The Culture Minister and Kabát

Jiří Besser explains his unlikely enthusiasm for a popular Czech heavy rock group

More than once, Culture Minister Jiří Besser has expressed his love for the Czech heavy rock group Kabát ("Coat"). This "pub rock" band is known for indulging in alcohol, sex, chauvinistic lyrics and black humor, and is a long way from being considered a national cultural treasure.

Kabát represented the Czech Republic at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2002, the band won the Anděl Award for the year's best-selling album in all categories. And Kabát finished third in this year's Zlatý slavík ("Golden Nightingale") "best band" year.

You once mentioned Kabát as an example of creativity in showbiz. What did you mean by that?

I compared them to a much more successful band, U2, which has made a big contribution to the Irish economy. I wanted to point out that Kabát sold one million copies [of their album] and therefore plays a similar role in our economy. It was a simple comparison but Kabát has stuck with me ever since. But, in fact, it all emerged by chance during the election campaign.

By chance? You were present at the launch of their new album.

Well, yes, I was, but that was only for the fun of it. I wanted to meet them. But it was only a coincidence. When I was preparing my CV for the election campaign website [in October 2010], I listed my favorite musicians as Eric Clapton and The Beatles but my son told me to include a Czech band as well. I asked him what the name of the band was that he listened to at his ice hockey club, and that is how Kabát entered my life. I trained hockey teams for years and it's true that hockey players really like that kind of music. But not only that kind -- they also listen to Malovaný džbánek by Helena Vondráčková ["Painted Jar" -- a famous pop song by a singer who became famous during Communism].

How did you like Kabát's live concert?

I went to the concert to relax because what else should you do at a cultural performance, right? But I don't follow Kabát too closely, I just wanted to have fun. Who is entitled to judge whether it's good culture or bad culture? If you read the lyrics written by Milan Špalek [Kabát's bassist and lyricist], they aren't uncultured. In fact, in many cases they're quite interesting. Let's take the words of the song Lady Gag a Rin from their latest album [Banditi di Praga, 2010, EMI] as an example. They are fun and, at the same time, they represent the testimony of the post-1968 generation. It is all very well expressed in the song.

Do you know this one: "If there were no women, men wouldn't wash their dicks and would jerk off the whole day?"

Well, this is something else. I don't really like that kind of song.

So you prefer the more "intelligent" face of Kabát?

Exactly. I don't want to listen to songs that I don't consider tasteful. I must say their latest album has a number of interesting and decent songs. By the way, I am using one of Kabát's songs as my mobile phone ringtone. Just to provoke people.

Kabát is a down-to-earth pub rock band and you hail from a political party with aristocratic roots (TOP 09, headed by Karel Schwarzenberg, who is from an old aristocratic family). Aren't your colleagues a bit surprised by your musical tastes?

I am a member of a different party -- Starostové a nezávislí ("Mayors and Independents"), not of TOP 09. I don't think it is fair to consider Kabát a pub rock band. How, then, would you explain to me that they won the Zlatý slavík ("Golden Nightingale") award [a popular music competition dating back to Communist times]?

Karel Gott [legendary Czech crooner] is also a winner of the Zlatý slavík award. Does he represent Czech pop music?

That's a little questionable. All I want to say here is I don't distinguish between high culture and low culture. What's bad about selling a million records and winning a Zlatý slavík? Simply put, I don't think Kabát has a bad moral influence on the nation. The band has a number of songs that are funny and authentic. Also, remember how many songs of theirs people know by heart? I'm totally liberal -- anybody can listen to whatever he or she wants. Of course, I understand that it can raise eyebrows if the culture minister listens to a song about dicks at a hockey club. But the truth is I have always been a bit of a provocateur.

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