Sweeten Your Coffee…

By: Andrew Sempere
July 16, 2010

Sweeten your coffee a little more
My banjo tune, and nothing else.
Celebrate Christmas alone
and come spring, we’ll count the wrinkles.

I can’t write about Karel Gott properly, and I’ve tried.

I can tell you facts, I can describe how  he worked his way up from a denied application to art school and a career as an electrician to selling 5 million copies of a single.

I can describe his collision course with politics, the fact that in 1977 he recorded a protest song in support of Jan Palach and then a year later signed the Anti-Charter, aligning himself (at least publically) with the Communist Party against all “backsliders and traitors.”

I could tell you that the motivating event in the creation of Charter 77 was the arrest of the Cezk punk band Plastic People of the Universe, and one of the signatories was none other than Václav Havel (whose 70th birthday Karel and his much younger wife attended in more recent, post-velvet-revolution times). This was an epic clash of high-stakes hi-lo, punk of the people versus the voice of the oppressors! But then again maybe it wasn’t. Maybe each time and place gets a trickster wrapped in the package most appropriate.

A quick YouTube survey will show you the phenomenal range of Gott’s career: Zdvořilý Woody recalls Jimmie Rodgers. Rot und Schwarz is a 1969 Slavic-style cover of the Rolling Stone’s Paint it Black.

Maybe the soft-around-the-edges Gott with his boyish smile and apparent naïveté simply borrowed bits of western culture as a distraction, a dilution to keep the restless masses sated. Perhaps he was deeply subversive, carrying memes from the Voice of America into the heart of Prague. Or perhaps he fed an appetite for The Other (on both sides of history and the iron curtain), shamelessly being none other than himself, loud and clear: Karel, the Golden Voice of Prague.

Mein Gott, that hair…

PS Thanks to JL for introducting me to the wonderful world of Karel Gott: Kávu si osladím!

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Art, Kudos, Spectacles

What do you think?

  1. This is awesome! I think you know way more about Karel than I do. And one day, you’ll have to visit that little Prague cafe in NYC, or wherever it was… Queens?

    An interesting video of his to search out is “It Takes a Worried Man,” which was a cover of one of… Presley’s songs? I think? It’s really hard to believe that kind of stuff was being performed in the iron-curtain age.

    I think too that a lot of what Karel did during those times (ie. signing the Anti-Charter) was probably needed, in order to stay popular with the current government. After all, if other bands were being arrested for certain activities, it seems plausible that he’d want to stay in favour – even if it meant “going with the flow.” Either way, he’s remained a timeless icon for the Czech people and is still popular.

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