Valery Skorov Finds His Muse in Chicago’s “Garbage”

July 25 was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980), the beloved Russian bard whose unmistakably gravely voice has sounded in these pages twice before. “Beloved” is putting it mildly: Vysotsky’s songs were the soundtrack to the late Soviet experience, the most gut-wrenchingly direct expression of the passions and frustrations of several generations of Russian-speaking people. I could post long entries on any number of his performances, but I thought I’d honor his memory indirectly by sharing a song by a far less recognized bard, Valery Skorov (1941-2001), who began writing songs in earnest after Vysotsky’s death. In fact, it was the shock of that news that inspired him.

The Novosibirsk-born and Leningrad-educated Skorov had immigrated to Chicago earlier in 1980, and he would remain in the States until 1993. In that time he wrote a lot, performed frequently, but only recorded a handful of songs; his one full-length cassette, from 1987, was titled Another Poet Has Passed (In Memory of V. Vysortsky), and his name seems to have been misspelled on the label (Snorov). One of the tracks on that album, based on his poem “Garbich” — a phonetic rendering of the Russian pronunciation of “garbage” — wittily dignifies the poverty of newly arrived refugees. Skorov’s words brought back memories of my own family’s first years in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, his growling performance testifies to Vysotsky’s outsize imprint on Russian culture.

Garbich

Whenever I remember
my first days as an immigrant,
I cannot help but shiver
and blush up to my ears;
my cultivated countrymen
from Moscow and from Leningrad
would pick their way through garbich,
embarrassing their kids.

Yes, to a new arrival —
unseasoned, inexperienced —
this strictly foreign custom
is hard to comprehend.
The bourgeoisie’s decaying —
they’re simply tossing out stuff
that no amount of money
could ever buy back home.

Color TVs and dishware,
new mattresses in plastic,
the latest styles in furniture,
crisp linens in clean bags.
How could the poor not waver,
confronted with such bounties?
What was the point of suffering
and packing up with their rags?

So off they go, my countrymen,
bent under heavy loads,
huffing, puffing, groaning,
on alien streets and roads.
This custom is convenient
for any needy immigrant
until he makes a killing
and earns his first cool million.


Гарбич

Когда я вспоминаю
Период эмиграции,
Меня бросает в краску,
Меня бросает в дрожь;
Культурнейшие люди,
Москвичи и ленинградцы,
Ночами шли по гарбичу,
Смущая молодёжь.

Да, человеку новому,
Ещё не искушённому,
То дело заграничное
Не так легко понять.
Буржуи разлагаются,
Вещичками швыряются,
Такими, что на родине
За деньги не достать.

Цветные телевизоры,
Матрацы в упаковочке,
Посуда, мебель стильная
И чистое бельё.
Ну, как не дрогнуть бедному
В подобной обстановочке.
Напрасно дома мучились,
Везли своё шмотьё.

И вот идут родимые,
Сгибаясь под добычею,
По стритам и по роудам,
Не сдерживая стон.
Для эмигранта бедного
Удобен их обычай,
Пока не заработал он
Свой первый миллион.

11 thoughts on “Valery Skorov Finds His Muse in Chicago’s “Garbage”

    1. It really does, Kaggsy! An odd thing to remember fondly, but I know I do — as do friends from similar backgrounds with whom I’ve shared it. Despite everything, this was our childhood, adolescence, or youth, and things worked out well enough!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The embarrassment is real. And that includes shopping for your clothes at a Salvation Army as a child. Those were difficult times. Now of course, I love thrift stores! 🙂 Good to read this Boris.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You said it, Lois: it was strange to go from being bullied for wearing cheap clothes to seeking them out a few years later. Thank you as always, my friend, for reading with an open heart!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to write, Sheila! I’m glad to introduce you to Skorov. The link to his performance of “Grabich” will lead you to some other recordings, too!

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  2. Boris,
    Thank you for sharing Skorov’s poem or a song with us. It was so many years ago, and we all went through the “garbage” leaving at home beautiful things.
    It was fine, we came to this country and worked, and raised children, and travel and had a great life. Garbage was just a abeginning of a wonderful life in this country.
    I remenber Valera and Luda, his wife ,and our “POSIDELKI” and their house with a non stop poertry and singinging, and having nice friends, some of them inckuding Valera who are no longer with us.
    But the memories of these wonderful times and the people we have shared the happy days are with us.
    Ada

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ada, I can’t thank you enough for these wise, beautiful words, and for your memories of Skorov! I’m deeply moved by the thought that, thanks to you, my post is separated by a single degree from the author of this memorable song-poem. I wish I could have joined you at those “posidelki,” but I was in Odessa before 1991, and in Los Angeles after that — and would probably have been to young to appreciate it fully, anyway. But I certainly appreciate Skorov’s ageless lyrics now.

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  3. Hello Boris, I am so grateful for your elegant writing about Valery Skorov, my good friend! I know that he would have been very happy to see your reflections, especially in connection with Vladimir Vysotsky. Valery was one of the magnets of our Chicago Russian-speaking community through the entire decade of 1980s and early 1990s. I have many fond memories of Valery and suspect that my archive (that I have not touched for many years) has many recordings of Valery reading his poetry and singing his songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yefim, your wonderful comment warms my heart! It’s difficult for me to express how grateful I am to have reached readers who knew Skorov and feel a personal connection to his poems and songs. Thank you very, very much for taking the time to write. I hope you do find some recordings in your archive and find a way to share them with the world!

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