Olympic: Psychiatrický Prášek (Supraphon, 1967)

31 May

Although taken from their 1968 debut LP, Zelva (The Tortoise – on which Psychiatrický Prášek is the long closing track) Olympic and its main songwriters, Petr Janda and Pavel Chrastina, were already veterans on the Czech beat scene when it appeared, the band having originally formed in 1963 and played in many different line-ups (under both the Olympic name and as the backing band for a variety of singers) on dozens of singles before its release. Zelva is usually said to be the first LP by a rock group in Czechoslovakia and its appearance in early 1968 was certainly a landmark. The song represented here is perhaps the nearest to a standard Western-style rock lyric featured so far, though the precise intention behind its ambiguous meaning is unclear. Perhaps it’s a case of a songwriter taking a simple delight in the same kinds of thinly veiled drug-references beloved of British, Dutch and American bands in the same moment or perhaps there are more sinister implications in the song’s allusions to a man who might be saved from his own personal crises with ‘psychiatric powder’ or the hints that the lyric’s subject might be an addict or otherwise caught in a state of alienation . This may be why, for the entirety of the ‘normalisation’ period under Gustáv Husák, Olympic’s early records were removed from circulation, even though the band continued to perform and record, albeit in a far less inventive style. Those recordings nevertheless made them one of the most significant bands of their time and both Zelva and its follow-up, Pták Rosomák (The Wolf-Bird), are classics that deserve a far wider hearing than either has so far received in the West. The Czech lyric to Psychiatrický Prášek can be found here and a version of the song recorded at the 1967 Beat Festival in Prague can be heard here.

Psychiatrický Prášek (Psychiatric Powder)

(after Petr Janda/Pavel Chrastina, 1967)

He’s lost someone or something,
he’s confused and running around –
strangeness always overcomes him,
as he moves around this town.

He knows you’re only a bag of nerves,
he’s a bag of nerves himself,
but whenever he loses his aim and nerve
those bags are shaken out.

And it seems the obvious cure for this
might be something to eat, perhaps –
but then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

And look, he’s straining like a moth,
grinds his head inside a case –
the walls of a chrysalis made just for him
by doctors, dealers, friends.

But perhaps he’s missing something,
in all this confusion and decay –
strange ideas can overwhelm him
as he paces through the day.

He knows you’re only a bag of nerves,
he’s a bag of nerves himself,
but whenever he loses his aim and nerve
those bags are shaken out.

And it seems the obvious cure for this
would be something to eat, perhaps,
but then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

Yes, it seems the obvious cure for this
might be something to eat, perhaps.
But then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

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