Saturday, May 29, 2010

CZECH'D OUT: PETR MUK dead at 45

It's a sad day when an artist dies, and an even sadder one when anyone stoops to a pun on the word "czech." Petr Muk (February 4, 1965 - May 24, 2010) sang music that really doesn't need translation. After all, music is the universal language, and if we love instrumentals in which a guitar or a piano covers the notes, why not the human voice, regardless of what language it's speaking? Petr was found dead at home, a suicide. He was known to have had problems over the years with depression.

Ironically his death comes just as his first album in five years arrived. The past five years have included a variety of ups and downs including the birth of his youngest (of three daughters) Naomi and the 2007 death of composer Karel Svoboda which deeply affected him). Last year Muk enjoyed great success with a live concert in Prague (or Praha as it's known to the natives). The new album is of "V Bludisti Dnu," which loosely translates as "The Maze Days." The latest was filled with other-wordly, spiritual and contemplative concerns (translated titles include "Under the Black Sun," "House in the Clouds," "Seeking Heaven," "Remember" and "Wind In My Face.")

Muk first achieved success as a member of Ocean (they had several platinum albums in Europe between 1985 and 1992 and was sometimes compared to The Cure and Depeche Mode). Then he led Shalom (the mid 90's and more platinum). Shalom, as the name implies, had Jewish roots, and Muk wore a yarmulka on stage, though he wasn't a Jew. He attended the study group Bejt Simcha, run by Sylvie Wittmann. Sylvie always welcomed Gentiles to the "havurah": "There are people who identify themselves with Jews through the chimneys of Asuchwitz. Some of them have ancestors who suffered in the Holocaust. then there are people who feel like outsiders within local society They are oversensitive, intellectual, and so on. Somehow, somewhere they find a Jewish ancestor. That qualifies their 'otherness.' There are a lot of people like this. There are people who do not have a Jewish ancestor, and are not searching for a Jewish ancestor, but for whom it is interesting to be connected with mysticism, something spiritual that is not necessarily Christianity…" but since Judaism is the root of Christianity…well, there is plenty in Prague (where Petr Muk died) when it comes to Jewish historical sites and study. The area's skinheads were, and are, bent on reviving antisemitism and hatred, and sometimes attended Shalom concerts just to heckle the band. Czechoslovakia was certainly one of the many countries that did very little to save their Jewish citizens during World War II. Over 50,000 Slovak Jews were sent to Nazi death camps in 1942 alone, and during the Communist years that followed, 70,000 names of slaughtered Jews were removed from the walls of Prague's Pinkas Synagogue to pretend the atrocities didn't happen.

Petr emerged as a solo artist in 1996 and in his long-haired mode, had a huge hit with the ballad "Stin Katedral," which has a slight R.E.M. feel to it in its beauty and monotony (and the Czech back-up girls go "ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhhh.) You get a live version of it below. Other hits for him include Bon Soir, Mademoiselle Paris, Ted zastav cams and Rachel 2007.

His first four releases (Petr Muk, 1997, Scars of Love, 2000, Touch the Dream, 2002 and The Fate of the Palms, 2005) all went either gold or platinum. His tours in the Czech Republic were legend, and DVDs of his performances were also in high demand. His latest is probably going to be a huge seller as well.

Considering how easily this blog offends the "English as a second language" bunch, tributes to foreign-language performers who have died are now restricted to a maximum of one or two puns. The first one was used up on "Czech" in the header, leaving you to Muk up another one on your own.

PETR MUK - Stin Katedral Instant download or listen on line.


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Anonymous said...

I am married to a Czech native and spend at least one month a year in the Czech Republic. Petr Muk's music was and still is huge there. I think you hit on what is important with your comment about how music trascends language.

One need not speak Czech to hear the good in his voice. I pray that he has finally found true Shalom now.....Na Shledanou Petr!!! RIP