Karel Kahovec & Flamengo: Poprava Blond Holky (Supraphon, 1967)

26 May

Poprava Blond Holky is a product of the Prague Spring in every way, from its driven freakbeat sound to its strange folk-tale like lyrical content, which reads as an allegory of unaccountable power seen through the lens of Edgar Allan Poe or a Brothers Grimm story. The use of fairy-tales as material for songs was fairly common, perhaps because this material was perceived as ‘safe’ yet could still be made to carry other meanings: The Rebels’ Šípková Růženka (Sleeping Beauty) and Petr Novak’s Kraska a Zvire (Beauty and the Beast) are only two examples. Helena Vondráčková and Vaclav Neckar even starred in a musical fairy-tale film, Šíleně Smutná Princezna (Madly Sad Princess), one of many produced by Czech film studios. The lyric in Flamengo’s song certainly seems to have some connections with this lineage:

Katův sluha volá, že se právě koná,
poprava blond holky, která byla svolná,
a za kousek stříbra šla prej s každým spát,
ubohá, á-á-á, vždyť já jí měl tolik rád.

Ví snad ňákej soudce, proč se dala svíst,
jak je bídně holce, nemá-li co jíst.

Kněz už ruce spíná, málo času zbývá,
nad hlavou blond holky sekera se zdvíhá,
holka hlavu sklání, když v tom volám stát,
ubohá, á-á-á, vždyť já jí měl tolik rád.

Ví snad ňákej soudce, proč se dala svíst,
jak je bídně holce, nemá-li co jíst.

Král však povel dává, a blond hlava padá,
škoda je tý holky, byla ještě mladá,
i když žila v hříchu, měla právo žít,
ubohá, á-á-á, v nebi je jí možná líp.

The full meaning of this strange blend of folktale and political allegory in Ivo Plicka’s text is unclear and this English version is riddled with guesswork, some bits of it more firmly based than others: it may have been a device to smuggle in a comment on the abuse of power while leaving the song easy to interpret as being directed at Western or pre-Communist rule (the girl is killed because the state has been usurped by “those who own everything” with the aid of a priest and corrupt, apathetic  judges) or perhaps it really is nothing more than a fairy-tale story reworked into a big beat context. Whatever the intentions, the lyric is surprising in relation to the feel of the music, and this is one case where having an idea about what the lyric means complicates rather than instantly illuminates the experience of hearing the song. A live version (filmed at 1967’s Beat Festival in Prague) can be heard here.  

Poprava Blond Holky (A Blonde Girl’s Execution)

(after Karel Kahovec/Ivo Plicka, 1967)

The hangman’s servant holds the executioner’s calls
for the blonde girl is to be killed at noon today:
as her wishes pass like silver from hand to hand
she makes her final choice: to sleep again.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The priest lifts a hand, waves a desultory cross,
the axe is raised, already, above her head;
she wonders where the law and the state have gone
when the owners of everything can kill a girl.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The king gives command and her blonde head falls,
the body of a girl – still young – lies still:
though a judge had decreed she was living in sin
she’d as much right to her life as anyone.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The hangman’s servant held the executioner’s calls
for the blonde girl was killed today, by law;
when those pieces of silver passed from hand to hand
she made her final wish: to sleep again.

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