To the Day of Memory of Vladimir Vysotsky
The Global Women Media news agency is a social project that brings together women from all over the world. Its community members from different countries regularly send unique materials to be published on the website. The authors follow the principles of positive and motivational journalism, which is a key element of the web-portal’s editorial policy. An interview with Nikita Vysotsky, who is a son of the outstanding cultural figure, is one of such partner materials. The interview took place on the occasion of the Day of Memory of Vladimir Vysotsky.
Soviet and Russian theatre and film actor, film director, scriptwriter, producer and theatre pedagogue, Director of the Vysotsky House on Taganka cultural centre and museum
It happened in the far year of 1980. I remember the midsummer and a strong heat. I was a little girl and spent it with my father and grandfather in my country house. We were having lunch, a radio was playing quietly. Suddenly the music stopped abruptly and a woman’s voice said, “Vladimir Vysotsky has died”. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandfather answered, “That’s a great poet”.
Interestingly, I recalled that moment 8 years later, in 1988, when people started to talk about Vladimir Vysotsky openly. The programmes about him appeared on the central TV, there were publications in the press, and the famous exhibition was opened at the VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy). That was the time when I learned more about Vladimir Vysotsky’s work. I listened to his songs and just got lost in them. When I was young, I did not understand the depth of his lyrics but I was fascinated by the power of his voice, his energy, and his extraordinary human and masculine charm. Already as an adult, I also discovered the universe of his poetic talent.
Vladimir Vysotsky lived only 42 years. It is difficult to believe that he hasn’t been with us for exactly the same period of time. On the eve of the Day of Memory of Vladimir Vysotsky, I had the honor to talk with his son named Nikita Vysotsky who is an actor, film director, scriptwriter, and Director of the Vysotsky House on Taganka museum.
– Nikita, please, could you share your memories of your father with us?
– Too much time has passed and too much has been said by me and other people about my father. However, I still have recollections of my past. We lived on Shvernik Street at that time. My father and his mother, my grandmother named Nina, got that apartment after they moved there from Meshchanskaya Street. I remember winter and sledding with my grandmother. For some reason, two windows on our fourth floor were open. I remember my father in his white shirt and with his face soaped for shaving in one of them, and my mother in the other, the kitchen window. Both of them were waving to me. I can still recall that scene. I must have been three or more years old.
– Were you closer to your father than to your mother?
– No, but, as a teenager, I was drawn to my father as it often happens to all boys in that age. I really liked being with him and going to the Taganka Theatre. I liked the way he was dressed, the way he joked. I wanted to spend more time with my dad.
– What about your brother Arkady? Are you different in terms of your characters?
– Arkady is older than me and he always received more attention as the firstborn child. Of course, we are different. When looking at my children (I have four children), I notice that they are all very different too. However, of course, each of them resembles me in some way.
– You were 16 years old when Vladimir Vysotsky died. Did you understand the greatness of his personality at the time?
– No, I didn’t understand that at all. I just never asked myself about that. I saw that he was famous and that he had a lot of fans. After visiting theatres, we had to run quickly to get into a car and drive away. I remember the poster at the Rossiya Cinema with my father’s close-up portrait from How Czar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor. He seemed to be dark-skinned there but for some reason he was painted in purple colours on the poster. People stopped, looked at the picture, and said, “Vysotsky is starring in it. We need to watch it”. I saw that but didn’t understand a lot. I liked watching him performing in the theatre, for example, in Hamlet or in The Cherry Orchard. After my father died, everything changed. The death of a person close to you is always a shock. When you are 16 years old and you see how many people came to say goodbye to your father, a lot changes. I learned a lot about my father from other people and from his friends seeing that I needed some explanations...
– What did they tell you about?
– They told me about my father, theatre, and the reason of things. Many people communicated with me because they understood that it was necessary for me. When my father died, his mother and my grandmother Nina felt very bad. We decided that I should live with her. She was already an elderly person. No matter what we talked about, our dialogues finished with talking about my father. That’s how I filled the gaps in my knowledge about my father.
– Was it tough for you to learn more about him?
– No, I really wanted that. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand everything and I probably still don’t understand a lot of things. However, at that time, I had a need to know as much as I could about my father. And a lot of people wanted the same and turned to his colleagues in the theatre.
When the Taganka Theatre started working on the play titled ‘Vladimir Vysotsky’, my father’s poems appeared there. The first version of the play was based on them. I talked to Valery Zolotukhin and Veniamin Smekhov and they told me how people reacted. These people had worked in the theatre together with my father for 16 years. They seemed to know everything about one another: they were friends despite some temporary argues, they toured and rehearsed together. Interestingly, it turned out that they didn’t know 80% of my father’s works. That wasn’t a sign of disrespect, of course. Yuri Lyubimov didn’t know those works either. At that time, he discovered my father’s poems and songs he hadn’t heard before.
– How was that possible?
– My father often sang and was a generous man in that sense. But he didn’t show some works and some works were not fully understood by his colleagues. Moreover, they were often too busy with themselves. In addition, concert activity was not very welcome in the theatre. They believed that the actor is busy with some ‘hack job’.
– Were they jealous?
– Indeed, they were. In terms of earnings too. A lot of things became clear not only for me but also for other people after my father’s death. People discovered poems that no one knew about. Those were several dozen poems. Only two or three people who dealt with his archives had probably known about those works. We wanted to make an exhibition about that and call it ‘40 Years Without Vysotsky’. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made its adjustments to our plans. This project was supposed to show previously unknown facets of Vladimir Vysotsky’s life and work discovered only after his death. For example, it would be about my father’s novel (‘A Novel about Girls’), scripts, friends, and his place in literature, theatre, and cinema. The Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky gave my father his collection of poems with an autograph. He wrote the following message: “To the best poet of Russia, both inside and outside of it”. I learned about that only after my father's death.
– Did Vladimir Vysotsky approach his poems seriously?
– On the one hand, he approached his poetic works rather frivolously. He wrote them down anywhere: on the flyleaf of a book, on a torn paper, on a napkin... We had many such artifacts. Unfortunately, not all of them have survived to this day.
On the other hand, my father treated his work very responsibly. He was constantly working on the texts and permanently modified or edited them. Many of his works exist in several editions. He wrote poems, then started performing them, and changed something in the process. Not all changes were documented in manuscripts: often the last versions can be heard only in his songs. Nevertheless, my father had an archive and it survived.
At the end of his life, three people came to Vladimir Vysotsky. They wanted to make a samizdat collection of his works. Vysotsky put his manuscripts in a string bag, weighed them (they turned out to be 3.5 kilos), and gave them. That resulted in a two-volume samizdat book. My father had a copy but then it disappeared: it was stolen. Probably, someday it will be found. That is a rare case when Vladimir Vysotsky himself prepared his poems and songs for printing.
I still have a few variants of the typewritten lyrics with corrections and handwritten alterations that my father made when making the LP record. And when he and Mikhail Shemyakin were recording 15-year-old songs on audio, he wrote cheat sheets with the lyrics for himself not to get confused in front of the microphone.
– After your father’s death, you had so much information, so many friends many of whom were not really friends. How did you manage to make sense of it all?
– I’ve never judged anyone, I'm not an investigator. At some time, I listened to everyone and tried to put the stories together. As the years went by, I realized that each person had his or her own version. That’s a huge amount of information, not even lies but just versions of this or that event. Sometimes my father himself told about the same things in different ways. I learned to cope with that. Biographers work with memories by relating and ‘tying’ them to things that cannot be interpreted in another way. There is a whole science about that area of work. At our museum, we have the OVIR case given to us about 25 years ago. It is only about entering and leaving different places with the dates of those facts.
– You wanted to be an actor while your father was still alive. However, you never admitted that. Why?
– I loved theatre and now I’m speaking not only about the Taganka Theatre. I went to theaters a lot. I had not-so-great experience of being an amateur actor. However, if my father had survived July 25, 1980 (author’s note: date of Vysotsky’s death), I would have never dared to go in for acting. After my father passed away, I looked at many things from a completely different perspective. I realized: that was the only thing I wanted.
– What other possible professional path did you have? Could you become a journalist?
– I was briefly acquainted that profession ‘with no mutual love’. I went to school at the Moscow State University where a friend of mine was studying. It didn’t work out. I had a choice of two institutions where athletes were admitted (author’s note: Nikita Vysotsky was a basketball player): one of the medical universities and the geological one. I considered geological exploration as one of my possible career paths. However, I entered the Moscow Art Theatre School and became an actor, just like my father used to be.
– Do you often listen to his songs?
– Sometimes I listen to them at difficult moments. Sometimes I have to, because someone else by my side is listening to or singing it. In addition to being Vladimir Vysotsky’s son and director of a museum dedicated to him, I’m also his fan. I listen to my father’s songs with pleasure and I don’t divide them into those I like or dislike.
I loved the way he told jokes, I was laughing laughed so hard when listening to them. I tried to repeat the joked afterwards, but I couldn’t do it that way. I really like his joke songs. Just the other day, I listened to one of them.
There are a lot of songs that relate to some periods in my life. Once I was driving from Saint Petersburg. I had been driving for two nights and I felt that I was falling asleep. I opened the window, it was fifteen degrees below zero, inserted a CD, and sang along with my father’s song the entire way. That’s how he accompanied me to Moscow.
– What do you think about other singers performing Vladimir Vysotsky’s songs?
– I’m okay with that. The main thing is that their singing should be good. There’s a myth that Vladimir Vysotsky didn’t like other people singing his songs. That’s not true. He didn’t like when his songs were sung badly. The way Mark Bernes sang Brotherly Graves in the film ‘I Come from Childhood’ can probably be called a good performance that my father liked. I believe that the same applies to Anatoly Papanov’s, Ludmila Gurchenko’s, or Nikolay Gubenko’s singing. In a word, he liked GOOD performances. As we say in Russia, songs live as long as you want to sing them!
– As we know, your father had many friends...
– He was a man of passion, and there were people who suddenly appeared and became his best friends. Then they suddenly disappeared: they quarreled or simply never communicated again. Vladimir Vysotsky had very close relationships with many people, for example, with Ivan Dykhovichny (author’s note: actor, director, screenwriter). At some moment, they seemed to be as close as family members. However, they suddenly separated themselves from one another. He had many old friendly ties. However, many of his friends didn’t know one another. They met one another only at my father’s funeral. There was a period when my father was very good friends with Valery Zolotukhin. My father mentioned him as a close friend. In my system of selecting information related to my father, I try to trust his own words more. Unfortunately, people tend to lie a lot…
– Which of your father’s friends were particularly involved in your fate?
– I was on good terms with Vsevolod Abdulov (author’s note: actor, friend of Vladimir Vysotsky) until he died and with Valery Zolotukhin. I still keep in touch with Vadim Tumanov (author’s note: goldsmith, friend of Vladimir Vysotsky). Konstantin Mustafidi (author’s note: radio engineer, advisor to the Deputy Minister for Communication, friend of Vladimir Vysotsky), who was less involved in the media. Like Mikhail Shemyakin, he recorded my father’s songs. High-quality recordings of that time have survived. I communicated with different people in different ways. However, now there are not many of them left.
As a very young man, I took part in a film with an actress who had once worked with my father. That helped me reveal previously unknown part of his life. That wasn’t an affair, just a part of life with different relationships, with a different set of people I didn’t know anything about.
I don’t single out anyone from among my father's friends. It was his business. If he said that Valery Zolotukhin was a friend, then he was a friend. At the funeral, Yuri Lyubimov said, “Our duty is to take care of his children”. Some of my father’s friends really tried to help both me and my brother. I know that I can still turn to my father’s friends and they will do anything I ask.
– In the late 1980s, Vladimir Vysotsky was finally ‘legalized’. Do you remember what it was like?
– When my father died, I think it was only reported in the Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper. It published a short obituary. Probably, Sovetskaya Kultura also did but I didn’t see it. There was a mass of people at the funeral and a sea of flowers. Then cars washed all the flowers away. The living wall with the poetic dedications, which actually gave start to our museum, was ordered to be removed. Everybody forgot everything. It seemed there was nothing left.
Then Yuri Lyubimov started doing a play based on Vladimir Vysotsky’s songs and poems without asking anyone. He did it pretty quickly. The Commission on Artistic Heritage appeared. It included many worthy people, for example, Robert Rozhdestvensky, whom we should thank for the first book of poems titled Nerve. In 1981, there was also a TV programme, in which Leonid Utyosov answered the question “Which of today’s singers do you like?” in the following way: “I like people who understand what they are singing about: Joseph Kobzon, Alla Pugacheva, and Vladimir Vysotsky”. That was a wonder for those days: he mentioned Vladimir Vysotsky on central television and no one removed that. The film (author’s note: Four Meetings with Vladimir Vysotsky) by Eldar Ryazanov was shot in 1987 and released on the 50th anniversary of Vladimir Vysotsky. That’s when Kinopanorama was also released. There was also a two-part film made by the theatre critic Natalia Krymova, wife of Anatoly Efros. In a word, everything led to recognition of Vladimir Vysotsky.
In the first years after my father’s death, there were a lot of samizdat editions. People continued to collect his records and French records began to appear. However, the official recognition took place only in 1988. On the 50th anniversary of Vladimir Vysotsky, the decision was made to give him the State Prize for the role of Gleb Zheglov in the movie titled ‘The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed’. It is the rarest case when the state award is given so many years after the actor’s death... That was a signal. After that, people began to publish my father’s works. A huge amount of ‘pirated’ and legal music, literary editions, memoirs, and concerts became available to people. It was my father’s fate to be unpublished during his lifetime. When he wanted to join the Union of Writers of Russia, they advised him to prepare a publication. He began to write a children’s poem to be published in the Pioneer magazine. But he was rejected and he never finished it.
– How did you become the head of the museum dedicated to Vladimir Vysotsky?
– I was not a supporter of the idea of the museum from the very beginning. I thought it was wrong and found my father and a museum incompatible. I believed that manuscripts and documents should be given to the State Archives and his belongings and the library should go to the A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum. But there were people who said we needed to create a museum. After all, there used to be a fan club where people would gather, talk about Vladimir Vysotsky, and listen to his songs... Then my grandmother Nina and my grandfather Semyon, his parents, told me and my brother that we should take on the museum. They wanted to leave what belonged to them to the state. The building was expected to be demolished and it was hard to call what we had a museum. I thought I would become its director for no longer than a year and a half or appoint a deputy to replace me. But things happened in a different way. Last year was the 25th anniversary of me working as a director here.
– Did that happen because no one can run the museum better than you do?
– That's not the point. My being in charge of the centre gives additional opportunities to the museum. I not only asked authorities to allocate money for the exhibition, which many gallerists call the best project of the decade. I arranged the museum the way I wanted. I did what I thought was right and all was forgiven. This was a result that would have been hard for an ordinary manager to achieve. Despite all the tremendous help from the Moscow government and Yuri Luzhkov, we faced a number of difficulties. In a fairly short period of time, it is almost impossible to create a museum from scratch. That concerns the scientific part, funds, the museum’s own audience, exhibitors, and contacts. In that respect, I managed to achieve many things as Nikita Vysotsky, not as an effective manager.
– You have coped with everything perfectly!
– Half of any museum’s visitors are schoolchildren. They are distracted by anything, tease the guide, use their gadgets all the time, play around, and sadly wait for the end of the excursion. We made an interesting and modern exposition where children see that they can interact with exhibits, which makes it more exciting for them to visit our museum. Our exhibition keeps up with today’s society and today’s time.
– Does the museum have a small staff?
– We have 41 employees and some people think that’s pretty many. We need to describe every exhibit, create a reference point for people to easily navigate. We have Yuri Kulikov, a person who knows everything about Vladimir Vysotsky. Today, we are preparing his book for publication and I hope everything will work out. Yuri Kulikov is also responsible for the photographic fund. We have to describe and date every photo from the collection. We have over 12 thousand of them.
I used to have a deputy for science. We also used to hold conferences here including international ones. Andrey Krylov has done a lot for the museum. He came because Vladimir Vysotsky’s parents asked him and he worked with me for over 10 years. He is one of the leaders of the Amateur Song Club. That work used to be supervised by the Komsomol Central Committee and this movement is still alive today. I have recently come from the Grushinsky Festival. Andrey Krylov knew Vladimir Vysotsky in person and was one of the three people to whom my father gave 3.5 kilos of manuscripts. And he also worked in the same Commission on Artistic Heritage where his main duty was to prepare my father’s manuscripts for publication. That’s how the famous two-volume book was prepared. My grandfather Semyon financed if. Andrey Krylov worked for free and took only a few copies for himself.
– July 25 is the 42nd anniversary of Vladimir Vysotsky’s death. What events are planned to pay tribute to his memory?
– We have a small hall for 140 people at the museum. There will be song marathons and some programmes. On July 25, the museum will be open free of charge. This day has become a traditional date for many people to come here after the cemetery. Some of them also go to the house on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street and the monument on Petrovka Street.
Some events on that date will also take place in Lipetsk: I know exactly, I wrote down the address. I will go to Kaliningrad where there is a community of people who love Vladimir Vysotsky. They invited me to the opening of the library named after my father. Many people in Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg, and other cities hold memorial actions. Almost all major cities and some small towns have companies somehow related to Vladimir Vysotsky. In Samara, a new ice palace was built on the place of the stadium where my father had performed in 1967. The facility will also be named after Vladimir Vysotsky. We also want to finally carry out the 40 Years Without Vysotsky project. I hope we’ll manage to do that by the 45th anniversary of my father’s death.
– What would you like to wish our readers?
– I wish everyone all the best and kindest in your future endeavors. Today, we’re talking about Vladimir Vysotsky. Let’s recall the past, the time of terrible things and so many good things. We had Bulat Okudzhava, Andrey Tarkovsky, Yuri Lyubimov, and Oleg Efremov. We had Vladimir Vysotsky... Let us always remember the good people! July 25 is an occasion to remember two of them. This is the day of death of Vladimir Vysotsky and his Day of Memory. July 25 also marks the birthday of Vasily Shukshin.
Interview by Svetlana Yurieva
Photos by Vladimir Sabadash
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov