You can tell who among Gogol Bordello’s audience are Russian based on how many of them sing along to this song. It’s in the dozens of people, but inexplicably they only perform it on special occasions. It’s almost like they want their set list to appeal to the widest number of people or something. For those of you not conversant, it tells the story familiar to anyone who’s had to change address trans-continentally: the alienation, boredom and fear of living in limbo while waiting for some nameless faceless power to define your status. Will you be sent back to from whence you came; or will you move forward towards you destination; and if you do will you be welcome there or will you be sent back to from whence you came; or will you just wait interminably at some point in-between with no rights, no means, and nothing to do? If you’re one of us, you will party to the best of your ability, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got.
If you need an introduction to Gogol Bordello, I suggest putting on Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. Not their first album, but their first important one, and their most important. Trans-Continental Hustle is a more accessible gateway, but Gogol Bordello was never meant to be truly accessible. They’re here to represent a certain way of life and and a state of being. When you’re ready to enter the party, this is the place to start. This is one the great album openers – or a door-opener, really – an introductory track that invites you on a journey and establishes right away exactly what trouble you’re about to get yourself into.
If there’s one band who should never be forced to perform sitting down, it’s Gogol Bordello. But I guess that everyone has to compromise, and the small enclosed studios that radio and web broadcasts record in aren’t conducive to the chaos and sweat that Gogol Bordello’s regular live shows are famed for. You could say that it has to be pretty weak music if it can’t be played tamely, but for these rabble-rousers, that’s missing the point. The point is screaming communion of the sort that only a wine-drenched mosh pit can provide. Still, you can certainly enjoy their records in the comfort of your own home. It’s not as cathartic as the live show, but it rewards deep listening, because there’s always points and references to be gleaned, and yeah, there’s a lot of literary allusions going on that you’re likely not going to pick up on when you’re raging drunk.
As a rule, I’m a hardened cynic who looks askance at anything too overtly positive or ingratiating. Uplifting entertainment is essentially manipulative, naive and intellectually shallow, is it not? Anyone who wants to deliver me an uplifting message about hanging in there and being my best self or whatever needs to sneak in the back door reeking of alcohol and herrings. Ahem. Enter Hutz, et al. No group of people has ever smuggled so much positivity under the guise of promoting drunk debauchery than Gogol Bordello. It’s because they know a truth that the general US public has lost sight of or just doesn’t care to admit; a good debauch is a necessity if you want to live a happy healthy life. Debauchery brings people together, builds friendships, starts romances and heals old wounds. There’s nothing more wholesome and good for the soul than a communal alcoholic binge, otherwise known as a party. It’s what ties the ties that bind us.
“Revolution is internal, help yourself at any time”
If you haven’t heard, Gogol Bordello are releasing a new album. Obviously, they couldn’t be more relevant than at this moment, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. A lot of us right now are thinking to ourselves “I didn’t leave the fucking motherland to keep on dealing with this shit, I left it so I wouldn’t have to!” I didn’t come to America to be surrounded by mindless violent nationalism, that’s what people come to America to get away from. Unfortunately, America is basically that suspiciously hot girl on Tinder who turns out to have meth mouth and both kinds of hepatitis. So at a time when America’s international diaspora is collectively quaking with fear and rage, we really need an uplifting voice. We need to be reminded of how strong and brave and vital our immigrant communities always have been and always will be. Yes, we’re deeply disappointed right now; we thought we wouldn’t have to be dissidents anymore. But if there’s one thing Joe Make-America-Great-Again doesn’t understand, it’s that people don’t come to America because they think it’s going to be a fun daisy carnival; they come because they’re desperate to survive. Everyone who comes here does so because they’ve seen and lived through things so intolerable there’s nothing left to do but leave. In that regard, we’re way better equipped than any white-bread Americans are to deal with whatever spiteful baby-fascist bullshit comes next. It’s hard to bring people down who’ve already been down. We can be dissidents again. We can drink and party our way through whatever troubled times may come. We pass free thought around with the vodka bottle.
A taste of Gogol Bordello is a taste of the trans-global diaspora. Also, sweat. And the reek of spilled booze. Maybe a whiff of salted herring. To see them up close is to be sprayed with many fluids. The last time I saw them play Eugene Hutz split his pants and his dick flopped out. Not the most optimal time for a dick viewing, but I’ll take it. I used to really think the dude was mad sexy, but as he gets older he looks more and more like he could be my dad’s long disowned forgotten half brother or something, and that’s a little squeamish. I’d still hit it, though. (I guess people who don’t immigrate are forced to date within their own ethnic group; weird to think about!) Anyhow. A Gogol Bordello show is a celebration of displaced culture, gypsy music for people who may have been born gypsy and the many more became gypsy by circumstance. And if you can’t relate to the particulars of that, you can at least embrace their party ethos.
What’s not a crime? Who cares about specifics, it’s the thought that counts. Gogol Bordello is here to pump up the spirit and expedite the party, not to make sense. And they’ve maintained a steady enough career despite the fact that most of their enthusiastic fans don’t comprehend any of their reference points. Like their name. It’s good joke, trust me. You just have to be Ukrainian. The spirit of the party, though, that’s all inclusive. Just come to the show.