Tuesday Jul 13, 2004

Lost in Translation

While art may require an introduction, it does not need a translator.

You don’t need someone to explain the emotional impact of that which is prime, or universal. Today, on the radio, I heard an American singer interpret a Russian folk tune written by the revered Soviet-era poet and songwriter Bulat Okudzhava.

The music was bittersweet, a lament.

Although I don’t understand Russian, I felt the emotional highs and lows emanate from the wistful words as evoked by the singer and the melancholy as expressed by the accompanying plaintive guitar. After the ballad was over, the singer explained that the words chronicled a traveler (Bulat) who rode the midnight trolley bus in post-Stalinist Moscow.

To overcome his feelings of despondency, the traveler rides the bus meeting everyday people, those with misfortune and others with good fortune. The words say that riding the midnight trolley takes the traveler’s pain away.

Although this impromptu libretto by the singer provided more details, I did not need this information for the ballad to draw me in. Although learning the meaning of the lyrics and the song’s history adds an additional layer of significance, such particulars are best filled in after your soul has been smitten.» 

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