“I don’t remember when—I may have been 12 or 13 years old—I first heard a recording of Vysotsky’s songs, but I will never forget the visceral reaction I had to the emotions that burst through from that audiocassette. Today, with a hint of irony, I remember the atmosphere of recklessness, of illicitness, everyone felt when listening to his verse while in a group. As Vysotsky put it in a song, “children are always frustrated by their age and their circumstances.” In this sense, I was no different than my peers, who were entranced by that magically hoarse voice that pulled you into the world, the world of “adults.”
Growing up, I started to gain a wider perspective and grasp the society of which Vysotsky sang. Casting aside my childish black-and-white understanding of this world and beginning to appreciate its many nuances, I could finally make an informed choice. Since then, Vysotsky has been my constant companion and guide throughout all of my life’s turning points. Every step forward along a difficult path, riddled with unavoidable risks, has brought to mind associations with Vysotsky’s poetry—that is how capably he captured the psychology of struggle and resistance.
The final stage of my ascendance to the top of chess’s Mt. Olympus turned into an unprecedented twenty-five-month marathon. Ninety-six games, played over the course of three matches, contained in them nearly the entire spectrum of human emotion: the unease of balancing on the brink of catastrophe, the bitterness of frustrated hopes, the joy of success, and the unending search for creativity. During this time, I had to rethink many things, take a fresh look at many areas of life. Now it is clear what a wide gulf separates these two versions of me: the optimistic challenger who started the battle for the crown on September 10, 1984, on the one side, and, on the other, the world champion who had withstood trial after trial and demonstrated the grit necessary to climb to the top.
Over the course of those twenty-five months, one ritual remained unchanged for me: all 96 times before battle, I received my parting words from Vysotsky. Ninety-six times, I listened to his “Horses” as they sped along the edge of the abyss. Ninety-six times, this unlikely, surreal vision forced me to find new resources for my own unending fight.
If you want to better understand yourself—try to live through that which Vysotsky tries to live with each one of his heroes. If you want to learn your own value, try to live up to the highest principles of citizenship, as embodied by the songs of Vladimir Vysotsky.
We cannot remain outside observers; we have to act and fight.
“Decide who you are—a coward or one of the chosen ones
And venture a taste of the fight.”
This simple yet ingenious formulation has been the motto of all the unrelenting seekers of destiny across time; it is the driver of all human progress and advancement.
We have to act, so that at least something changes today for a better tomorrow. We have to act in the name of the future, and in the name of those who will follow us. And, finally, we have to act so that we do not lose the lofty title of “human.” That was the axiom of Vysotsky. His life affirmed it by example.
[Excerpted from an essay in the first Soviet book about Vysotsky, an anthology published in 1987.]