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  • Jack Hubbell

"Wish You Were Here"

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Some years ago, during one of my first visits to Georgia, I was talking to someone who would later become a very dear friend. We were boasting about our record collections and my friend mentioned that he really wanted an original copy of a specific Pink Floyd album.

He sighed and stated that he only had the shitty soviet copies.

"Like a soviet version of Pink Floyd?" I asked.

"No, the same band, just illegal bootleg versions."

He explained that it wasn't a Copywrite issue but that the USSR had banned many specific albums outright.

"Anything that might make you think." He said.

In secret, these albums were pressed and distributed by everyday people. It was one of the many tiny whispers of rebellion in the silence behind the iron curtain.

After that conversation, I walked away wondering, "how can I get my hands on a soviet Dark Side of the Moon?" I also wondered how the extraordinary feat of distributing an illegal album across the vastness of the soviet empire seemed less impressive to him as it was to me.

Old lada car in tbilisi
Sometimes you can find these old records at places like this.

I realize now that we all struggle with what we worship and what we take for granted. It's not just classic rock records that people here envy, It's the whole gilded enchilada.

One evening, I asked a girl to teach me some Georgian phrases. Even though I struggled quite a bit (and still do), she was delighted to try and show me some new words.

"It makes me happy that you like my home enough to want to learn," She said. "Most of my friends, Georgian ones, don't like it here. They only want to go to the US."

"What would they do there?" I asked.

"Work at McDonalds I guess... Then maybe start a business."

I thought about the idea of a young kid showing up in the US and probably having to work two shifts, like many natives do, just to get by. I'm not saying that this hypothetical person couldn't make it work. It's certainly been done before, but they would never rest again. They would be immediately be thrown into an unforgiving culture of desperation, the modern Americana hustle. All of this after coming from a place where if you are broke, you don't pay property tax. The land you live on is YOURS. If you wanted to unplug at any time, you could always quit your job, and grow your own food. You just can't do that in modern America.

"Your friend would probably need to eat only McDonalds just to get by," I finally said.

"Well, everyone here dreams of eating McDonalds every day."

This made me think about the veggie shop and butcher I go to on my little street here. Farm fresh eggs and cheese, things that only the upper-middle class can afford to get at their whole foods or trendy farmers market back in the US. Here, organic EVERYTHING is just considered peasant food. Peasant food that has been cooked into dishes steeped in culture and tradition, much like Americans used to do. However, we made the decision to make our entire culture about consumption. It was at that moment that I remembered the Pink Floyd line, "cold comfort for change." We traded our culture and our freedom for cash and in the end, the machine raised the prices on us anyway. Like a deal with the devil, we got nothing real from it.

Apparently, those rebels in the USSR never printed out enough of those records, or maybe we were all just too enamored by what glitters to notice or to listen.

I admit that I have taken for granted that I grew up in a world where I'd never have to deal with shitty quality vinyl pressings and cheeseburgers practically grow on trees, but I do think, now more than ever, we need to realize that it is us that the machine relies on, not the other way around. Maybe we need to find the rebellious spirit that would press out audio contraband in the dead of night.

This is not a rant against capitalism, but rather the thought that we can have a life of plenty without sacrificing our art and culture and selling out to what governments want for cash.

Or, perhaps it's simply a plea that you don't "exchange your walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage."

Ladouka Ninua and Jack Hubbell with a vinyl record
Photo with Ladouka Ninua featuring an illegal 1988 Delicate Sound of Thunder.

*If anyone is wondering, the audio quality of this one is absolute shit.

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