Going to San Francisco, everybody’s queered up

In a week time I’m in San Francisco. That’s gonna be my first time in America – the promised land that’s been haunting my childhood since growing up in the post-socialist Estonia. TV has always been the window to the wider world here – starting from the beginning of the media-time when the Finnish television used to be the open source for foreign cultural influence in Northern Estonia during Soviet time, later on during the 1990s when the children like me were carried away to their fantasy Matelle-Barbie-dolls-mini-cars-superhero-world. Oh, I remember how much I desired all these plastic-fantastic toys laying around the cute bedrooms, where frustrated American children in the movies escaped from their beautiful parents, who seemed perfect for me.

Along with age came maturity, another kind of films, different sources, new views on this amazing country that has often claimed to be the best society in the world.  And then came real people, friends from America with whom we crossed paths in different parts of the world. I’ve shared my living with some of them, I even had an American boyfriend, and he was rad.

For the past few weeks I’ve been browsing Craigslist – the most popular web for selling and buying stuff and searching for houses – to find myself a living space near Berkeley. After few days I realized that half of the population in the Bay area defines themselves as queer. They often also claim to be progressive, radical, anti-racist, sometimes also easy-going and 420 friendly. Sounds good to me, I thought. The not so good part would be when they define themselves through TV series that I had never heard about.

But back to part of the radical – so everybody’s queer. I remember Susan Stryker, an awesome scholar on transgender studies, once posted on her FB page about a phone call that she overheard: “Everybody’s queered up! I can’t find no bitches anymore! That’s what it’s like in San Francisco now…”  (by a man sitting in BART drinking something from a wrapped bottle)

Many questions circulating my mind when I come to think about these roommate adds. How come so many people are defining themselves through the gendered or non-gendered selves? How has it almost become the first and most used ‘tag’ to position yourself as a potential roommate? How is it going to be in real life – is their an actual divide between the queers and the non-queers? Can you tell the difference? Are all the queers cool and the non-queers assholes or just boring? What does the “queer” actually stand for – is it about sexual preferences, (non)gendered selves, critical attitude towards gender norms, or has it become a style or a trendy way to label yourself?

And how am I going to cope with all that – am I queer enough for these folks??!

As I still haven’t got any deal, then at least I got my little anthropological experience started. Can’t wait to take it further.

Another thing my American friends here keep on telling is that America is a dangerous country. Rock on!

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As a bright comet, the rock’n’roll legend takes off straight to the heavenly cosmos

We continue with our hippie journey through time back to the 1970s Estonia – the so-called Soviet West, where young people were thrilled by the radical youth movements that had been taking place earlier in the West, and now against the expected Soviet codes of behavior and morals they were seeking their own bitter trajectories towards something that would allow them to feel free within this rigid Soviet system. I’ll introduce you one of the rock’n’roll legends in Estonia – poet Aleksander Müller. 

As you read the post, here’s the soundtrack to put on – by Suuk – Statistiline (words by Jonnhy B, vocals Aleksander Müller)

The University town Tartu has always been the intellectual hub in Estonia, so some progressive thought developed here around the poetry evenings at University Café with Ave Alavainu or Johnny B on spot, or the Oriental Cabinet in University of Tartu where Buddhist studies were introduced by Linnart Mäll, or the avant-garde artist group Visarid, where painter Enn Tegova was one of the leading figures.

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Enn Tegova, painter in Tartu

Some guys like for example the poet Aleksander Müller took off wild with the principle of “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse”. He says these vibes were definitely in the air back at the time, as the surrounding politics were so depressive and left no space for hope.  His large apartment at Supilinn in Tartu became a legendary place of coming-together to listen bootlegged records, read poetry and talk all the shit that had to be spoken, but couldn’t have done in public. His home formed an important social center for free-thinking and free will in the context of Soviet power along its propaganda machine and overall stagnation. The door was always open, there were always people around. There he had a piano that didn’t have any white keys. Meaning, all the keys where covered with cigarette butts black spots! And according to a rumor, Müller started drinking constantly since he was 15, he was a god damn rock’n’roll spirit. He later became a well-known blues musician, but in 1970s he was  involved with psychedelic rock music. 

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Aleksander Müller in front of his legendary old house in Tartu, summer 2012. By the time, he was already pretty week and couldn’t move himself, so he’s being carried by another poet Päärn Hint.

Music making certainly became one of the few sources of joy at the time, or the means to express the hate, the anger against the established system. But this social criticism, of course, had to be always served hidden, hidden behind the lines of poetry, in metaphors, as the punishments could become very real.

At some point in 1970s, Müller Sass joined a psychedelic rock band Suuk from Tartu as a singer. Suuk has often been compared to The Doors, as it sounds tripping, rebellious, destructive and liberating at the same time. But different from Jim Morrison who actually put in practice his principle of “live fast, die young” belonging to the “club 27”, Sass lived much longer.  He passed away just recently on the 4th of July 2013. We all knew his soul was going straight to the wide heavenly cosmos and this comet deserved some celebration.

We were actually the very last ones who interviewed him last summer for the Soviet hippies exhibition and documentary. And oh, this rock’n’roll legend seemed so very happy to chill around on a wheelchair at the massive exhibition opening, to enjoy his 4cl of cognac, and to experience that finally his bitter pain and sorrow and the inner burning sunshine has made it to the local cultural history, right there at Estonian National Museum!

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At the opening of the exhibition “Soviet hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia”. Photo by Merilyn Püss

Listen to the full album of Suuk recorded in 1976 in Tartu here with comments in Estonian from Aleksander Müller. The band Suuk, as the host of the broadcast Jaan Tootsen says, is a band which by all parameters of the time could not have possibly existed in Soviet Union. And no-one would even believe that the band existed, if we didn’t have this remarkable recording from 1976 that only happened only coincidentally when Estonian Radio stereo-bus came down to Tartu to take this recording.

Rest in peace and in rock’n’roll, Aleksander Müller (1947-2013).    IMG_8054

I AM BREATHING – MND/ALS Global Awareness Day

Today on the 21st of June is the Motor Neurone Disease Global Awareness Day. To spread awareness and raise funds for MND-related research, an award-winning documentary I AM BREATHING will screen across the globe simultaneously.  Tonight I’m hosting a screening in a local subculture house called Genclub in Tartu, Estonia, but where ever you are at the moment – seek for a local screening in your town, as there’s 173 screenings taking place tonightI_AM_BREATHING_Facebook_Banner

While living and travelling around in variouscultures I have come to notice a general trend which could be summed up with the words: what is known is socially constructed, what is not known is to be afraid of. As an anthropologist, the tools I work with are about interpretation and translation – from one cultural community to another, from one language to another, from one reality to another. To create better understandings, to fight the fear.

I believe film is a great medium to fight the fear of the unknown. Yet when it comes to the matter of death we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation – we are afraid of death as this is the total unknown. No anthropologist can help us much here with interpretation. Almost all religions have tried to do so, yet death remains outside of our subjective experience, thus creating tensions, creating fear.

I saw I AM BREATHING at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam which I was attending as a media representative for Estonian independent cultural magazine Müürileht. It was a late night screening, I ended up in tears. These tears were not fully about sadness, but there was also something else – something that could perhaps be explained with this old Latin saying ‘memento mori’ – remember dying. Remember dying in order to remember living. Death is like a mirror in which the true meanings of life are reflected. Or just as Sogyal Rinpoche said:

“You will all die successfully.”

I AM BREATHING is a great film with an incredibly touching story, and I am totally willing to make my small contribution to raise MND awareness in Estonia through organizing a screening.

I AM BREATHING is about the thin space between life and death.

Drugs from Petersburg, politics from Moscow

All the signs were referring that there was a hippie culture in Soviet Union, but not everybody believed it. Not yet.

Introducing two old hippie souls from Tallinn – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas. 

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Aleksandr Dormidontov, my favourite Sass, trouble with hair since 1968

The directress of Estonian National Museum, for example, encouraged us to meet some prolific cultural researchers, to ask guidance and material. As soon as we had another shooting day planned – as with extremely limited budget, we often had to make 15h working days – we booked the morning for an interview Linnar Priimägi. He’s a recognized art and cultural researcher, but for our mild distress he rather announced that hippie culture was apparent in America only, certainly not here, and then he even added, sounding almost like an apostel, that “it will never return.”

I couldn’t take these words.

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Our director of photography Andreas Press, Kiwa, Linnar Priimägi and me

Later on I understood that his rather different understanding from ours was mostly about his rigid definition of what ‘hippie culture‘ is – i.e. living in communes, raising children collectively, dropping lots of acid – all of which indeed was not really apparent in Soviet Union. But which doesn’t necessarily mean that the ‘hippie culture’ was totally absent here. More so, hippie culture emerged most vividly underground and it was not open to public exposure, as this could have been followed by various sanctions by the Soviet authorities (e.g. dropping out from universities, treatment in mental hospital). And even more so, because Soviet hippie culture is something that has not so far been researched and written much about!

But it was Linnar Priimägi, who together with Ants Juske wrote a manifesto of their generation in 1978. The manifesto known as “Tartu autumn” stated their generation as the generation of indolence – taking the long story short, the outside reality is so ridiculous and painful, that you just don’t care nor feel anything about it anymore. And certainly this attitude was part of the local hippie realm.

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Meeting Aleksandr Dormidontov, the tailor-Sass

But thank god (e.g. Shiva), already in the afternoon we met some of the living proofs of the Soviet hippie culture – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas.

Aleksandr Dormidontov, locally known as tailor-Sass was one of the central character of the hippies in Tallinn, who apparently sewed wide trousers for most of the hippies in Soviet Union.  His commune house at Nõmme  with its massive book archive of the ninth generation of Estonian Russians – as this is what he is –  and record collection dangled intellectuals and vagabonds alike. Sometimes, especially around the 1st of May – which became a legendary meeting point of Soviet hippies in Tallinn, to celebrate the launch of the hitch-hiking season – his house was full of more than 100 people, all longhaired, all into rock’n’roll music from all around the whole Sovietico. Sass explains the relations of Tallinn between bigger Russian cities: “Drugs we got from Petersburg, politics came from Moscow.” I also find his speculation about the collapse of the Soviet Union remarkable: “Lenin didn’t invent rock’n’ roll. That was his trouble.”

Sass’ house at Narva street in Tallinn, opposite to the Tallinn University, is usually open for guests. Gosh, this man is so awesome. Especially I like his beard.

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Sass and Jaakko

Jaakko Hallas used to hang out with hippies around 1968-1971 – the time when he experienced emotional high-voltage and enormous inner freedom. His close relationship with hippie world was mainly through his interest in esoterica and Eastern religions. After graduating from university he started learning about everything that was not taught at school or even prohibited. He proudly announces that “Hedonism of the mind is most important.”

As we all sit around the round table, the secret history of the Soviet counter-culture started to leak with some intriguing memories. Sass tells us how once he had a joint in his hand, but had no fire. He then went to ask a lighter from a militia man. The militia just wrinkled his eyebrows murmuring that “This tobacco smells weird…”

Weed was apparently not known as a drug for the authorities back at the time here. So hippies indeed used to smoke quite freely in the cafeterias or on the streets. Only if they had something to smoke – marijuana was certainly not widely available in the 1970s, but it was around, especially when some hippie friends from Petersburg visited Tallinn or someone hitch-hiked as far as Ukraine, Caucasus or Central Asia and brought back a decent handful of weed.

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Our director of sound Björn Norralt, Aleksandr Dormidontov, Kiwa, me, and Jaakko Hallas

By Terje

This man is really flying! – how to baptise a documentary film project

Hiiumaa is a place of magic in Estonia – an island that happened to provide the setting for our first shooting session into the Soviet hippie trail.

Sountrack for the post:

By the time the nights went light in Estonia – in the end of June we have indeed an awesome period of white nights here when the sky gets especially hallucinogenic – our team of hippie trail through Soviet times had grown bigger by young promising producer Liis Lepik who took the courage to lead the game behind the matter of subject where me and Kiwa had already lost our heads.

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Poet based in Hiiumaa – Ave Alavainu

We cruised out of Tallinn on a huge jeep ruled by one of our most adventurous friend, known as Fabrique. It was promising a storm, the wind was huge and sky threateningly dark, but we only had a little tent, filming equipment and a crazy idea in mind to catch the ferry to an island Hiiumaa. Namely, one Estonian poet Ave Alavainu is living there and what could be better that to start our journey with a female voice. Ave used to center the avant-garde social life in late sixties of the university town Tartu, reading her lines in the university café along with other progressive thinkers, such as catalyst-provocator Johnny B Isotamm. Btw Johnny B gained a personal myth of being the leading hippie of Estonia, as one foreigner in café in Tallinn once gave him a badge “Make love not war”. Wearing it publicly was already a statement enough for Soviet era.

Ave used to be the vagabond lady, hanging out with various crowds, constantly in love. Later on in Tallinn she used to live in a apartment  where she never locked the doors – because the doors are supposed to be open, in order to let the energies flow.

There we were – in the ferry, hopelessly steering into the dark sky. We had agreed an appointment with Ave for the next day, but the night was still young. But just as we saw the first sparks of the setting sun making its way through the thick gray of clouds we suddenly remembered – one legendary drummer from 1970s Paap Kõlar, the founder member of progressive-experimental awesomeness band Psycho, hasn’t stopped advancing his human capabilities attached to the social fabrications. If we’re lucky enough, we might find Paap right here on this island, surfing on the waves, or perhaps flying.

The closer we got the island, the sunnier it went and by the evening we were indeed witnessing how this man gets his ‘high’ not so much from playing drums as no-one had ever heard played in Soviet Union before, but now he indeed is flying (sic).

And so were we. At least in our minds when following with cameras this unknown flying object, listening to the rocking tunes of Psycho.

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Legendary drummer and adventurer Paap Kõlar getting ready for the high

Paap hosted us nicely, inviting us for a sauna on the beach and offering us a simple inca tent for a couple of hours of resting, before we had to head out for an interview-appointment with Ave in Kärdla. Later on the surf boys caught a black poisonous snake which we cooked and shared. Apart from that occasion, or maybe just on the contrary, these days in Hiiumaa were the new-age-pagan-psychedelic baptism our hippie trail in time.

Stay tuned!

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Completely empty space with souls

I’m still not yet over with the very first session of “fieldworks”, meaning, when me and Kiwa met some of the central spirits of the Tallinn’s hippie underground of the 1970s for the very first time. These were warm starlight nights of august, handicam in the pocket.  As a result of these evenings  with Vladimir Wiedemann and Aare Loit, we kind of started to sense where the hippie dharma would be carrying us. Perhaps we too have already been there, in our own times, with our own means. The road, the time, the political and social situation could be radically different between my generation and those with whom I  choose to create cross-generational friendships, or rather, they just happen, but the direction, the law or dharma seems to be quite the same.

Here’s a short video to get a glimpse of the feel, semi-Estonian-semi-English, pardon. Introducing: Vladimir Wiedemann and Babai

What is the center of the world?

You are the center of the world.

Who is the creater of all this?

You are, Allah.

Traces of the Center of Psychotronics of the Soviet Union

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Vladimir Wiedemann and Aare Loit (Babai)

Vladimir Wiedemann was  largely influenced by Mihkel Ram Tamm who was a great philosopher and big thinker, and whose work eventually took a shape of zero-philosophy. Ram knew many religions, he synthesized a variety of theories describing the science (or rather something at the borderline between science and religion) of nothing. He did this often by using complex schemes and hypotheses. Out of his notes weighing kilograms, among other things, have been published 900-pages masterpiece Theory-Null-Hypothesis.

As I said in an earlier post,  Soviet-time hippies and dissidents gathered frequently at his place, where they made group meditations,  practiced telepathy, digged into guru’s library or helped him with everyday work. Wiedemann in his book referred to  this place at Langermaa as the Center of Psychotronics of the Soviet Union.
One old hippie Aare Loit, commonly now known as Babai, says that Ram eventually become even too popular. Visiting the guru became a trendy thing to do for alternative-minded youth of the whole Soviet Union – and there were so many!  – although they often knew nothing about his zero-philosophy.

There, between the green fields on around 100 kilometer of Tallinn-Pärnu highway we stopped the car and ask advice from a man on a bicycle.   Although Ram moved away from here for already more than 30 years ago, he knew exactly what we were talking about.

“Yeah there was one wise man here, still living,” he said, and instantly disappeared as if he was a ghost himself.

New owners of the house who now have lived here for the past 15 years, for our big surprise, did not know anything about the meaningfulness of this house among Soviet counter-culture. We explained a bit the context, but the man spread his hands.
“We have heard some stories about a witch, but …”
“And how about the current energies of the house? Have you felt anything special?” I was curious.
“I haven’t really thought about it!”

We asked the householder kindly to enter the room. Aare’s and Vladimir’s faces shone with some sparks of nostalgia, though, of course, everything had been completely changed. Along with artists Sandra Jõgeva, Minna Hint, Kiwa, magician Hannes Vanaküla and historian Margus Kiis we sat down in circle on the bright carpet, the way as  they probably did while making group meditations and  discussions. Ram sat in a corner near the stove, now this place was taken by the Aare, as he has the most gray in his hair. We felt the vibrations of the moment, Aare said Buddhist mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.

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Aare Loit, me, Kiwa (holding the book of Mihkel Ram Tamm) and Vladimir Wiedemann in front of the house where Soviet hippies used to gather in 1970s

When  later in the garden we discussed the mystic theories of Ram and asked about the practices held here from Vladimir and Aare, Ram let us know about his presence quite obviously. Suddenly all the cats started singing loud together, souls were freed on the move.