Back in the USSR

I was very young when I first heard the White Album. The girl next door owned a copy, and  she came over to play it for me—a long playing record, or LP, something which has made a retro comeback these days.

I still have a bunch of LPs, archeological remains of the 1960s and 1970s, and they live in a large walnut chest I bought in Évora, a beautiful walled city in southern Portugal.

The chest is about eight feet long and weighs a ton. A couple of years ago I moved house—the movers complained about the weight, and I told them there was a corpse inside—the foreman kind of laughed—I’m not sure he thought it was a joke.

Unfortunately, someone broke the key a long time ago so I can’t fish out the albums. It’s very possible that Beatles record is still inside.

The girl was called Cristina. She was a couple of years older than me, long-legged and pretty, with full lips and brown hair. That much I remember, and perhaps a couple of other things also, but the music is definitely part of the memory.

You can hardly call the White Album themed, unless the running theme was drugs. It was a double album, since you couldn’t fit that many tracks on one vinyl record. Fans always loved double albums, not just because you got more music, but because of the artwork.

You could do a lot more with that much cardboard, and it would contain pictures, posters, and poems. The record had some amazing songs, like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which we later christened ‘While My Sitar Gently Sweeps’ due to Harrison’s penchant for all things Indian. It was however difficult to reconcile Blackbird or Bungalow Bill with Helter Skelter and Birthday.

But Back in the USSR was definitely my favorite, and when McCartney sang the bridge, it was the Soviet version of California Girls and Sweet Little Sixteen all wrapped into one.

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind

The lyrics are the emancipation of the Beatles from a world of monosyllables, where she-do-love-yeah-kiss-man predominated—by that time, it was understood that rock ‘n roll could include poetry and not be considered to be granny’s music.

McCartney plays drums on the track, and Ringo Starr doesn’t even feature. Some years later, when McCartney was asked by some dumb reporter whether he thought Ringo was the best drummer in the world, he replied “The world? He wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

I was amazed that track made it to Portugal in the late 1960s, given the political climate. Anything that mentioned the USSR was scrutinized ad nauseam, particularly now that Portugal was fighting a colonial war on three fronts in Africa, where strong Soviet backing was supplied to the independence movements of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea.

And that song was seemingly pro-Russian, although anyone familiar with English humor would always take the lyrics with a pinch of salt.

In many ways, at the start of détente,  the Soviet Union mirrors the situation now. It was the beginning of the Brezhnev-Nixon days, the SALT talks, and an effort to thaw the cold war a little.

But whereas in those days the American position on the Russian bear was crystal-clear, the narrative out of Washington right now doesn’t match up. It would have been unthinkable to hear Johnson, Nixon, or even Carter, compliment the Soviets on their actions, never mind enter into discussions such as those allegedly had by Flynn.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

This segment, reported by the Washington Post, is damaging in the extreme. Perhaps I’m influenced by the excellent series ‘The Americans“, created by ex-CIA officer Joe Weisberg, but it isn’t difficult to spin a tale that the present US administration is controlled by the Kremlin.

It would be a coup worthy of Karla, Le Carré’s master spy from Moscow Center, thought to have been modeled on Marcus Wolf, from the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung of the East German Stasi.

But if you’re in the mood for a little speculation, isn’t the current president the ideal target for what is known as a honeytrap in espionage? And some of his coterie, including Bannon, are dead ringers for KGB (sorry FSB) agents.

Okay, these may be alternative facts, but at least they’re fun! In my story, the president is compromised, whether through pee-pee parties or in a million other ways. The man’s penchant for indiscretion and foolhardiness, sexual or otherwise, makes him the ideal candidate.

A strong campaign of disinformation, led by a supporting cast that integrates the executive branch, and seasoned by a little judicious hacking (DNC, the odd ballot box), makes for a terrific tale.

The payload is a Russia unencumbered by the US, and therefore in large measure by the West, that comes down hard on terrorists, insurgents, and anyone within the axis of evil.

So Russia will sort ISIS out on behalf of the US, roll back whatever bits of the Arab Spring are left, and it’s back to business as usual for big oil and the arms trade. A secretary of state like Tillerson would be helpful, since he bears (excuse the pun) the twin virtues of Russia and oil.

In this story, Bannon would be the deep-cover mole, and Trump the useful idiot, to revisit the Soviet parlance. Russia does what it wants in the Ukraine and other areas that form part of their orbit—to labor the astronomical metaphor, what used to be called satellites during the cold war.

For this to happen, Europe (and NATO) need to fall apart. Brexit is a start, and the geopolitical grandmasters are keeping their hawk-like gaze fixed on Holland, France, and Germany. The Rodina will rise again.

Yes, yes, these are all alternative facts. But it would make a decent storyline, and keep us entertained during these long winter evenings.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.



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