A rock star and outspoken social critic in his homeland of Czechoslovakia, Petr Novak’s musical career was cut short by an oppressive political regime and his own self-destructiveness. In the 1960s and early 70s, Novak symbolized for Czech youth the free spirited hippie culture and surging rock rebellion rising up in Eastern Bloc countries. Novak became a threatening presence to the Communist invaders in the Prague Spring of 1969, a time when Novak was a high profile figurehead for change. He was considered by many to be a Czech John Lennon.
While Novak managed to exist within the parameters laid down by the conservative ruling class, his spirit had been shaken and he eventually descended into alcoholism and drug use. He continued to release albums of rapidly diminishing quality until his death in 1997 at the age of 52.
Novak was a huge fan of The Beatles and London’s pop scene and the English influences can be seen and heard in his fashion sense and music. In a ballsy move he actually named his first band The Beatles, which he later re-named George and The Beatovens. But, Novak was something quite unique and comparisons to the British Invasion bands and the Mersey Sound are mostly superficial. Novak has more in common, to my ears, with French artists like Serge Gainsbourg, Jacque Brel and British crooners like Scott Walker and even David Bowie. There’s also gothic and progressive elements in his work that foreshadow bands like The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and The Bunnymen, the other Mersey sound.
Petr Novak operates in his own zone and I find his music and these videos compelling enough to wonder if it might not be a good time for a record label to release a compilation of his material. As it is, I can’t find any of his music other than on expensive out-of-print vinyl.
Here’s a short video history of Petr Novak. Some of the clips are visually quite stunning.