Milan Hlavsa of the Plastic People of the Universe Dies in Prague

Milan Hlavsa

Milan Hlavsa
One of the strongest symbols of communist dissent in the 70s and 80s was the underground rock group Plastic People of the Universe. No amount of communist persecution or propaganda could erase them from public consciousness and when, after the Velvet Revolution, they got back together for occasional concerts - the public acclaim was as great as ever. However, on Friday, January 5th, tragedy struck. Milan Hlavsa, founding member and bass player of the Plastic People, died after a long battle with cancer.Daniela Lazarova has the story.

"My music is my life's blood," Hlavsa said on many occasions. His life as a rock musician was a roller coaster of ups and downs, with isolation and imprisonment at one end of the scale, friendship with Lou Reed, founder of the Velvet Underground, with whom he performed for Czech President Vaclav Havel and US President Bill Clinton on the other. Banned from public appearances in the 70s and 80s, the Plastic People played at private gatherings and released four albums in the West. In the former Czechoslovakia, their songs were taped and re-taped in the privacy of people's homes.

At the close of the 80s, when the Plastic People stopped performing regularly, Milan Hlavsa founded another band called Midnight with whom he later released City of Hysteria and toured the United States. Magic Nights was his last CD. In the meantime, the Plastic People of the Universe had gotten back together for occasional concerts. Despite the fact that the stores were now packed with Western music, their fans came back and packed concert halls. The band started work on a new CD and planned a string of summer concerts. In the midst of this, tragedy struck. Milan Hlavsa was diagnosed with lung cancer. The concerts were scrapped and Hlavsa underwent chemotherapy. When it seemed that his chances for recovery were rising, he had a sudden re-lapse.

Ales Opekar, who heads the jazz music dept at Czech Radio, knew Milan Hlavsa personally and I asked him to tell me what he was like.

If you are in Prague we would like to bring to your attention an ongoing exhibition related to Czech underground rock in the years between 1956 and 1972. It is to be seen at Prague's Pop-Museum at Besedni Ulice 3, at Ujezd, Prague 1. The exhibition is called "Big Beat".