He was the ‘bard’ of the Soviet Union.

The government didn’t like to admit it, of course. Vladimir Vsotsky, for all of his massive popularity, was an official non-entity. He sang about the parts of Soviet Russia that weren’t supposed to exist – in the beginning, his famous ‘outlaw songs’ told tales about the drunks and prostitutes of Moscow. Over time, he would come to write dozens of serious satires, particularly about war. In the end, he would pen over six hundred songs that ranged over every imaginable subject – almost all of them written in the first person, and traded on bootlegged tapes by most of the Soviet population.

He battled with alcoholism his entire life. He spent his last ten years battling it with the help of Marina Vlady, a French actress who eventually joined the Communist Party in order to go to the Soviet Union more freely. In attempting to build their first home, Vsotsky had to provide free concerts to permit offices, factories and lumbermills. It was the only way to get the materials and proper paperwork.

On his grave stands a stirring monument, complete with angel wings. It is the last thing he or his wife wanted: such a monument is an expression of Soviet Realism. He continues to be almost completely unknown, outside of Russia.