In connection with the release of the new album of the Ukrainian band The Nietzsche "Finals.", we asked questions to its leader and vocalist Eugene Tymchyk, speaking with him about his favorite poets and prose writers, and how exactly his passion for fiction influenced him and his musical work.
What came first, The Nietzsche or your passion for poetry?
Eugene: To my shame, the first was the band. I have never been particularly excited about poetry, I liked somethings from the school curriculum, I read quite a bit by myself, but until the advent of The Nietzsche concept, I was still more into prose. So the causal relationship was different: I needed to find lyrics for songs, so I became interested in poetry. And it happened only because at that time I was very lazy to write lyrics for this band, and besides, I didn’t know what to write about. Now The Nietzsche is a formed cultural unit, with its own lore and context, and if all of a sudden I need to write lyrics by myself, then I definitely won’t get lost. Therefore, I’m very grateful to that period, because it was thanks to my laziness I discovered Wilde, Bukowski, Kerouac, I was very impressed by beatniks, because we didn’t learn about them in school.
Your sense of humor, whether it was formed, being influenced by literary sources: Zoshchenko, Ilf and Petrov, Bulgakov, Staritsky, Shaw? Or is it, let's say, a feature of the Odesa heritage?
Eugene: All above mentioned, I read as a kid. Now I can’t say exactly how these books influenced my sense of humor, but I definitely liked them very much back then. Now it seems to me that my jokes are some kind of meta-reference, post-irony and self-reflection, for sure, somewhere buried in there is what I read as a kid, but even more there is what is relevant now, because in this age of hype, memes should be topical and fleeting. About the Odesa humor — it seems to me that it’s a myth, there’s no such thing or it doesn’t exist more, maybe it just became too vulgar and worn-out cliche!?
You’ve mentioned that Ukrainian literature was poorly taught in your gymnasium. Do you have your own vision of how these lessons should have been taught? Many people have been talking about the importance of education reform for years. What do you think, which should come first?
Eugene: Towards the end of my school years, there happened another reform: a 12-point rating scale was introduced, 12 years of education was promised, as well as tests instead of exams. The results of these attempts I haven’t encountered, so not sure if they were. One reform is not enough, and it’s not a particular education that should come first, I think. Children should see value and have an interest in education, be proud that they are well-read and erudite, and teachers should like this work. It’s unlikely that this is possible in a country where 'chavocracy' reigns and the population lumpens.
In your opinion, who are the best authors, which are the best poems to start learning poetry?
Eugene: I don’t think I can correctly answer this question. I’m far from being an expert and I can hardly give useful recommendations. I know for sure that the most important thing is to open your eyes wider and go beyond the school curriculum, especially that one which is taught in post-Soviet schools — where Russian literature is the greatest one, Pushkin is the best poet, and Russian poetry had already three centuries of formation. This is all nonsense, bloated by Soviet propaganda and Russian chauvinism. In schools, one preferred to remain silent about those Russian poets and writers who were really considered great all over the world, and mediocrity was exalted instead. Therefore, I would start with Shakespeare, I’m generally surprised that his books did not become like the Bible. Or with my beloved Edgar Allan Poe. Actually, everything is good, where there is no rhyme through one line.
In Ukraine, at least Drudkh use poetry as lyrics. Do you follow other bands (domestic or foreign) that use poems as lyrics? Which of them you like, which you doesn’t and why?
Eugene: I only know about Drudkh, and Date Rape had a song based on the poems of Yesenin, and I don’t keep on top much. It so happens that some band released a song based on Mayakovsky’s poem, for example, and I’ll get a link to this song with a comment like "they stole your song". The only thing I really don't like is when poems are simply stolen without attribution. I once came across some young band that musically parodied their idols, but the lyrics caught me, I read it and was surprised that it was really really cool and deeply written, I was envious of it. And then I found out that it was someone who posted his poem on Tumblr, and he probably doesn’t know that this Ukrainian group had used it. Denis Dorofeev also worth mentioning. He wrote almost all the lyrics for the group Megamass, it’s really powerful poetry.
Often with age, tastes change and those books which one absolutely didn’t like during adolescence come to be celebrated in later years. Have your literary tastes changed over time?
Eugene: Yes, significantly. In principle, as with everything else, with literature, I experienced all phases of development: from youthful exuberance to respect for the classics. I can’t seriously read all the Irvine Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk stuff, although I was inspired by them 15 years ago, the same happened with fantasy, but [lately] I read with pleasure George Martin. As a child, I didn’t like "Animal Farm" at all, well, I just didn’t understand it, I was very young, and now it’s one of my favorite books. Now, probably, like many others, I read less than I would like, and mostly in English. It has become somehow easier to enjoy fiction than before, not everything should be food for thought. Right now I'm reading Tucker Carlson's "Ship of Fools" about the threats that the US Democratic Party presents.
How did your passion for literature, in particular, poetry, influence you?
Eugene: I think, probably, as much as possible. This is an art, it seems to me it forms us throughout all of our lives. The way we react to something, we perceive, we interpret — all this determines our picture of the world. Even more so if you are a creator yourself, then everything that you absorb sooner or later will emerge in your work. I often find myself thinking, especially when I write the lyrics, that this moment is inspired by this one book, and this I took from there. With The Nietzsche, the opposite is true, the poems that I use have reached me already when they finally become a song.
So what is better: a book or a film adaptation?
Eugene: For me, probably, after all is said and done, a film adaptation is better. I have some kind of two-dimensional imagination, and I always imagine that both the characters and the events in the book are somehow poor and not detailed, there is always not enough visualization. Therefore, even a bad film adaptation is useful for me, it draws to me what I couldn’t think of myself. Plus, as is the case with The Nietzsche and poems, the film adaptation is the second life for a book. In general, I am not one of those who after the film session grumble that the book is better. Within my recollection, the opposite happens even more often.
Name your 5 favorite domestic and foreign poets and prose writers.
Eugene: Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Boris Akunin, Gillian Flynn, Jaroslav Hasek. Oscar Wilde, Theodore Roethke, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Edgar Allan Poe, Vasyl Stus.
Interviewed by Anastezia G.
Translated from Russian by Dan Thaumitan and Anastezia G.