In men, the physical type I’m most attracted to is what they call a Kerl in German. Not too pretty, not too tall; tough and stoic, but emotionally explosive underneath. Harvey Keitel in The Piano; Gabriel Byrne in Miller’s Crossing; Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West. I’ve never actually been involved with this type of man in real life—personality wise, I doubt we’d be compatible—but in movies they still make me weak in the knees. The hottest of the silver screen Kerls? Hands down, the Russian actor and singer Vladimir Vysotsky. Check out this video from 1974, the year I was born. Even from my crib I would have swooned:
In the early 2000s, I studied Russian for a few semesters at Humboldt University of Berlin (more on this in future posts, because there are stories to tell). Located in the former East, the Russian department at Humboldt was full of some fossils, some old school Soviets who believed languages are best learned when you wear grammar like a hair shirt, when the declension of nouns is handled the same as a cat o’ nine tails. Needless to say, I didn’t last long in the program; but luckily I was there long enough to discover Vysotsky.
Besides his brutish good looks, Vysotsky has such an amazing voice: a deep growl, as though he were part grizzly bear. Although he was officially more recognized for his acting—his songs often contain elements of political satire, and the Soviets weren’t exactly long on humor—he was an underground singer-songwriter star, achieving cult status in his lifetime. My Russian tandem partner, who grew up in Saint Petersburg, told me people made bootlegs of his songs which they copied and passed out to friends because it was hard to actually buy his music.
Here is one of my favorites, My Gypsy Son, a dark song, a drunkard’s dream. Click on the link for the English translation.
Vysotsky died in 1980 when he was my age: 42. Although some controversy surrounded his death—the Soviets initially were investigating for manslaughter—he death was most likely alcohol and drug-related, two addictions he struggled with most of his adult life like the echter Kerl he was.