I have been steeping myself in short stories. It’s all part of the fun of an annual contest I enter, as much for the access it affords to the works of a multitude of creative writers as for the wacky assignments, deadlines and potential contest winnings.
It seems important to be reminded, at least annually, of the spectacular brilliance out there in the world of made-up stories. I have read some doozies.
One of the stories that’s lingered in my head is a historical fiction piece called “Records on Ribs.” If you’re my age and from Russia, you probably know exactly what the story is about. If you’re my age and from Texas, you may be thinking it’s a story about a barbecue cook-off, like I did.
In fact, it’s a well-crafted tale about the lengths Russians went to in order to listen to the music of The Beatles in the 1960s and ’70s, including recording boot-legged copies of Beatles records onto discarded x-ray films and distributing the copies through underground networks. Records on ribs. Get it?
It’s all true.
It seems The Beatles’ place in Soviet history is as catalysts for an erosion of authority in Russia that ultimately destroyed communism. Beatle music was, in the words of a Russian doctor still living in Minsk today, “A quiet revolution in our brains. We had it in our hearts.”
Russia’s Communist Party leader, Nikita Khrushchev, did not approve of The Beatles’ music. “It is not far from saxophones to switch blades,” he warned the Russian people.
But the people knew better. They had it in their hearts. And thus began a quiet revolution in their brains.
The Beatles’ music changed the way an entire generation of Russian people dressed, coiffed, spoke and regarded their government. The music produced a cultural revolution that ultimately destroyed the hold of the status quo east of the Iron Wall.
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They had it in their hearts, and so the revolution began quietly in their brains.
I am savoring this notion that people are changed by what they ponder in their hearts and know in their brains. It is giving me great comfort during this time of “health care waffling” and “don’t ask, don’t tell testifying” and “war-making worries in yet another Middle Eastern country.”
Just as the people of Russia knew the music they wanted to listen to was not leading to their demise, I want to believe people in the United States know in their hearts that a president who wants to save lives by increasing America’s access to health care is not driving the country toward Marxism.
Just as Soviet Beatles fans of the ’60s knew the style of their hair and the collars on their jackets did not make them “capitalist criminals,” I want to believe we the people of America in 2010 know the sexual preference of a soldier in the U.S. military is absolutely immaterial to the evaluation of that person’s ability to serve the country.
And just as Russians watched with a sense of daring and excitement as Western culture seeped through the cracks in the wall of what had always been, I cling to the hope that citizens of the U.S. are willing to fearlessly embrace a new kind of peacemaking in the world – one that gives life, not death.
What really happens when we listen to our hearts and use our brains?
The writer of “Records on Ribs” inspired me with this beautiful sentence about her Russian characters: “Our government is changed because its children heard the music.”
Find your groove, America. Listen to the music of your heart. Let the quiet revolution begin in your brain.
Jan Chapman is a former broadcast journalist, a storyteller and a blogger. She is a member of Church of the Savior, a UCC congregation with Baptist roots in Austin, Texas. She blogs at Thinking in Peaces.