The Soviet Union has formed a commission to honor the late Vladimir Vysotsky, signaling that the popular folk singer and poet, whose works were barely tolerated under the government of Leonid Brezhnev, is being ushered officially from the underground to the front ranks of contemporary Soviet artists.
The formation of the commission of poets and other literary figures, announced by the news agency Tass today, marks the rehabilitation of Vysotsky and a triumph for the growing number of fans who listen to his music on informally recorded cassettes.
Vysotsky's death in 1980 at the age of 42 was reported in one short obituary notice in a Moscow newspaper, but thousands of people lined up at a theater where his wake was held. Although he was a popular actor on the stage and in films, his fans were most enthusiastic about his underground songs that satirized every aspect of Soviet life, using earthy language of the workers and young people.
During Vysotsky's life, authorities frowned on him for several reasons. His subjects -- the downhearted, the gritty sides of life and the victimized -- reflect a grim reality that is not supposed to exist here. His songs did not embrace officially sanctioned themes like constructing socialism, and his popularity was so overwhelming that it may have threatened officials.
Chaired by poet Robert Rozhdestvensky, the commission includes poet Bella Akhmadulina, the musician's father Semyon Vysotsky and several other noted poets and artists, Tass said.
Its establishment climaxes years of personal efforts for recognition of Vysotsky, whose concerts were unpublicized and whose music was never officially recorded in his lifetime. Last November, a monument was erected at his grave, a popular gathering place for fans, showing a poet bound in chains.
A new film featuring some of Vysotsky's songs and depicting dissident Soviet musician Andrei Makerevich's battle for acceptance has opened to packed houses, adding fuel to the debate about artistic freedom in the Soviet Union and how it will fare under party leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The movie, "Begin at the Beginning," was released here Monday after heavy censorship. It portrays Vysotsky's fate and asks whether his successors as satiric folk singers, too, will be forced to perform secretly and distribute their music on homemade cassettes.
According to Soviet film specialists, the release of the movie in itself indicates that some loosening is under way in the state-controlled Soviet film industry. Makerevich, the film's young star and protagonist, is a folk-rock bard in Vysotsky's mold who was attacked in the Soviet press and criticized as provocative until three years ago. His group, Time Machine, is still banned from the Soviet capital.
Despite the official recognition of Vysotsky, the fate of the singer portrayed in the movie and the censorship of the film itself suggest that it would be premature to describe the situation of artistic expression under Gorbachev as a thaw.
In the movie, officials and critics accuse the singer of leading Soviet youth into hooliganism and implore him to follow the example of his friends who have earned official acceptance -- and the state's permission to perform publicly -- by singing timeworn songs of another generation.
The singer rejects the request, aligns himself with underground poets and even defends Vysotsky's memory in a fist fight. He sticks with his own songs with their folk-style guitar music and lyrics that express a mixture of sad experiences, satire, close friendships and personal hopes.
"This film is about a talented man and how he must be surrounded by a moral environment to help him live," said Alexandre Stefanovich, the director. Stefanovich declined to discuss the censorship.