LIPSI.

I know I said I was going to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich next, but I wasn’t quite up for it, so I decided to read Aksyonov‘s 1961 Звёздный билет (translated as A Starry Ticket), which is a delight. (And I’m reading it on my new Kindle, which is also a delight! See the comment thread to this Lizok post for my decision process.) It’s fun to get a snapshot of the slangy speech of hip Soviet youth circa 1960, and one word in particular gave me a peek into the odd folkways of the Eastern Bloc in that era. At one point Dimka, one of the protagonists, asks an Estonian who has invited his little group of adolescents (who have fled the tedium of their Moscow lives) to a Tallinn club for dancing, “А что у вас тут танцуют?” [What do you dance here?] The answer is “Чарлстон и липси” [the Charleston and the lipsi], and he thinks “Вот это жизнь! Чарлстон и липси!” [Now, that's life! The Charleston and the lipsi!]. But what was lipsi? A little googling turned up the fact that it was a dance invented in East Germany in 1958 to try to distract young people from the vile temptations of rock-and-roll and the sexy hip-swaying associated with it. As Anna Funder describes it in her book Stasiland: “Just as ‘The Black Channel’ was the antidote for western television, the Lipsi step was the East’s answer to Elvis and decadent foreign rock’n’roll. And here it was: a dance invented by a committee, a bizarre hipless camel of a thing.” You can watch a mercifully brief clip of the camel in action here.


Incidentally, does anyone know if the film made from Aksyonov’s book, Мой Младший Брат, is any good? And does anyone know how many pages Звёздный билет takes up in a physical book? On the Kindle I can only see what percentage of the text I’ve read, not how many pages there are, and I’m curious.

Comments

  1. my new Kindle
    Mazl tov!
    Just FYI, having done extensive testing, I recommend Hanlin readers. The batter life is excellent and there’s a large community of users who offer tweaks and alternative firmwares. Kindle is cool, but it’s lack of support for epub ist just appalling.
    The Izografus edition of Звёздный билет apparently has 640 pages, which don’t sound right to me.

  2. Does your new Kindle have native Unicode support or have your hacked it ? Love my DX for the large screen but it can’t even display Latin extended A without being hacked. It’s a real “why oh why” moment for me. Unicode support is hardly rocket science these days. I have to convert Russian texts to pdf to read on my Kindle and find my reading glasses.

  3. Alex,
    Kindle 3 has Unicode support.

  4. rootlesscosmo says:

    One YouTube commenter caught the fact that the Lipsi is in 6/4 time. This may have been the only meter that could suit the committee’s various requirements.

  5. The Izografus edition of Звёздный билет apparently has 640 pages, which don’t sound right to me.
    Yeah, I presume that has other texts as well. I found that and editions with 65 or 66 pages, which is also clearly not right—I’m sure I’ve read more than that already, and I’m only a third of the way through.

  6. a dance invented in East Germany in 1958 to try to distract young people from the vile temptations of rock-and-roll and the sexy hip-swaying associated with it. … a dance invented by a committee, a bizarre hipless camel of a thing.
    Since I don’t dance and know nothing about dancing, I am excellently equipped to opine on the Lipsi. I first saw it briefly on West German TV in the ’70s. In the last 20 years it has been shown in those documentaries, tenaciously mocking though mildly so, that make up three-quarters of German TV documentaries on the GDR.
    I see nothing in the least “bizarre” about it. The clip shows that the Lipsi, contrary to the claim in the above quote, does involve hip-swaying, but of a kind more restrained than in rock-n-roll, of course. The Lipsi meets conventional Western expectations as to how dancers are supposed to move decently, and yet the dance step is light-footed – at least when performed by professional dancers, which I suspect is the case here. The man does not waggle around, but the woman is in fact swaying to a degree fit to churn butter – it is just not directly visible because of her skirts.
    In any case, when a woman wears high heels she must sway at the hips when she moves, otherwise she falls on her face. That is what heterosexual men like about high heels on women. Women have to move their butts around to keep from falling, and so look vulnerable while moving as if intercoursing. But I digress.
    The primary failing of the “committee” was not that it was a committee, but that it did not know how to create a product marketable in the given climate, and then actually sell people on it. That the committee members even tried to do this shows, I think, that they were very much in tune with the times. They were no more incompetent than many show-biz operators in the West who were learning to mass-produce popularity. Think of the unsuccessful attempts in the ’60s to create successful bands by fiat: The Monkeys, for instance.
    Since then, we have seen successful “boy bands” cut out of whole cloth – Take That, Backstreet Boys etc. etc. Garage-bred groups such as the Beatles and the Stones have not a chance nowadays without professional backing. I’m not suggesting here that garage-bred is “more genuine”, but rather merely pointing out the different development processes now at work.
    By the way, as to the name “Lipsi”: the German WiPe says it was derived from the Latin lipsiens = “a person from Leipzig”. The people involved in the creation of the Lipsi were from Leipzig.

  7. I was given a Sony reader as a present, but I must be doing something wrong, because its battery life seems to be nonexistent – after reading for no more than three hours (if that) I have to recharge it via my computer, which completely defeats the object of using it on holiday.

  8. I am following these reports on e-readers with great interest. My general disposition is not to buy one, because of all the hassles with character sets, battery life, book format availability etc. that people complain about. Paper still works fine for me.
    bruessel: perhaps you were presented with a Sony that had a dud battery. I like the fact that German has a word for rechargeable battery – Akku(mulator) – that prevents confusion as to what kind of battery is meant. A non-rechargeable battery is just a Batterie.

  9. Think of the unsuccessful attempts in the ’60s to create successful bands by fiat: The Monkeys, for instance.
    Au contraire: The Monkees (note spelling) were extremely successful. Wikipedia:

    The group reached the height of fame from 1966 to 1968, and influenced many future artists. … The Monkees had a number of international hits which are still heard on pop and oldies stations. These include “I’m a Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. Their albums and singles have sold over 65 million copies worldwide.

    This induced considerable bitterness in those of us who were fans of “real” rock-and-roll, but the passage of a couple of decades and the loss of several layers of pretension led me to realize that those hits are actually damn good songs; I’d rather listen to “I’m a Believer” than some of the crap The Beatles tossed into their albums as filler (“A Taste of Honey,” anyone?).

  10. My general disposition is not to buy one, because of all the hassles with character sets, battery life, book format availability etc. that people complain about. Paper still works fine for me.
    That’s how I used to feel, but when you’ve got over 5,000 books paper has its drawbacks, and the new Kindle has plenty of battery life and no problems with character sets (that I know about). Not trying to sell you one, just letting you know the feelings of a former skeptic. I find that reading on a Kindle is a completely immersive experience—you just keep clicking for the next page and the world fades away.

  11. I’d rather listen to “I’m a Believer” than some of the crap The Beatles tossed into their albums as filler (“A Taste of Honey,” anyone?).
    I agree with you there. I had forgotten that “I’m a Believer” is by the Monkees (sic).
    I’m merely trying to drum up a little sympathy for a few Communist functionaries who were doing their best. In the spirit of your recent blog “Everything was forever”, where considerable sympathy was extended to Russian “speech performance” under the Communists – what I dismissed as creative communication under totalitarian monitoring.

  12. Is this the Kindle you’re talking about ?

  13. The very one.

  14. I’m surprised it costs only 140 EUR. I thought these things were much more expensive. Maybe I’ll go for it after all.

  15. Nice posts, Grumbly. Nothing helped the dance forms spread as much as the feeling of being illicit, usually a product of finely tuned official disapproval and bans (not too much, not too little). Obviously in Aksenov’s story the German dance has turned excitingly illicit a mere thousand miles away from its place of birth (or design).
    To large degree it holds for the literature too, of course … the restrictions imposed by the officialdom and the constant pushback of the creativity. Too much or too little oppression, either way may snuff the flickering flames of art.
    So isn’t it the case that we reserve most “sympathy for a few Communist functionaries” not to those “who were doing their best” but also to those who were doing their jobs kind of inconsistently or hesitantly, in a human way, sometimes hewing to the perfect line, at other times straying? The GDR machine is often thought about as too perfect and too efficient to elicit true sympathy…

  16. Victor Sonkin says:

    No problems with UNICODE, and the 3rd-gen Kindle shows the number of locations a book has (which gives you a good idea of its size; an average novel is about 5000 locs) and the number of pages as well, which more or less corresponds with the regular paper pages.
    I honestly can’t fathom how book lovers these days could do without an ereader.

  17. Victor Sonkin says:

    P. S. From flibusta.net, you can download Russian ebooks in .mobi format, which is kindle-ready. Another must is calibre software which gives you the tool to convert anything into anything (also, with some tweaking, remove DRM from Amazon-bought books if you need it on your PC, for example).

  18. Yes, flibusta.net + Calibre is my new double deity.

  19. OK, I figured out how to use the “Go to” feature and discovered I’m on page 105 of 269 (and location 1601 of 4111, whatever that means).

  20. How does the Kindle do with RTL languages (e.g. Hebrew/Yiddish)?

  21. Don’t know; try googling around. Or maybe someone here knows.

  22. Language: I’d rather listen to “I’m a Believer” than some of the crap The Beatles tossed into their albums as filler (“A Taste of Honey,” anyone?)
    So you want to compare the biggest hit the Monkees ever had with a song on the Beatles’ first album, from 1963, the one that they didn’t even produce themselves, and probably track 2 on side 2? Fine, go ahead.

  23. michael farris says:

    The lipsi doesn’t look _that_ bad. It looks a lot like how Polish people danced at parties (at least up into the 90s).
    In the 80′s even teenagers were doing something like it. Not exactly but in the same neighborhood.
    At any rate, it’s far better than this (warning viewing may sap your will to live):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSEqyraGFVo&feature=related

  24. So you want to compare the biggest hit the Monkees ever had with a song on the Beatles’ first album, from 1963, the one that they didn’t even produce themselves, and probably track 2 on side 2? Fine, go ahead.
    As I said, I’d rather listen to “I’m a Believer” than some of the crap The Beatles tossed into their albums as filler. I’m not sure what you’re finding offensive or bizarre about that proposition. I’m a Beatles fan myself, but I don’t genuflect before everything they did. (It was all downhill after Hamburg, as John used to say.)

  25. At any rate, it’s far better than this (warning viewing may sap your will to live)
    Here‘s the direct link, if anyone’s feeling suicidal.

  26. Nothing offensive or bizarre, just an unfair comparison. Actually, I don’t mind hearing A Taste Of Honey once every 20 years or so, and I prefer it to their pretentious final songs, when half the record was just repeating the lyrics over and over (Let It Be, Hey Jude etc).

  27. just repeating the lyrics over and over
    (I think I mean “repeating the titles over & over”.)

  28. rootlesscosmo says:

    That second dance clip reminds me of the Freddie (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqwjo_freddie-the-dreamers-do-the-freddie_music), which was properly speaking not a dance but a novelty number; that’s what generally results when a dance is invented or cobbled together as an entirety, rather than emerging as the waltz and the Lindy Hop and other steps seem to have done. It isn’t the specific movements of the Lipsi that make it such a non-starter on the dance floor, it’s the arbitrary way they’re strung together.

  29. Zachary,
    How does the Kindle do with RTL languages
    Not that well, unfortunately, see for yourself.

  30. Nothing offensive or bizarre, just an unfair comparison.
    Well, it would have been unfair if I’d said “The Monkees were a hell of a lot better than The Beatles: just compare ‘I’m a Believer’ to ‘A Taste of Honey’!” But I don’t think it’s unfair to compare the songs while explicitly pointing out that the latter is one of the band’s worst. How would you have preferred me to make my point?

  31. I love “A Taste of Honey”.
    I must admit I had forgot it, but it was one of my favourites songs when I was adolescent and had a crush on Paul McCartney.
    I’m very happy with my kindle too, you can carry with you the equivalent of 1000 kilograms in books.

  32. it was one of my favourites songs when I was adolescent and had a crush on Paul McCartney.
    Ah well, there are Paul people and there are John people. I have what is probably an unjustifiable fondness for “Revolution 9.”

  33. Yes, I was definitely a “Paul people”. Now that seems a bit stupid to me. But I love his voice. That doesn’t change.

  34. Were there any Ringo people?
    I confess that the only version of “A Taste of Honey” that I ever knew was the one by the Tijuana Brass.

  35. I’m not sure how you could have made your point, because I don’t think the Beatles ever had crap on their albums.
    I’m a George person. I like that guy in the Monkees whose mother invented whiteout.

  36. an unjustifiable fondness for “Revolution 9.”
    hey, me too. It’s like a wall of sound version of Tarkovsky’s Mirror.

  37. It’s true, the Beatles never had crap on their albums. Though I never listen to Revolution 9 ’till its end.
    Now that I’m a grown-up (or so the calendar years says so), I’m a George Harrison person, he and Ringo are the nicest Beatles.
    Well in fact, I always like the four guys and I never tried to take sides or begin wars… But as I said: ¡Paul’s voice!

  38. michael farris says:

    As a small child in the mass hysteria of Beatlemania I was a Ringo kid. I even named my first dog after him.
    On the other hand, after that I wasn’t much of a Beatles fan … ever. I recognize how great and influential they were yada yada yada and love a lot of the individual songs but …. I don’t have a single Beatles album and have no plans to change that. It should also be noted that I have kind of awful taste in music (by most conventional evaluations).
    I also love A Taste of Honey (though the beatles version doesn’t do much for me).

  39. I’m a Pete Best person myself.
    Don’t knock The Monkees. If the world has to have manufactured boy bands then at least give them decent songs…
    Were there any Ringo people?
    Marge Simpson.
    Bonus: Ringo remembers “Imagine” (courtesy of Peter Serafinowicz).

  40. I have kind of awful taste in music
    This reminds me that Mrs Thatcher’s favourite piece of music was (is?) How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?. That says it all. To keep it on topic, there’s a version by the Lennon Sisters.

  41. michael farris says:

    You learn something new every day. I had no idea Mrs Thatcher even saw Pink Flamingos….

  42. It’s not John Waters, but there’s an incident in Christopher Hitchens’s memoir where Mrs Thatcher makes him bend over and then she smacks him on the bottom for being a bad boy.

  43. Well, why else would she make him bend over ? I am always apt to fall into amazement when the subject crops up, even though only in a jokey way, of male English yearning to be punished by Matron, Nurse etc. This is not a Zwangsidee-as-urban-legend of Americans and Germans, as far as I know: but maybe they’re just too shy to bruit it abroad.

  44. The Greek scholar Sir Kenneth “Ben” Dover was entirely another kettle of fish. I was told that there is a wall full of obscene graffiti about him in the gents at Corpus Christi College’s library in Oxford. I think this was because of his 1978 book, Greek Homosexuality.
    Hitchens was beaten quite a lot at school but according to his memoir this incident was a big surprise to him and entirely Mrs Thatcher’s idea.

  45. Joyce gives the British beatitudes as “Beer beef battledog buybull businum barnum buggerum bishop.”

  46. buggerum bishop
    Unintended irony, coming from someone who’d attended a Christian Brothers’ school in Ireland.

  47. according to his memoir this incident was a big surprise to him and entirely Mrs Thatcher’s idea.
    Yeah, yeah – it has to be Matron’s idea to punish you, doesn’t it ? Otherwise you don’t get what you deserve, and that’s no fun.

  48. Of course you’re right, G. Still quite interesting that beating was her choice, though. She could instead have tried torturing him with a “rendition” of How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?

  49. Count me in with Michael Farris and Marge Simpson as a Ringo fan.
    I blame it on the fact that my atrocious vocal range make ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ and ‘Octopus’s Garden’ the only Beatles tunes I could ever passably sing, but I’ve really come to appreciate his drumming. ‘A Day in a Life’ wouldn’t be half as interesting without it.

  50. This Lipsi looks like something my parents used to dance they called a “two step”. It would have predated Elvis slightly. This “two step” also has something odd about the timing. I found steps like waltz in 3/4 time and polka in 2/4 time and even dabke, which as far as I can figure out is a 6/8 step superimposed on 4/4 music, not that hard to learn, but I was never able to learn this two step.

  51. John, Paul, George, and Ringo fans tend to cluster, it’s said, around the Jungian psychological types: thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing respectively.

  52. michael farris says:

    “the Jungian psychological types: thinking, feeling, intuiting, and sensing respectively”
    I thought that was thinking, feeling, intuiting and totally rocking out.

  53. I’m still not sure why Ringo’s unique drumming has always been disparaged in comparison to the musicianship of the other Beatles. Is it because he never played other instruments too, only sang? Big deal, there was never a similar dissatisfaction expressed against John Bonham, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Robert Wyatt etc. etc. – Charlie Watts’s inarticulateness has been taunted, but not his playing. I think Ringo’s big mistake was singing Act Naturally, it was hard to take him seriously as an individual musician after that.

  54. Yeah, Ringo’s a wonderful drummer; unfortunately, self-deprecation is not usually a winning move, reputation-wise.

  55. Just finished “Stasiland” btw. Thanks again Language for the recommendation. Now I see how the author felt tense, scared, weirded out, and disgusted all at the same time during her foray into the TV archives of the defunct GDR – and how it might have colored her perception of her surreptitious discovery of the Lipsi :) !

  56. I’m delighted! (And delighted as well with the ability to add to old threads like this; in addition, I always get pleasure from rereading them.)

  57. I wonder if Stu ever got a Kindle?

Speak Your Mind

*