Unusually, we will not be switching countries in this episode but will stay in Slovenia instead. And for two reasons. Firstly, my home country celebrates its Day of Culture today. And secondly, only days before this national holiday back home, Marko Brecelj, a rocker rebel activist icon, and front-man of progressive psychedelic rock group Buldožer bought a priority ticket on the train for the Big Adios and joined the choir fantastic.
Both listeners might recall a few episodes back when this here show mourned the passing of Parni Valjak front-man Aki Rahimovski. It is more than a little ironic that one of the first acts of Parni Valjak was to be the warm-up act to Marko Brecelj’s Buldožer in 1976. By that time, Buldožer have already established themselves as the preeminent avant-prog act in the region. They frequently drew comparisons with Frank Zappa and Marko Brecelj, be it by design or coincidence, looked the part as well.
Buldožer were growing notorious for their on-stage excesses and freak-shows. Brecelj would regularly set his beard on fire and a scene where the band spat on Brecelj while he was in a wheelchair drew outrage and widespread condemnation from the, well, respectable parts of the society. Naturally, the pearl-clutchers of the time missed the fact that the band was in fact protesting the lip-service the state was paying to the needs of the handicapped. For their part, Buldožer and Brecelj proved once and for all that small-time pearl-clutching communist bourgeoisie was just as hypocritical and superficial as small-time pearl-clutching capitalist bourgeoisie.
Brecelj left Buldožer in 1979 to pursue a solo career. It turned out to be every bit as controversial and contrarian as his time with the band was. He was notorious for concerts that were as unpredictable as they were adventurous. He maintained his distaste for mainstream. At one gig, for example, he did a few numbers, then declared the gig to be “a people repellent concert” and proceeded to torture a violin for the rest of the gig. Nevertheless, his solo album Cocktail received widespread acclaim and recognition as a lyrical and musical masterpiece.
In the latter state of socialism Brecelj worked with many progressive bands. Most notablym he teamed up with shock-poet Ivan Volarič – Feo. But more on that a bit later. This is the part of his life where Brecelj started dabbling community work as well. He took over the Youth Cultural Centre in the port town of Koper, making it one of the hotbeds for young musical talents. Brecelj also continued his political and activism. For example, he founded the Society for Moderation in Progress, which he used to mock and perform satirical takedowns of petite bourgeoisie and the politics it entrenched.
Marko Brecelj was always something of a contrarian. At times it was difficult to understand where the act ended and his convictions began. If there ever was any difference between the two, that is. He loved to take aim at self-important politicians. Sometimes literally, with spit-balls, during press conferences. He called this approach “soft terrorism”. Most notoriously, in 2006 he invited over a group of American sailors on community outreach duty, only to tell them they are not hostages of his terrorist cell. Though they didn’t find it funny, the Americans weren’t terribly insulted. Which could not be said for Very Serious People in Slovenia, who were naturally appalled.
Meine schöne Vaterhaus domestische
Speaking of Very Serious People, they were just as shocked when Brecelj and Ivan Volarič Feo deconstructed a poem by France Prešeren. The unimpeachable Slovenian literary icon of 19th century, is the centerpiece of mainstream Slovenian identity. The national narrative venerates and idolizes him. Brecelj and Volarič, however, compared the horribly glorified Prešeren with that other obnoxiously Slovenian thing, labour migrants who come back home for holidays and think they’re somehow better than the backward social rejects at home. Obviously, people were insulted left and right. As planned. And as it so happens that Slovenia celebrates Prešeren Day on the day this episode is aired, their version of Vrbi (To Vrba) is a must.
Marko Brecelj shuffled off his mortal coil at the tender age of 71. Check out his music on YouTube, Spotify, or wherever you get you music from. Balkan Express will be back in two weeks’ time.
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Balkan Express takes weekly trips into contemporary musical production of the Balkans.