Karel Gott and the burden of our history

Klusák’s book Gott: The Czechoslovak Story is not a biography of Karel Gott, as might be inferred from the word “story” in the title, but only a section of it. The author does not begin his story until 1957, when the then 18-year-old electrician from ČKD entered the singing competition Looking for New Talents. We learn almost nothing about Gott’s childhood and family background in the book, only that his father held high positions, including the Deputy Minister.

The book then ends in the first half of the 1990s, as if the last quarter of a century of the artist’s life was no longer worth mentioning. Klusák also omitted everything personal and private from Gott’s story, so the singer resembles a poster in his one-dimensionality.

Who’s making it up here?

“This book simply asks how it really was,” writes Pavel Klusák. Unfortunately, sometimes he just stays with the question. One example for all: when the author describes Gott’s beginnings in Semaphore, he puts against what Gott himself wrote about the matter in 1968, namely that Jiří Suchý, Jiří Šlitr and director Karel Mareš sought him out in the Vltava café, where he had previously sung, and they offered him an engagement.

However, Mareš claims in a book published posthumously in 2017 that Gotta discovered and arranged Semafora himself, ie that no meeting took place in the Vltava café. And Klusák comments: “What about that? We know that Karel Gott loved to cover his career in good stories where he didn’t care much about truthfulness. Karel Mareš probably doesn’t make up his memoirs… “

But wouldn’t it be more useful to ask Jiří Suchý’s case instead of theorizing, when the author already considers it important? In other parts of the book, the reader may get the impression that some facts from the singer’s life, which Klusák describes as unverifiable, could be verified if the author put in more work and tried, for example, to interview people from Gott’s immediate area.

Pavel Klusák places Gott’s career in the context of the development of the music industry and brings a whole range of interesting information that looks incredible from today’s point of view. For example, that until the 1960s, popular music singers did not release solo full-length records – Gott was the first. And that they did not hold separate concerts – Gott also holds the lead here, at least as far as the hall the size of the Prague Lantern is concerned.

How the Apollo Theater came into being

But again, much remains unsaid. For example, the project of the Apollo Musical Theater, founded by the Štaidlová brothers with Karel Gott in 1965, is described by Klusák through his repertoire. But how was it even possible for a twenty-three-year-old lyricist to become a theater director in such a rigid system? The reader will not know how the approval took place or how the theater worked economically.

The author also omits something that plays a major role in the music industry: money. We will not read at all how the singers were rewarded at that time, whether they received a fixed fee for the performance, what role the entrance income played, what percentage of the records they sold, if any percentage, how the performances on radio or television were paid.

One half-sentence is devoted to this whole key issue in the book, when in connection with the separation between Ladislav Štaidl and Karel Gott in the late 1980s, it is written that “Czech concerts were still paid according to socialist tariffs”. But what did the tariffs look like? The financial aspect of Gott’s career, which is crucial for his position as the biggest star of the time, is not themed at all.

Klusák devotes a relatively large space to the “emigration” of Karel Gott, the Štaidl brothers and Felix Slováček in 1971. It relies mainly on surviving State Security documents, which suggest a surprising thing: to resolve the power dispute and the return of musicians from West Germany to their homeland. Gott’s father contributed.

Unfortunately, a rather incredible lapsis got into this passage, when Klusák repeatedly writes about Gustáv Husák as the president of the republic, which he became only four years later.

In this part of the book, Klusák also delves into Gott’s private life once, when he returns to 1958 and 1962, when the singer was twice caught masturbating in public. He also quotes from the statement of Gott’s psychiatrist Zdeněk Dytrych, who in 1971 mentions the singer’s “sexual perversion”, which has “a decisive influence on his actions, especially in private life.”

Although Klusák acknowledges that Dytrych may have been “foggy” in his statement at the StB, which is more than likely, he also concludes from this diagnosis that “Gott’s desire to be monitored, to have an audience and to confirm himself “.

Oversensitive dreamer

But if Karel Gott suffered from a mental disorder, can it be said that he “failed in a historical situation”, as Pavel Klusák says in one of the interviews about his book? And what possibilities did Karel Gott have in the eyes of his biographer at the time of the coming normalization?

Should he stay with the band in Germany? Or give up singing and return to CKD? Or at least sing songs in which some political tricks could be found? (One of them, called Where My Brother Jan Goed At The Time, in which Palach is secretly talked about, Gott sang after all.)

Gott’s performance in the 70’s and 80’s is one big decline for Klusák, the singer became “the type of musician against whom he previously defined himself”. In Czechoslovakia, it overtakes the powerful and participates in all propaganda events, thus demonstrating “exemplary life in a lie”, in Germany it meets the bad taste of the audience and becomes a bit of a fairground attraction – thanks to which it sells more records than ABBA at one time.

While the Štaidl brothers produced this decadent music, according to Klusák, because they wanted to “belong to a bohemian, movable cream”, Karel Gott is for him “a hypersensitive dreamer who does not want to perceive the darker side of the world – and so inadvertently contributes to it” music idiot ”.

The main problem with Klusák’s book is that its author intellectually misses the world of Karel Gott and the consumers of his music. This is well illustrated by Klusák’s outrage that Gott said in an interview at the end of September 1968 that he wanted to “keep people in a good mood.” According to Klusák, Gott demonstrated that he was unable to admit the tragic dimension of the situation at the time.

With this wonder, the trotter demonstrates again that he cannot understand that broad sections of people are solving much more mundane problems than the question of national sovereignty. And it was to these people that Karel Gott put a good mood even during a bad government. Blaming the pop singer for not becoming the nation’s conscience, but just – and excellently – singing, seems pretty out of place.

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