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review:

Tomorrow Never Knows

An Oral History of Russian Punk

Reviewed by Chris Auman


What About Tomorrow?
An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot
Alexander Herbert

[Microcosm Publishing

Until recently, I knew pretty much diddly about the punk scene in the former Soviet Union, or in the current state of Russia for that matter. I couldn’t have named even one Russian punk band, with the exception of Pussy Riot, of course—and that particular collective is itself somewhat controversial within the Russian punk community. I’m guessing I am not alone in my ignorace. But then along came Alexander Herbert's book, What About Tomorrow and the Iron Curtain fell!

Over the course of the 1970s, the punk rock explosion would spread all over the globe, but what started in New York and London (notice how I didn’t pick sides here) in the early 1970s, took a few years to penetrate the Soviet Bloc. In the U.S., it hit both coasts and toppled cities in between like we were warned Communism would do during the Cold War. By the end of that decade, punk rock finally took hold in the Soviet Union.

Herbert is a research fellow at Brandeis University where he focuses on the history of the USSR. He also digs punk rock so those two interests naturally came together for this book. He focuses mainly on the punk movement in Western Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg, specifically. He interviewed dozens of people responsible for keeping the movment alive from those early days as an illegal youth movement up through to 2015. His interviews took place from 2013 to 2017. It was Herbert’s job to string all of this information together into a cohesive form with the dogged curiousity of an outsider.

The book ends with a chapter on Pussy Riot, titled the "Paradox of Pussy Riot." Feelings are mixed about the group. It's punk in its core values and the way its members conduct themselves but detractors argue whether its even a band a all. I certainly won't wade into that debate.

A soundtrack would probably be too tall an order as many of these bands went undocumented during their existence, but I would be interested to hear it nonetheless. Until such a time as one is compiled, at least we have Herbert's book.

BUY: What About Tomorrow?: An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot (Punx)

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