The screen begins to undulate in a moire pattern of yellow, green, and orange. Purple drips start to appear, and just as your eyes start to scream No more!, jaunty waves of violins, punctuated with trumpets and cymbal crashes, chime in to assault your ears. Words appear. In Russian. The screen dissolves to a man wandering behind a curved iron gate in front of a honey-colored wall … crooning. What is he singing? Why is he so cheerful? Is that his real hair? And why is he singing like that?
So many questions come to mind. You are transfixed with emotions you cannot name. Horror. Fascination. Amusement — no, Giddiness. Glee! Make it Stop! Never Stop!
My daughter raised an eyebrow this morning when I mentioned first coming across Mr. Trololo yesterday. “Really, Mom? That is pretty old stuff.” I don’t know where I was in 2010 when this snippet first started making the rounds. YouTube was only a few years old and overrun with cat videos. I was working long hours on mortgage foreclosure flowcharts and didn’t have time to search for such things. Too bad for me. It might have changed my life that much earlier.
I came across these videos just last night and clicked on them for hours. It fairly disrupted our viewing of Midsomer Murders because I had to keep pausing DCI Barnaby with “….oh, and here’s another one, Live! from 1982!”, “Wait, check out this one on Jimmy Kimmel!” Judging from the response on social media, I wasn’t the only person who missed these. What exactly was Mr. Trololo all about?
Who was Eduard Kihl?
The baritone-in-question was one Eduard Kihl, born in Smolensk, Russia in the hard-scrabble 1930s, which turned into the war-ravaged 1940s. He was separated from the single mother who raised him when his kindergarten was bombed and he spent his formative years in a children’s home which lacked… probably everything. It’s hard to imagine any place much less desperate to grow up in: Russia, orphanage, under siege from the Nazis. Maybe that’s what accounts for his exceptional, almost surreal cheerfulness as a singer.
He studied as an opera singer at the Leningrad Conservatory, garnering plumb roles like in The Marriage of Figaro. Watching his performance, I realized what this reminded me of — Ingmar Bergman! The Swedish director’s 1975 film version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a critically-acclaimed, 4-star rendition of the opera. Unfortunately for me, I saw it as part of a 20-film Bergman retrospective. Amidst the angst and existentialist alienation of Scenes from a Marriage and Wild Strawberries, when baritone Papageno pops up in electric green playing the panpipes and tra-la-laing, I thought the director was trying to tell me something profound about life’s attempt to layer a thin veil of false cheeriness over the depths of despair that the flesh is heir to… when it turned out to be just a story about … a magic flute.
Such is also the magic of Mr. Trololo. Kihl started singing such “pop tunes,” as they called them back in the ’60s, after leaving the opera stage. He apparently was the Russian-Idol-Voice-X-Factor of his time, winning contests like the “All Russian Competition for Performers” of 1962. After a string of awards, he was granted his country’s highest, the People’s Artist for Russia award in 1974.
He was the first artist to sing such songs as “Woodcutters” (Лесорубы in Russian) … and Moon Stone (Лунный камень) by Arkady Ostrovsky, and “Song About Friend” (Песня о друге), “Blue Cities” (Голубые города), “And People Go to the Sea” (А люди уходят в море) by Andrey Petrov. Other popular songs performed by Khil included “From What the Homeland Begins?” (С чего начинается Родина?), “How the Steamers Are Seen Off” (Как провожают пароходы), “Winter” (Зима), “Birch Sap” (Берёзовый сок), “Alder Catkin” (Серёжка ольховая), “We Need One Victory” (Нам нужна одна победа), and many others.
In other words, the guy knew how to sing and came from an extremely impoverished background, so whatever else you think about him or his anachronistic video, he could give a middle-fingered salute to your opinions about his vocalizing.
The earliest version of him singing “I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home” — which is the actual song in question — is from 1968. Now, lest we decide that Russians are somehow goofier than Americans in their acceptance of novelty singing, I have only three things to say: 1968. Tiny. Tim.
I grew up with TT. I remember his live marriage to Miss Vicky on Johnny Carson. I also grew up with Myron Floren, the polka king, who played on Lawrence Welk every week which we watched at my grandmother’s house after Sunday dinner of borscht and pierogi, so that was 1967, baby, in all its glory. I gave my dad a biography I once found about the life and times of Myron Floren, to which my dad said, “What the hell …??”
What the Hell, Indeed?
The 1976 video of Kihl singing “I am very glad, as I’m finally returning back home” (Russian: Я о́чень рад, ведь я, наконе́ц, возвраща́юсь домо́й) has layers and sub-layers to the bizarre. He does appear to be lip-synching, though numerous other videos of him singing THAT song make it clear that it is him singing. The strange, op art opening and harvest-gold colored (or baby-diaper-yellow colored we used to call it) background are products from the 1970s. But the oddest part is the lyrics.
There are none in the video. Even in the “Sing-Along” video version which has SUBTITLES, the lyrics are Hahahahahaaaaah Ah YaYa and Bopahduhduhduhduh. What the hell?
A lyricist, Arkady Ostrovsky, did write words to the song. The words included phrases such as “I’m riding the prairie on my stallion, so-and-so mustang, and my beloved Mary is a thousand miles away knitting a stocking for me.” Supposedly, Kihl either thought the lyrics were too dumb or got in an argument with another composer who thought that lyrics were always more important than the music, so his version was the non-lexical vocable of what became “Trololo.” With the key changes. And the Snidely-Whiplash-cattle-prod laughing. It is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
Exactly How Many Versions Are There?
Since I am obviously behind the times in seeing this famously infamous performance, I note there are also now dozens of Trololo parodies. Family Guy paid homage to Kihl in its episode Death Has a Shadow. Other versions feature Darth Vader, Voldemort, Hitler, whimsical cats, high school choirs, one guy’s high school choir final exam performance, and countless versions from Spain’s Got Talent and so forth. One fact becomes evident — very few of the parody baritones can sing as well as Eduard Kihl does.
There are three versions worth viewing if you, like me Can’t. Stop. Watching. Since LOTR is one of my favorite top ten movies, you will likely enjoy the version with Saruman here. Here is screen dialogue in English filmed by a New Zealander and given Spanish subtitles, overlaid by the British actor Christopher Lee singing nonsensical syllables from a 1970s Russian song. Globalization at its finest!
I also highly recommend a heavy metal rendition, which demonstrates that there actually is a catchy tune behind the non-lexical vocable. Dig the guitarist Erock’s Green Lantern T-shirt! Then, there’s Christoph Waltz, who seemed to take this to an entirely otherly weird level, if such a thing was even possible.
Kihl died in 2012, two years after the video surfaced. Google paid homage to him last fall which, sadly, I missed as well. If the videos posted reflect his life, then he sang Ahhhh Yayayaaaaahhhhhh for about forty years. He was likely confused about the massive popularity he achieved at the age of 75 but was still performing and happy to change his stage name to Trololo. It must be remembered that some thirty years earlier, he had been awarded Russia’s highest honor, and decades before that, bombed at kindergarten. He had nothing left to prove.
Khil’s son was quoted as saying “He thinks maybe someone is trying to make a fool of him,” and “He keeps asking, ‘Where were all these journalists 40 years ago?'”
Thank You, Rutgers and The New York Times
I have had Ohohohooooo stuck in my head all last night and this morning since I first came across this — late — as part of a story about basketball. The New York Times‘ feature yesterday highlighted the use of “Mr. Trololo” by the Rutger’s college basketball team during its opponents’ pre-game warmups. It brought Seton Hall’s layup drill to a screeching halt as the players watched, open-mouthed, entranced, while Kihl bounced behind that iron gate, ready for his next key change. If it was meant to mess with the opposing team’s heads, it may have worked; Seton Hall lost by six points.
Seton Hall officials declined to comment on the “Mr. Trololo” video.
–Kelly Whiteside, New York Times
Eduard Kihl had already given all that was needed — entertainment as infinite as the web, with a video that will swirl through cyberspace until the occurrence of EMP apocalypse.
Because Mr. Trololo is the gift that keeps on giving.
Next week — Exciting News — The Page Turns blog is moving to a new domain. kajmeister.com is coming to a .url near you! If you’re a follower, you “should” be transitioned with stealth, through HTML code and seamless bot U-Hauls. If the movers get a flat tire, there will be a reminder. See you next week!
Today’s Post courtesy of the word Undulate and inspired by a feature from The New York Times