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Crimea River

©2001 Lewis Bruser

 

When Julie London's recording of "Crimea River" became a big hit, she was sued by the Soviet Academy of Songwriters. With typical Cossack effrontery they demanded all the royalties plus three million dollars for copyright infringement. Her husband, Bobby Troup, decided to fight back. Assured by Kremlinologists at the Hoover Institution that there had never been a Soviet song entitled "Crimea River," he filed a countersuit: three million for libel and another three million for Miss London's mental anguish.

The litigation dragged on and on for years, through higher and higher courts, until both sides realized that only their lawyers were getting rich. It was time for reconciliation.

And so it came about that a startled world was treated to the spectacle of Nikita Khrushchev hugging and kissing Van Cliburn at an obviously rigged International Tschaikovsky Competition.

In a follow-up gesture of goodwill, Bobby Troup went to Moscow and before thousands of screaming fans, who stood in line all night for tickets, performed Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." The only sour note occured during the gala banquet after the concert, when the conductor of the Moscow symphony struggled to his feet, waved a glass of vodka at the chair recently occupied by Bobby Troup before he slid under the table, and said, reportedly with a sneer, "I knew Harry James, Gaspadin Troup, and you're no Harry James."

It could have been the start of a new round of ugly provocations, but everyone was in a jovial mood and laughed uproariously, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

The Soviet Empire crumbled, and a generation that knew not Julie London evinced little interest when the Russian National Academy of Songwriters released the complete list of all the songs that had ever been banned in all the Russias since the reign of Ivan the Terrible, and it turned out that there really was a "Crimea River" after all. It was a lovely old folk song, and had been banned not by the Bolsheviks but by the Czar himself when it became popular among Turkish soldiers during the Crimean War. They sang it every night around their campfires along the river, demoralizing the homesick Russian lads huddled around their own fires on the other side. Joseph Brodsky has given us a hauntingly beautiful translation:

When we with soaking heads for apples bobbed,
My heart with love for little Dark Eyes throbbed.
She tossed her curls and taunted while I sobbed,
"Crimea River, boychick, off on you I won't be fobbed."

Oh somewhere on the Volga boatmen sing,
And quiet flows the Don through silent spring,
And young virginia creepers by the Dnieper cling,
But O Crimea River, where is now thy sting?

 

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