Michal Horacek - Part Two: the world of betting, lyrics, and "Cesko hleda superstar"

Michal Horacek, photo: www.michalhoracek.cz

In today's 2nd part of a special two-part One on One we continue our discussion with Michal Horacek - one of the Czech Republic's most successful lyricists, whose work over the years transformed the Czech music scene. Long before he became a prominent song writer Michal Horacek went through a number of different professions: journalist, author, and, amazingly, horse-race bookie. We begin today's interview with Michal Horacek describing those who occupied the so-called demimonde.

"Of course it was an experience I never really expected, working with people who, for example, never read books! At all, you know? They had no idea about cultural contexts - contexts which were always hotly discussed in our family - all the time, as intellectuals do! So, for me it was a new world, the world of the 'demimonde' really. Most of those people were almost always one foot in prison, or courting disaster, but they had a special poetic vision, some of them at least. And, a very keen sense of humour, these street-wise people. This was a wealth of new experience for me and I am really glad I was able to live 'with' them."

One of the big passions of your life has been bookmaking - gambling. When did you first becoming a 'betting' man?

"There is that childhood game - kulicky - marbles! That must have been the first time. You need to win their marbles and you're afraid of losing yours! More seriously, when I was about 14 or 15 I went to my first racetrack in Prague and I stayed... for decades! I'm glad I did, because this was the only very small 'island' of a free market and capitalism in a huge monolithic world of Socialism where if you risked anything it didn't bring you any rewards. Whereas on the racetrack you had to form an opinion and you had to back it. Pitting your opinion - and your money -against your rivals: that for me is the definition of entrepreneurship."

What kind of work were you doing for the Kentucky paper [The Thoroughbred Record]?

"It was horseracing only but I was a specialist on the history of horseracing - I wrote two books in Czech on that - and I tracked, for example, various trainers and jockeys in Russia, for example in the early 19th but also the 20th century. One of those guys even won the Kentucky Derby. And, the Americans didn't know: it was a contribution they craved and for me it was a good way to write for the local press."

Let's turn to your lyrics - you began writing lyrics in the early 80s - how did you make the leap?

"I always wanted to pass on a message, to tell a story. And it didn't have to be, necessarily, in the papers or as an author of novels or something like that. Having been raised on Bob Dylan and Donovan and Leonard Cohen, it occurred to me that this modern time was different from that of my parents even. My parents did read large novels, they did read long poems, but my generation turned to songs, especially of the songs had good lyrics like Leonard Cohen's for example. And I thought that this would be a channel through which I could talk to my audience. I always wanted to do that."

"But, it took me some 8 - 10 years of writing only 'to my drawer', writing by trial and error. And, then, suddenly I said to myself 'Maybe I am ready'. I went to see the most well-known composers in this country, being nobody. Of course it was audacious, and I was turned away, but then, Petr Hapka, the best of them, invited me in and [we teamed up and that was it]. We've been working together since 1984. Three of four albums we made together were voted Albums of the Year and included Songs of the Year and I think we changed a little bit the way that songs are done here. That songs are not just written for dancing or for the elevator, but really lyrics where you want to listen to all the words. To put a CD on at 1 am and spend just an hour or two in the company of the singer and the authors."

Do you remember the feeling when you first saw your words transformed through music, say, with Petr Hapka?

"This is impossible to forget, really. Because, when you see how 'nothing' changes into 'something' it's a miraculous moment - in anybody's life. It's like a childbirth, and it's difficult for me to describe this kind of feeling. It is always, for me, the moment I am looking for, I am hoping for."

Let's discuss "Pop Idol" - the Czech Republic has had two series and here it's called "Cesko hleda Superstar" - what made you take up the chairmanship of the jury?

"First of all that I was made the offer. The be the chairman of this jury is... I think it's the single-most 'spotlighted' place in the whole country, you know. In live transmissions you can say whatever, whatever you want. Want an incredible element of freedom!"

[In the contest] there's a huge element of the unknown and risk that these young people go through.... But we really only see the tip of the iceberg, don't we?

"Ah, I did see it more closely than most of course: the terrible nerves that they had to conquer and the beating of their hearts. This is something, when seen from such a close distance, is always thrilling. To see so many people wanting so much the same thing and doing it, competing according to clear rules, it was thrilling. Extremely."

Ultimately, what has been the impact of the 'Superstar' programme on the Czech music scene?

"It's maybe too early to say. These guys are not superstars. But, they did get a good chance, maybe an excellent chance, to really do something with their artistic development. Of course it helps if you're a household name if you want to sell an album. But the first is not really important, but the third. Maybe they will not go as far as a third album. I hope that they do, and I hope that they make maybe a dozen. But, this is nothing else but a chance."

If it's too early to rate this year's competition, how would you rate Aneta Langerova?

"Last year's winner Aneta was extraordinary. Maybe a person like that is born just once in a decade. And without this contest she would have made no impact whatsoever. And it would be bad not only for her but for us because she is a talent. [Regarding the Czech music scene] the contest is important... because so many well-established stars here are entrenched, some of them have been for decades! For someone from the US this will be incredible to hear: but we have a singer [ed. note - Karel Gott] who has been the top singer for 42 or 45 years. Amazing! Incredible. An "immortal" singer who was Number 1 at 17 and is Number 1 at 67! So, it is difficult to get into this environment of stars. 'Pop Idol' is helping young talent to break through, helping young talent come to the fore."