The beginnings of rock’n’roll were equally difficult in the countries of the socialist bloc, although Yugoslavia was not one of them. As in the Western countries and all over the world, almost everywhere miniskirts and long hair were condemned, repressed, locks were cut. In Yugoslavia, boys were persecuted even in the cities; much worse, miniskirt remained, for decades to come, the ‘reason’ for sexual assaults on girls and women. Early rock’n’roll belonged to the generation of my parents and to Saturday night dancing on terraces all over Yugoslavia – from the roof terrace of the Home of the Army in Belgrade to the terraces of workers’ vacation centres on the Adriatic Sea.
My mom certainly loved Elvis Presley more than I did. I began with the Beatles. Those more knowledgeable in my generation listened to Radio Luxembourg through the night, and as the market progressed in Yugoslavia, especially in the second half of the 60s, I was able to purchase the Beatles’ Revolverby post from Zagreb – and it was legal. In high school, the two classics classes organised a school contest to elect the most popular pop singer or group of 1965 – Rolling Stones, Beatles, or a larmoyantFrench singer, Adamo. I (with a huge group of aesthetically those most advanced) voted for the Beatles, the boys voted for Rolling Stones, but as the girls were the majority in the school, Adamo won... At least that was the first free vote in which I took part.
Things were changing quickly, and by the end of the 60s VIS (vocal-instrumental groups) were blooming everywhere, horrible sounds of beginners exploring their instruments and voices that could be heard from almost every cellar in Belgrade, especially from the new socialist buildings in Novi Beograd. The vinyls came out and soon became an industry and consequently a part of everyday life. Soon enough, the Anglo-American production swallowed the Italian and French howling and whispering – but there was a niche for this kind of music, connected closely with Dalmatian romantic song: This branch is still alive and well. VISs regularly appeared on TV, and some of them already had their own songs, not merely cover versions. During the 1968 student uprising in Belgrade, we sang protest songs, the kind that were known under the universal name of ‘Viet-nam ye-ye’. Yugoslav rock’n’roll did not show signs of social or political engagement. Basically, it was easier for the rebellious students to chant in English, which policemen by absolute majority could not understand.
Things radically changed in the last decade of Tito’s life: The Yugoslav president liked westerns, Hollywood actresses and actors, whiskey and cigars. He was not especially nervous about rock’n’roll, as long as the youth were ready to work, get driver’s licences and party in youth brigades on huge building projects like roads, dams, railways or local community necessities. In 1977, he visited North Korea and was deeply impressed by the people’s performances dedicated to the great leader. He obviously made it known to his entourage: Suddenly, the old socialist rituals became actual again, along with a music festival consecrated to the army and its segments, like the marines, air force and even infantry. The songs were patriotic and often mentioned Tito, and some of the performers were rock’n’roll groups. My generation considered this phenomenon a blatant insult, and a certain number of groups were ridiculed, losing some of their popularity. A later very popular poet and singer, Đorđe Balašević, had a hard time getting the public to forget about his participation in one of these festivals with a song ‘Count on us’.
When Tito died in 1980, his cult, including rock’n’roll traitors, continued. Long haired guys with guitars were chanting his name on TV, children’s TV shows had Tito everywhere. On New Year’s Eve 1980, when Tito was taken to the hospital, never to come out alive, the second program of the state TV aired a long show of young rockers in videos throwing flaming arrows at national monuments and other similarly provocative gags: Many just started dreaming of new times, but the cult of personality went on for a couple of years. In 1983, a very popular group from Bosnia & Herzegovina, White Button, released an album in which they used a silly festival song in Albanian, ‘Rock and Mandolin’: They sang it in Albanian, to a hard rock rhythm and in a completely different manner, so everybody understood it as support for rebellious Albanians in Kosovo.
Me too, I thought that rock’n’roll had got back its soul. Clever rock, theorising on punk culture and cynical minds was blooming when primitive nationalism exploded. Part of the rock’n’roll population followed that line, too. I turned to rock’n’roll history, since I first visited USA and took a taxi from airport to New York with a driver in his seventies, keeping rhythm with his foot to Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll over Beethoven’.