July 1, 2013: Think totalitarians are dull boys (and girls) who wear matchey matchey duds, never quaff cocktails or croon torch tunes in the wee small hours? If so, you're wrong. No need for shame though. I thought the same. Until I found a copy of The Swingin' Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings! in a box of old records at a junk store.
At first I figured it was some sort of spoof production. Lenin sings? Yeah, right. Maybe in his shower after rolling out a little Red Terror. But no. Lenin did cut a record (actually, a wax cylinder) in 1922, around the time he became premiere of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union). After Lenin's death in '24, the album disappeared into a memory hole dug by his successor, Joseph Stalin.
Luckily for lovers of pop culture esoterica, the master somehow survived...
After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually emerged as head of the single party USSR. In '56, he delivered his famous Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, ripping Stalin and the personality cult that let Stalin be Stalin. Among other things, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for expanding the use of the term “enemy of the people” to include Party officials who disagreed with Stalin. Thereby putting them in the same non-human, expendable category as, say, kulaks-- those Greedy Gus peasants who resisted having their farms collectivized.
Khrushchev also distributed copies of Lenin's Testament at the Congress. Lenin wrote it in late 1922, after being been laid low by a stroke. Death was on the way. In the Testament, Lenin assessed various Party biggies with an eye to future leadership. No thumbs up for Stalin. Lenin dished "Comrade" Stalin's “rudeness” and “capricious temper” and suggested he be booted from his position as Secretary-General of the Party's Central Committee.
Until recently few knew Lenin's Testament wasn't the only thing Khrushchev distributed; he also passed out remastered vinyl copies of The Swingin' Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!
What motivated Khrushchev to include the record? Did he hope hearing Lenin sound so presciently Rat Pack would make rude boy Stalin seem totally yesterday?
Whatever. The album stands on its own as a pop music classic. Lenin delivers the goods from first cut to last, opening with a subversively scat-shattered version of Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band and closing with a high octane, finger-snapping delivery of Cole Porter's little known Ha, Ha, They Must Sail for Siberia. Twixt Berlin & Porter, Vlad turns sad. Waxing middle-of-the-night moody with lush ballads-- including one written by himself titled What is to Be Done (When your Lover Leaves).
Though copyright laws make it impossible to include cuts from Swingin' Totalitarian, I've reproduced the album's cover, a gatefold hinged at Lenin's waist with identical images front and back. The doubled Lenin is shown lounging at the type of bar typically found in suburban basement rec rooms. (Swingin' was recorded at Lenin's dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.) Those octopus-like suckers sprouting from his head? Symbolic. As said, the record was cut 'round the time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.
Interestingly, the graphic from Lenin's album surfaced in altered form during the late 1960's as an advertisement for Romanov Vodka. Not to be confused with the Romanov Vodka currently being marketed by the India-based UB Group, the Romanov Vodka that featured Lenin in its ads was produced in Romania under the aegis of Nicolae Ceausescu. A swingin' totalitarian in his own right...
Next in the Swingin' Totalitarian series: Mao Wow! The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Zedong
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Send comments or confidential tips to: