If the images in the video above look like ghostly relics of a bygone era, that’s because they are. They’ve been collected by Stephen Coates for his book, X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music ‘On the Bone’, and they were recently on display at The Horse Hospital in London.
Soviet subjects could only purchase music the government had approved. As such, only a small, carefully censored selection of classical music and traditional Slavic folk songs were available.
In Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, music lovers began risking arrest by producing their own records. They couldn’t obtain proper record vinyl, but discovered they could use unwanted X-ray plates from local hospitals instead. Thus began “bone records,” or roentgenizdat. Eventually, bone records could be found in black markets all over the Soviet Union.
The records contained local and international pop music, jazz, unsanctioned classics, film soundtracks, and, of course, rock ’n’ roll. The common theme? It was all music that, hypothetically, risked fracturing the simplistic sense of contentment that the government had long attempted to force on its people. There was simply no place for haunting lyrics like these, from the song “You Poisoned My Soul”:
My dear, I send you greetings across the sea chained by ice.
The are many miles between us, and there is no way to come back to the past.
I have crossed hot deserts and heard old shepherds singing, as the dusk approaches, wind starts to blow from the Caspian Sea.
You left like if it was an untold fairytale, covered by a smoke, and I was left alone with my guitar, you left with somebody else.
You poisoned my soul, and took away my youth, my golden hair turned to gray, I am standing on the edge of abyss.
The X-Ray Audio site has more of this forbidden music.
Video by Jessamine Molli.