Top 10 rock n roll facts about Vaclav Havel

The top 10 rock n roll moments of Vaclav Havel
David Cameron reckons he’s a bit rock n roll but pretending to like the Smiths when you really like Phil Collins is in a different league from getting put in jail for liking the Rolling Stones…
1. When Havel got into power he asked Frank Zappa to be the Czech Minister of Culture. Frank Zappa was an idol to the Czech underground and became firm friends with Havel although declined the post which is a shame.
2. In the years of struggle against the communists Havel was a firm ally of the Czech band Plastic a people Of The Universe, who formed in 1970 and defied the men in grey with their psychedelic garage rock and naughty long hair in a country where the cops burned down rock venues and harassed artists and musicians. 
3. Havel was a big fan of The Velvet Underground and became very good mates with Lou Reed.
4. On a trip to New York as president he went on a night out and went straight  to CBGBS.
5. As President he would drive from meeting to meeting in the presidential palace on a kid’s buggy.
6. His favourite band was The Rolling Stones, which was very rock n roll in a country that made rock n roll illegal. I should know, I was meant to play a gig there in my old band The Membranes in 1987 and the promoter was in jail and the venue shut down, surely we were not that bad?
7. The Velvet Revolution, surely the most rock n roll revolution of them all which Gandhi would have been proud with its almost peaceful means in the late eighties was successful in removing the Russian backed regime. Even it’s name was good.
8. A poet playwright for president… A happy accident and a good argument for the counter culture.
9.  In 1997 at a John Zorn gig at the Knitting Factory in New York, Zorn told some over exited fans to shut up during his free jazz skronk set. It was Havel, then the President and Lou Reed.
10. He was also wise in a true poetic sense saying stuff like, ‘The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.’ which is a bit deeper than George Bush ever got. Oh and quit fittingly he also said, ‘I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.’

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. The Velvet Revolution… rock’n’roll… Gandhi… peaceful means… removing the Russian backed regime… CBGBS… Zappa…

    But is it rock’n’roll to eliminate the back story?… That is, the dire hardships that assailed most people in Czechoslovakia under the new dog-eat-dog post-Communist regime. The darker aspects of a system which continues to ruin countless lives throughout the world.

    Of course Havel appeals to those who would rather highlight the evils of communism and ignore the evils of capitalist totalitarianism. His struggle against the communists is undermined by his embrace of capitalism. He pushed for the privatization of the most lucrative aspects of the Czechoslovak state assets (previously nationalized by the communists) and lobbied for a NATO membership for his country (despite having promised the people who never forgot the 1968 invasion by the Warsaw pact armies to never-ever join any military pact). He also framed NATO members as the “democratic West”. And he never rejected the invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Palestine, the war against “terrorism” etc. The cunning West commanded, and he was their servant. Otherwise the West wouldn’t have been interested in honoring him. He was on the side of the reckless capitalists who exploited his country and made it their colony. He was so completely immune to real revolutionary thought and action.

    Instead of the traditional capitalist encomiums to Havel, I prefer this play that James Petras dedicated in memoriam of the man who impressed the Empire beyond the call of duty: httpss://

    It merits more attention.

    And I have also just recommended the comments posted by “The North Pole” last summer, here:

    The North Pole June 10th 2011, 17:32

    You continue to amuse us with extremely poor understanding of Polish society. Former communist ruling elite and confused elderly people don’t form 30-40% of society.

    Rising crime, soaring prices, crumbling government medical care, economic failure of whole rural provinces, extremely poor economic mobility and opportunitites of status rise in society are real. No wonder people are unhappy.

    Do you read nothing but Gazeta Wyborcza, Onet and TVN?

    The North Pole June 10th 2011, 17:17

    So, 32% Chechs and 47% Slovaks think their life in EU is no better or worse than under crumbling Communisms. A bucket of cold water, indeed.

    Reforms in East Blocks are superficial, and mantra that market economy and EU access solves all proved untrue. Czechs and Slovaks have lots to remember fondly – easy accesss to medical care, job safety, less corruption, no dog-eats-dog attitude is society, for example.

    The same is in Poland, and further east, independent survey found a huge increase of mortality after the fall of communism. Czech and Slovaks see their life much sharper than rosy “communist fell and all is ok” superficial view of Economist correspondents.


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