Yoga, new age, world music… phenomena that are an integral part of our reality. Propagating them under the conditions of a rigid Czechoslovak communist regime, however, meant exposing them to various risks, including arrest and imprisonment.
Vlastimil Marek was born in 1946 in the Silesian Sudetes. His parents came from South Moravia and, like many others, went to the border after the war. Father Josef and mother Vlasta were enthusiastic about communist ideas. They lived in a building on the outskirts of Krnov, a few meters from the Polish border.
The truth is under the counter, there’s a lie on the shelves
Vlasta, a little bespectacled number one, has spent a lot of time in the library since he was a child. He won the favor of the librarian, who occasionally showed him publications that were supposed to remain hidden from readers. He says he has already intuitively exposed the hypocrisy and lies of the regime in place. The environment of the small Moravian town was tight. Also, his parents divorced over time, so he had little reason to return home. He wanted to travel and explore the world. He headed to a tourism-oriented high school in Karlovy Vary. But even here, instead of dreaming of traveling and studying languages, he knew she was an “ordinary economist.” He left school before graduation. Vlastimil Marek continued to educate himself and did so all his life.
During his studies in Karlovy Vary, he contracted a serious illness. It was manifested by otitis, mumps and repeated vomiting. In retrospect, he thought this may have been the result of the physical punishments he faced at home as a child. “My father would go around the congregation, and when he came back every fortnight, he would beat me as a precaution, whether I was angry or not.” And they were strict with themselves and ruthlessly strict with others. At the same time, he added that corporal punishment was common practice at the time, even in schools of all levels.
The long treatment and the situation where even the invited experts did not know how to cope with his illness confirmed Vlastiml Marek in the belief that he should help himself in the care of his health. “So I started practicing yoga.” He remembers seeing an ad for a yoga class in Wenceslas Square. The then exotic discipline, which had become common, was difficult to enforce under the then regime, the comrades accepted the physical side of the exercise, but the spiritual dimension had to be kept aside. And if the lecturer was interested in this area, he sang about problems. From yoga, Vlastimil Mark’s path led to Zen Buddhism and other alternative spiritual directions.
From the Charles Bridge to the Amalgam
In the 60s, however, in his words, he found freedom primarily in music. He lived in Prague and earned his living, but always tried to adapt his schedule to be able to spend as much time as possible on Prague’s Charles Bridge. He meets singers such as Vlasta Třešňák, Jaroslav Hutka or Petr Kalandra. And also a charismatic bearded man named Jaroslav Jeroným Neduha.
With the beginning of the 1970s, the atmosphere changed and the free artists gradually cleared up their positions, including Charles Bridge… Neduha founded the rock group Extempore, and around 1974, Marek joined them. He bought a drum set for it and in three months he would have learned to play the drums. The group became one of the leading bands of the scene, which later became known as the alternative. Unlike most musical teams of the time, they refused to compromise with the regime, but did not resign their legal status and attempted to perform in public under limited conditions.
Over time, their platform became the Jazz Section, which falls under the official Association of Musicians. It took several years for the regime to liquidate the rebel section. Vlastimil Marek also performed well in such an environment, passing through several groups, and according to the recollections of his teammates at the time, he was able to arouse others with his enthusiasm, but also to break the same groups by insisting on asserting their opinions.
Ultimately, he applied his creative ideas best in the band Amalgám, where he combined rock experience with an interest in Eastern cultures. When the band performed in May 1978 at VI. At the Prague Jazz Days in Lucerne, alongside the percussionist Vlasta Marek, the “stars” of the then alternative scene, an Indian tabla player and two diehard punks stood side by side. Their largely improvised performances received great applause.
“However, Mark’s music was not purely Indian, but not purely world music. Marek logically branched out into new age music,”
later written by critic Josef Vlček. The bandleader himself went on to describe Amalgam as “an attempt to capture the atmosphere, the exoticism, an attempt to communicate directly without words. Tabla and sitar versus guitar and drums. The pleasure of playing at every gig. Uniqueness and still a first. No great art and no great performances. Just like that.”
I’ll show the honored court what I’ve been punished for
We were already talking about the stubbornness of Vlastimil Marek. It was quite a useful feature in the conditions of normalized Czechoslovakia, one could withstand anything if one had enough courage and patience. For example, the approval of the necessary exit clause and the promise of exchange so that in 1974 he could attend the concert of his beloved Frank Zappa in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Likewise, in five years, he traveled to faraway Japan to do an internship in Zen Buddhist monasteries. Among other things, his success in the Japanese conversation contest, which he took as part of his teaching at the embassy, helped him to do so.
It was lively international contacts that ultimately led Vlastimil Marek to the greatest conflict with communist power. In August 1986, he wanted to hold an event called Gong for Peace. One day, in different parts of the world, he had “the sound of the gong uniting the people of all the planet”.
Mark was arrested by the police on the day of the scheduled peace concert and subsequently ransacked his house. Even in prison among his fellow inmates, he promoted yoga or “taught the gypsies to lie down and dream quickly, for they are free in their dreams.” It was out of the question to convict someone for playing the gong in the mid-1980s. And so the forensic machinery used the clause to harm the interests of the state abroad. Marek was supposed to commit it while describing the situation of independent rock music in socialist Czechoslovakia in a Japanese newspaper. He eventually escaped with a suspended sentence.
He performed a stunt of hussars at the last trial, smuggled a gong into the courtroom, and when he had a chance to speak, he stood up and said, “Having spent two months in detention for wanting to play Letná to gong and he was also sentenced for it, so I will show the respected court and those present what I was punished for. I quickly pulled the gong and ghost out from under the bench, banging on it hard. The guards intervened immediately, but I immediately hid the gong again in the bench, the judge shouted at me what I would like, I just smiled and shrugged,” he later wrote. .
The trial has so far radicalized the apolitical Vlastimil Marek, and thus established cooperation with dissidents. After the Velvet Revolution, he briefly became involved in communal politics, but over time he returned to what was closest to him, to music, spiritual growth and, above all, the transfer of experience to those interested in an alternative approach to life. He became a promoter of natural childbirth. He wrote a number of books and then got excited about publishing on the internet. When he resigned from the Memory of the Nation more than a few years ago, there was still enthusiasm and enthusiasm in him. “I’m satisfied, no one has had a life like this,” he said. He said at the same time, “I’m ready to go.
i don’t want to be there
His last entry on the blog.baraka.cz site was on September 1, 2020. It is in a much more pessimistic spirit, after all, the article is titled I don’t want to be there. “My (carotid) artery full of cholesterol can’t supply oxygen to the brain (all year 2019 in the house, jackhammers banged during the reconstruction of vacant apartments on Airbnb): she also causes cataracts, and therefore vision loss (I can’t read or write)… Maybe someone has already read my blogs and compiled some of them into the reviews, or at least selected relevant ideas. Compiling calm, let alone intelligent sentences, is already a clock for me. »
At the beginning of 2021, when the coronavirus pandemic peaked in the Czech Republic, the family managed to find refuge for Vlastimil Marek in one of the homes for the elderly. Unfortunately, during the entry procedure, he also contracted this disease and succumbed to its consequences on March 16, 2021.
Fortunately, the wishes expressed in Mark’s latest blog entry have not gone unnoticed. On the occasion of the first anniversary of his death, an article appeared in the March issue of the cultural magazine UNI (edited by Unijazz, successor to the legendary Jazz Section). The concert of his former teammates Mikoláš Chadima and Jakub Noha took place at the Kaštan club. And since March 17, the Libri Prohibiti Library has been holding an exhibition called To M&rek dedicated to his rich samizdat activities. The legacy of this inspiring figure in our cultural scene of the past five decades lives on…