I heard an amazing story on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day. Apparently in the 1950’s in Russia, censorship was so fully in effect that you couldn’t get Western rock n’ roll music. Even being in possession of such music could send you to prison.
Censorship in all its forms tends to backfire. When you tell people they cannot have something, it makes them want that thing very, very badly. (Just ask anyone who ever bought a Cuban cigar in the US.)
The Russians were very innovative in coming up with a way around this censorship. They learned how to etch music onto used x-ray film. These bootleg records were therefore called “Bone Records” and were sold in back alleys in the dead of night. They can still occasionally be found in flea markets and garage sales.
The quality of the music on these x-rays was not high. It kind of sounds scratchy, and like it’s coming from the inside of a tin can. But such was their thirst for music that they were willing to put up with this and even risk their freedom for it. That really impresses me. That tells you all you need to know about the human craving for art in all its forms.
A guy named Stephen Coates has written a book on the subject called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone. This is definitely on my “to read” list. The NPR story was an interview with Mr. Coates. Listen to the story, read the book, and tell me what you think.
At the very least, take a minute to appreciate your ready access to music as the luxury that it is.