Prague is beautiful but it has its downsides. Take souvenirs, for instance. We've seen our guests having trouble buying some nice souvenirs that would be truly local and remind them of the nice time they had in Prague because it's really heard seeing the connection of some of the stuff they sell in the centre to Prague (Justin Bieber Russian doll, anyone?). Anyway, we're here to help. This is a start of a series of posts that may open your eyes to a different type of souvenirs - maybe more subdued than the things you can buy in the centre but definitely more connected to the Czech culture and history. We will try to point out souvenirs that you really cannot buy anywhere else. And we're starting with music, namely the Dobry casy CD by Mr Vaclav Neckar.
There is a problem with middle-age Czech performing artists, and popular singers in particular. The problem is linked to the Communist past of the Czech Republic: some very popular artists who collaborated with the Communists and enjoyed the perks associated with their fame and obeyance of the Party now find themselves in a position where they have to either be silent about their past under the Communists, or play down the bad things that happened at that time, claiming they did not know about them or see them. That makes them very unpopular especially among the younger generation - they are simply not trustworthy, which is a key thing when you're an older singer wanting to sing songs of experience. On the other hand, many dissident artists simply don't have the popular appeal and are limited to very niche groups.
Vaclav Neckar bridges that gap, and adds a strong personal story as a bonus. Born in 1943, Neckar became very popular in the late 60s. My mom says that when she first saw him on TV (she must have been about 15), it was as if a bomb exploded in the living room: Neckar was the first performer who would actually dance on stage. Before that, all the singers just stood still and sang at a microphone. By contrast, Neckar's dynamic style was new, fresh (and Western). Neckar was also a very good actor: he was the star of the 1966 movie Closely Watched Trains, which actually won the Oscar for the best foreign movie of the year. In the late 1960s, Neckar was a member of the Golden Kids trio with Helena Vondrackova and Marta Kubisova.
But that's where the problems began: Kubisova's song "Prayer for Marta" became the hymn of the Czechs opposing the 1968 Russian invasion, which lead to a ban on her performances in 1970. Neckar was the only artist to back her up, which really complicated his further career, although he did perform solo with his brother's band (his brother was actually my music teacher in the elementary school). In 2002, Neckar suffered a serious stroke which left him, a famed dancer, almost immobile and with a severe speech impediment. He did manage to get some of his abilities back through exercise.
Last year before Christmas, Neckar was approached by three young Czech producers to sing a Christmas song for the Alois Nebel movie promotion. It became a huge hit - a song destined to become a Christmas pop classic - and Neckar witnessed a huge comeback, especially among the younger generation many of whom forgot all about him. The lack of Communist past makes him an ideal candidate as a speaker of his generation for the young.
As a follow-up on the success of this song, Neckar and the three producers have now released a regular album that has got some really nice reviews. You can hear that Neckar's voice is still recovering but that makes it even more believable. The tempo is slower, which again fits Neckar's condition. It's a really nice album of a man with history.
The best place to buy it? Probably BontonLand at the bottom of the Wenceslas Square, or try the basement shop in the Palladium mall at the Namesti Republiky square.