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Soviet Rocker Has Links to Literature

Most rock musicians bring up such names as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when asked to cite their influences, but the Soviet Union’s Yuri Shevchuk is just as likely to mention authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Alexander Pushkin.

Shevchuk is lead singer of the Soviet rock group DDT, which makes its formal North American debut tonight at the Hollywood Palladium.

The rest of the seven-piece band were reunited with Shevchuk and guitarist/violinist Nikita Zaitsev late last night, after being delayed by various forms of bureaucratic red tape, Ken Thurlbeck, the group’s U.S. manager, said earlier this week.

“The (Soviet) government can tie them up at whim,” he said. “Airline tickets will disappear or they won’t be released until flights leave . . . and this may happen three or four times in a row. But everybody in the group is here now.”

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Shevchuk, 33, isn’t just a casual fan of Dostoevsky and Pushkin. He was a literature professor from 1980 to 1983 at the State University of Bashkiria until, he said, he lost the position because of his involvement with his band and his advocation of “the recognition of the individual” in Soviet society.

Since leaving the university, he has concentrated full-time on his music, which was critical of various aspects of Soviet policy even before recent reforms that have allowed greater dissent in the country.

In DDT’s 1986 song “The Great Perestroika,” Shevchuk declared that the Soviet economy is “a necktie for some, and a noose for others.”

Despite the cynicism of these lyrics, Shevchuk notes the band’s philosophy is similar to the classic Western rock groups of the ‘60s. “The Beatles’ message was to love one another,” he said in an interview this week. “Ours is to understand one another so we have the possibility to love.”

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After years of performing under the threat of the government’s shutting down shows (which are advertised solely by word-of-mouth), DDT now enjoys the status of “half-official,” which allows the group to play publicly, yet virtually denies them state income or special assistance.

Several million copies of the band’s albums have reportedly been distributed in the Soviet Union, mostly on an independent, underground level. Melodiya, the state-operated record label, distributed a “greatest hits” album in 1988, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Despite the sales, each band member received onbly $10 in royalties.

Three of the band’s albums--including a “best of” collection--are available in this country through Red Tape Unlimited, an independent, Los Angeles-based label owned by Thurlbeck. The band’s sound draws on a variety of influences, from Russian folk music to the Rolling Stones and James Brown.

Although it is punctuated by violin, saxophone and occasional bluesy guitar solos, the most distinctive element to the band’s sound is Shevchuk’s angry, aggressive vocals. Shevchuk sings in Russian exclusively, but conveys messages in the lyrics through theatrical gestures.

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Tonight’s 8 o’clock concert will be opened by guitarist Sasha Liapin, who may also join DDT on stage for part of the group’s set. Thurlbeck said. The band will be in the United States until September, doing concerts and trying to stir interest in the albums.


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