Updated: Mar 21, 2022
If you're a band and you want to record (cover) someone else's song-- a song someone else wrote-- you have to ask permission. And when the song sells, the writer gets a share. But after you ask and you get no response in a reasonable amount of time, you can just cover the song anyway. You still have pay the songwriter their share of the royalties. But there is an exception to this rule of thumb. If you want to change the song-- as in for example, different lyrics-- you really do have to get the express approval of the songwriter. Otherwise you can be sued. Songwriters tend to say "no" about changing their lyrics. The Clash just agreed that Beton, a relatively unknown Ukrainian punk band, can make changes to and record their biggest hit, "London Calling." Beton's version, of course, is "Kyiv Calling." The Guardian reported today that "All proceeds of what is now billed as a “war anthem” will go to the Free Ukraine Resistance Movement (FURM) to help fund a shared communications system that will alert the population to threats and lobby for international support."
Little known fact: Mick Jones, who co-wrote "London Calling" with Joe Strummer is Jewish and traces his roots back to Ukraine. When we were first getting to know each other in London before the band recorded Give 'Em Enough Rope, he told me about the Pale, a historical fact I had missed, even though that's where my grandfather was from. It was Mick who had to give permission for Beton to change the lyrics. I'm sure he did it with great joy.
In the last few days the three members of Beton, which means “concrete” in Ukrainian, have rewritten the lyrics to the hit, after being given permission by the Clash’s surviving members, in order to put out a morale-boosting message of resistance and to call on other countries for aid. The new track has been mixed in Los Angeles by the music producer Danny Saber, a former member of Black Grape who has worked with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. The new lyrics include the lines “The iron age is coming, the curtain’s coming down” and “Kyiv calling to the Nato zone/Forget it, brother, we can’t go it alone.”
Beton’s band members, Bohdan Hrynko, Oleg Hula and Andriy Zholob, recorded Kyiv Calling in a studio in Lviv lastThursday and Friday. A video for the track features footage shot by the band’s friends, family, colleagues and volunteers, and captures some of the recent attacks in towns and cities, from Kharkiv to Kyiv.
The musicians are now also playing a part in the war effort. Zholob, the guitarist and vocalist, also works as an orthopaedic doctor, and is treating war victims and soldiers, while Hrynko, the drummer and vocalist, and the bassist and vocalist, Hula, are part of the territorial defence and are ready to join the resistance when called upon. In normal times Hrynko is an architect and Hula the co-owner of a company that supplies sound and lighting kit for concerts and festivals.
“Many Ukrainian musicians are now on battlefields or in territorial defence,” said Zholob. “They’ve changed guitars to guns. We hope this song shows Ukrainians’ spirit and our defiance to Russian aggression. We are glad it is going to be played around the world as a symbol of solidarity and hope.”
Yaroslav Hrytsak is a Ukrainian historian who penned a guest post for the NY Times today, Putin Made A Profound Miscalculation On Ukraine. He wrote that "Ukraine, which has a common origin point with Russia, has developed differently over the course of centuries, diverging in crucial ways from its neighbor to the east" and that by invoking history to insist that Ukraine and Russia are one country-- recall that Señor Trumpanzee echoed that and said Putin's invasion was steeped in "love"-- Putin is right about history holding a key to understanding the present, but wrong to assume that hostly will enable his success. "[I]t’s what will thwart him."
Around 7 million Ukrainians were killed during WWII and "in the aftermath," wrote Hrytsak, "Ukraine was sealed up in the Soviet Union, and the question for a time seemed settled." With the collapse of Communism Russian nationalists like Putin assumed "Ukrainian independence wouldn’t last long. In time, Ukraine would be begging to be taken back. It didn’t happen. Though some Ukrainians remained under the sway of Russian culture, politically they leaned to the West, as shown by the Orange Revolution of 2004, when millions of Ukrainians protested against electoral fraud."
So Putin changed course. Soon after the war in Georgia in 2008, in which the Kremlin seized control of two Georgian regions, he designed a new strategic policy for Ukraine. According to the plan, any steps Kyiv might take in the direction of the West would be punished with military aggression. The objective was to cleave off Ukraine’s Russophone east and turn the rest of the country into a vassal state headed by a Kremlin puppet.
At the time, it seemed fantastical, ludicrous. Nobody believed it could be genuine. But by the final weeks of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2014, in which Ukrainians demanded an end to corruption and an embrace of the West, it became horribly clear that Russia was intent on aggression. And so it proved: In a rapid-fire operation, Putin seized Crimea and parts of the Donbas. But crucially, the full extent of his ambition was thwarted, in large part through the heroic resistance mounted by volunteers in the country’s east.
Putin miscalculated in two ways. First, he was hoping that, as had been the case with his war against Georgia, the West would tacitly swallow his aggression against Ukraine. A unified response from the West was not something he expected. Second, since in his mind Russians and Ukrainians were one nation, Putin believed Russian troops needed barely to enter Ukraine to be welcomed with flowers. This never materialized.
What happened in Ukraine in 2014 confirmed what liberal Ukrainian historians have been saying for a long time: The chief distinction between Ukrainians and Russians lies not in language, religion or culture--— here they are relatively close-- but in political traditions. Simply put, a victorious democratic revolution is almost impossible in Russia, whereas a viable authoritarian government is almost impossible in Ukraine.
The reason for this divergence is historical. Up until the end of World War I (and in the case of western Ukraine, the end of World War II), Ukrainian lands were under the strong political and cultural influence of Poland. This influence was not Polish per se; it was, rather, a Western influence. As the Harvard Byzantinist Ihor Sevcenko put it, in Ukraine the West was clad in Polish dress. Central to this influence were the ideas of constraining centralized power, an organized civil society and some freedom of assembly.
Putin seems to have learned nothing from his failures in 2014. He has launched a full-scale invasion, seemingly intended to remove the Ukrainian government from power and pacify the country. But again, Russian aggression has been met with heroic Ukrainian resistance and united the West. Though Putin may escalate further, he is far from the military victory he sought. A master tactician but inept strategist, he has made his most profound miscalculation.
Yet it’s one based on the belief that he is at war not with Ukraine but with the West in Ukrainian lands. It’s essential to grasp this point. The only way to defeat him is to turn his belief-- that Ukraine is fighting not alone but with the help of the West and as part of the West-- into a waking nightmare.
How this could be done, whether through humanitarian and military help, incorporating Ukraine into the European Union or even supplying it with its own Marshall Plan, are open questions. What matters is the political will to answer them. After all, the struggle for Ukraine, as history tells us, is about much more than just Ukraine or Europe. It is the struggle for the shape of the world to come.
Kyiv is calling
To the whole world
Come out of neutrality you boys and girls
Kyiv is calling
Now don't look to us
Phony Putinmania has bitten the dust
Kyiv is calling
See, we don't have the planes
So clear our skies, stop the rockets of pain