последний герой (Poslednii geroi, tr. The Last Hero) and Звезда по имени Солнце (Zvezda po imeni Solntse, tr. A Star by the Name of the Sun), the last album to be recorded in Tsoi’s lifetime. As national borders started to open up, the members traveled to New York and Paris, a remarkable fact given the country’s record of restricting the movements of persons of note. Then, in August of 1990, Tsoi was killed in a car accident outside of Tukums, Latvia on his way back to Leningrad to lay down tracks for an upcoming release. He was only 28 and left behind a wife and infant son. The band’s final record, Kino, also known as Чёрный альбом (Chernyi al’bom, tr. The Black Album) in tribute to Tsoi, was released posthumously that year.

As a symbol of Glasnost’ era political change and Western-style aesthetic sensibilities, Tsoi meant more to Russian youth and any other cultural figure of past or present. Musically, Kino was ahead of its time, especially for Russia, combining dissonant, experimental riffs with lyrics that perfectly captured young people’s frustration and ennui, delivered in Tsoi’s droning, low-register deadpan. Indeed, the sound was much closer to the grunge movement sweeping United States at the time than any native genre that had existed previously in the USSR. Finally, Russians had something cool to call their own, something that wasn’t imported from Paris or America. If Vladimir Vysotsky has been called Russia’s Bob Dylan, than Viktor Tsoi is most certainly its Kurt Cobain and Kino, its Nirvana.

The translations have their awkward moments because it’s virtually impossible to convey both the literal and figurative meanings of the words while preserving the grammar, meter and rhyme of the syntax. This is, of course, the greatest misfortune of translating, but I’ve made an effort to notate the main issues below. Anyway, take it from me, Russian lyrics, like Russian literature, are particularly competent and evocative, but these are as good as, well, good poetry. One more note: footage in both clips included in the links is from the film Игла (Igla, tr. Needle, 1989, dir. Rashid Nugmanov). Enjoy!

“
Спокойная ночь” (“Goodnight”), 1988.
From the album Gruppa krovi.
Lyrics, Viktor Tsoi and Yuri Kasparyan.

Крыши домов дрожат под тяжестью дней,
Небесный пастух пасет облака,
Город стреляет в ночь дробью огней,
Но ночь сильней, ее власть велика.

Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.

Я ждал это время, и вот это время пришло,
Те, кто молчал, перестали молчать.
Те, кому нечего ждать, садятся в седло,
Их не догнать, уже не догнать.

Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.

Соседи приходят, им слышится стук копыт,
Мешает уснуть, тревожат их сон.
Те, кому нечего ждать, отправляются в путь
,
Те, кто спасен, те, кто спасен.

Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.Тем, кто ложится спать,
Спокойного сна.
Спокойная ночь.

The roofs of the houses tremble under the weight of the days,
The heavenly shepherd herds the clouds,
The city shoots rounds of light into the night,
But the night is stronger, her reign is mighty.

For those who are going to sleep,1
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.For those who are going to sleep,
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.

I waited for this time, and now this time has come,
Those who were silent have stopped being silent.
Those who have nothing to wait for step into the saddle,
You can’t catch up, it’s too late to catch up.

For those who are going to sleep,
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.For those who are going to sleep,
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.

The neighbors come, they hear the stomping of hooves,
It keeps them awake, disturbs their sleep.
Those who have nothing to wait for set off on their way,
Those who are saved, those who are saved.

For those who are going to sleep,
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.For those who are going to sleep,
Sweet dreams.
Have a goodnight.



Пачка сигарет” (“Pack of Cigarettes”), 1989.
From the album Zvezda po imeni Solntse.
Lyrics, Viktor Tsoi.

Я сижу и смотрю в чужое небо из чужого окна,
И не вижу ни одной знакомой звезды.
Я ходил по всем дорогам и туда, и сюда,
Обернулся и не смог разглядеть следы.

Но если есть в кармане пачка сигарет,
Значит все не так уж плохо на сегодняшний день.
И билет на самолет с серебристым крылом,
Что, взлетая, оставляет земле лишь тень.

И никто не хотел быть виноватым без вина,
И никто не хотел руками жар загребать,
А без музыки на миру смерть не красна,
А без музыки не хочется пропадать.

Но если есть в кармане пачка сигарет,
Значит все не так уж плохо на сегодняшний день.
И билет на самолет с серебристым крылом
Что, взлетая, оставляет земле лишь тень.

Но если есть в кармане пачка сигарет,
Значит все не так уж плохо на сегодняшний день.
И билет на самолет с серебристым крылом
Что, взлетая, оставляет земле лишь тень.

I sit and look at someone else’s sky from someone else’s window,
And don’t see a single familiar star.
I’ve walked all the paths from here to there,
Turned around and couldn’t find my tracks.

But if there’s a pack of cigarettes in your pocket,
Then things aren’t so bad for the rest of the day.
And a ticket on a plane with a silvery wing,
That lifts off leaving not but a shadow on the ground.

And no one wanted to be guilty without wine,3
And no one wanted to rake up embers with their hands,
But without music on earth, death isn’t beautiful,4
But without music, you don’t want to perish.

But if there’s a pack of cigarettes in your pocket,
Then things aren’t so bad for the rest of the day.
And a ticket on a plane with a silvery wing,
That lifts off leaving not but a shadow on the ground.

But if there’s a pack of cigarettes in your pocket,
Then things aren’t so bad for the rest of the day.
And a ticket on a plane with a silvery wing,
That lifts off leaving not but a shadow on the ground.

__________
1. I used the English colloquial expression “go to sleep.” In Russian, it’s “lay down to sleep.”
2. In English, we say, “you can’t catch up (to them).” In Russian, the subject is flipped: “They can’t be caught up to (by you).”
3. In Russian, the phrase “guilty without wine” (“vinovatym bez vina”) contains a pun on “guilt” (“vina”) and wine (“vino”) that’s sadly lost in translation.
4. Tsoi uses the old Russian word for “beautiful,” “krasna” (instead of “krasivaia”), which in new Russian more closely means “red.”

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