Plastic People founder “Mejla” Hlavsa remembered 20 years after early death

Mejla Hlavsa, photo: Czech Television

Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Milan “Mejla” Hlavsa, a key figure in the history of Czech alternative music. Hlavsa co-founded the Plastic People of the Universe and played with several other groups before passing away at just 49.

Milan Hlavsa, known to all as “Mejla”, co-founded the Plastic People of the Universe in the late 1960s.

Still in his late teens at the time, he was chief songwriter, singer and bass player with the group, who took inspiration from the likes of Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground.

Ivo Pospíšil played alongside Hlavsa in the later band Garáž and the two were good friends.

“He shaped the sound and music of the Plastic People. I think it was 80 percent his work. Their image on stage was also his work…

“He was a musician who wanted to make a living from playing music, which naturally didn’t much work out for him under the Communists.”

Ivo Pospíšil,  photo: Ian Willoughby

The trial and jailing of members and associates of the Plastic People famously sparked Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 human rights movement.

However the group’s members frequently said they weren’t interested in politics and simply wanted to be let live freely.

This was certainly the case with the charismatic Hlavsa, says Pospíšil.

“He was a rock’n’roller. Of all of them, he wanted to play the most.

“I was there when things changed, when they were barred from performing and decided to take the underground route.

“That played into the hands of Jirous, who created their visual art side. They were ‘dumb musicians’ and he gave them that special quality – something like what Warhol did with the Velvets.”

Jirous is Ivan Martin Jirous, the poet and underground legend who became the Plastics’ artistic guru – and was one of those imprisoned in their trial.

When the band broke up in 1988, the long-haired Hlavsa, who was blessed with rock star good looks, formed another legendary outfit, Půlnoc.

After the fall of communism they even released an LP, City of Hysteria, on a US major label.

PŮLNOC - Muchomůrky bílé

Other groups he played with were DG 307, Fiction and the aforementioned Garáž, while he also released solo material.

Milan “Mejla” Hlavsa died on January 5, 2001, two months and one day short of his 50th birthday.

Ivo Pospíšil says it’s hard to say what he misses most about his long-time cohort.

“We were very close. He was with me for the whole era of the band Garáž, from 1980 until 1994, and we were always working on stuff together.

“So what I miss… is the chance to work on more projects with him. Something else could have happened in those last 20 years.

“I ask myself if I’ve used the gift of those 20 years well. He could have also done loads of things in that time.”