I recently attended the documentary film screening of “Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story” at the National Arts Club in Gramercy of New York City. The film produced by Vice News drew me. Still, I was further incentivized by the fact that Eugene Hutz and a couple of members of G.B. would be there to perform afterward. The filmmakers would be around for a short Q&A, as is the tradition at these things.
The room was packed, and unfortunately, I arrived just before the film began, so I did not get to socialize or perhaps meet Eugene or the filmmakers. The film is not short, and I wished I had eaten before arrival, but it moved fast and could have easily been 16 hours long with Gogol Bordelo’s and Eugene Hutz’s history and storylines.
The story of Eugene is terrific and is now much more familiar to me. An immigrant from Ukraine during the Soviet era to eventually a New York City punk scene steeped in hardcore. It was not dissimilar from my interview with Gabby of the punk band Molotov Cocktail (now with the Dead Ceausescus ) and the Underworld Club in Bucharest, Romania. Indeed, Gabby and Eugene are friends.
Gogol Bordello’s music is “gypsy” (or, more acceptable, “Roma”) punk rock. Still, it’s ethos is immigrant culture and world music influences. The many members from different eras make a great subplot of Eugene’s journey. Chernobyl, the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, and the Full Russian invasion of Ukraine are other compelling subplots.
One scene that nearly moved me to tears was Eugene traveling to Ukraine to play for (and with) soldiers, who were initially quiet, stoic, and stiff. Still, as Eugene loosened up, they loosened up. The small, intimate outdoor gathering in the hot sun turns into a typical Gogol Bordello rowdy, raucous “what will happen next” adventure. Stoicism gave way to joy, as so often happens in Ukraine.
Playing for recently internally displaced refugees was equally moving. Having spent a month in Ukraine this past summer, I could feel that old tug to return. I imagined how strong that tug must be for Eugene, a Ukrainian full of Cossack blood, watching his country’s civilian compatriots regularly getting mauled by evil forces in a much bigger Russia.
I’ve followed G.B. since way back in the day when someone suggested I give them a listen for their song “Start Wearing Purple,” and while amused, I wasn’t necessarily a big fan as I was more interested in the back story of the genre of “gypsy punk” and G.B.’s influence.
But then I found out Eugene was Ukrainian, and I saw them live at the Brooklyn Bowl last December in support of the victims of this horrific war; I began a deeper dive, and as usual, I was rewarded. I now have some excellent songs on my repeat plays list, such as “Imagrante,” Shot of Solidartine,” “Forces of Victory,” “Focus,” “Your Country,” “American Wedding,” and so many more. This is the catalog I love. I don’t even own “Start Wearing Purple” (I like the song but don’t love it like I do the others).
I’ve had a few close calls at meeting Eugene throughout the years, and I hope I do someday. But I’m so happy I saw the film first because I’m better armed with his wit, style, charisma, and, yes, impatience of being a punk rock musician in a mainstream, dumbass world sometimes.
Ninety percent of the film is focused on concerts, behind-the-scenes love and affection between the band members (selected family), and the stories of each band member. But on occasion, the stresses of living what must be a relentless rock-n-roll touring lifestyle (Gogol is an experience, I believe, that must first be experienced live) wear through, giving the film credibility, honesty, and authenticity befitting a film about Gogol Bordello.
Indeed, the filmmaker Nate Pommer had been filming G.B. since 2002. Still, the archival footage goes back to Eugene’s childhood in Ukraine. My travels to Ukraine allowed me to relate a bit to his childhood, my own émigré to NYC (albeit from Tennessee, not Ukraine, but it felt like another country at times) in the mid to late 1990s gave me goosebumps and, of course, our shared love of punk music and influences were all there. In short, the film checked all the boxes for me. I could have watched a four or six-hour version of this film without daring to hit the restroom for fear of missing something.
After the short filmmakers’ Q&A, it was time for Eugene to do what he does best: being a raconteur and musician. Accompanied by a young, talented female accordion player and long-time classically trained violinist Sergei Ryabtsev (of Russian origin), Eugene played guitar. He tore through a couple of acoustic sets, including “My Compenjera.”
But the real treat, in my eyes, was a preview of what was to come.
The guys played a song from the 80’s U.K. punk band “Angelic Upstarts” called “Solidarity,” written in solidarity when the Polish people struggled to become the first of the former Soviet breakaway republics. Eugene announced that G.B. planned to re-record and re-release to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their current fight for sovereignty and freedom. I can’t wait to hear Gogel Bordellos recorded take on this classic song for freedom.
In my opinion, weirdly, the Full Russian invasion has been good to people like Eugene… and to people like me. I think it’s given Gogol Bordello even more exposure and relevance. As for me, it’s given me purpose for something clearly much, much larger than myself.
I can only speak for myself, but I think Eugene would agree… I’d trade it all away in a heartbeat if this human travesty had never happened in the first place. But it did and it is happening still, and I plan on being with Ukraine until the end and beyond, likely until my death. Even if I live to be a ripe old age, the rebuilding and recovery will take that long.
Eugene ended the evening with a plea for people to continue supporting Ukraine. It was another rainy evening with the U.S. government supposedly on the verge of (another) shutdown once again. The hard-right Republicans were talking about cutting off aid to Ukraine (again). I can imagine Putin paying close attention, telling his minions just to hang on; these pussy Americans (and our friends on the right in the USA) will give up soon.
But Ukraine will never give up. They are made from sterner stuff.
And Eugene and his “compenerjas” from Gogol Bordello are made of sterner stuff too. Matching what I see in the USA, you don’t take it for granted if you or your immediate family have to fight for your freedom. Unfortunately, most of us in the USA have never had to fight for our freedom, and we’re seeing the repercussions of that now. But the good news is, punk rock has always given a shit, even when no one else did.
For a good anecdote to the poison being spewed by Aaron (Listen to what Putin has to say) Lewis, of Staind, Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Ted Nugent, and other ill-informed, looney toon, conspiracy theory (or perhaps Russian compromised?) musicians, try this.
See this film. See Gogol Bordello. Buy their music. Support Ukraine. It’s not that hard. Actually, it feels pretty damned good to do the noble thing. The a-moral a-holes of the hard-right GOP’s Putin puppets should try it sometime.