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The Master And Margarita, And Music

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 10:50 AM

A book cover to The Master and Margarita. A book cover to The Master and Margarita.

As Patti Smith tells us on tonight’s show, the title track of her latest album, Banga, was inspired by a character from the Mikhail Bulgakov novel The Master And Margarita. Set mostly in the atheist Soviet state of Russia in the 1930s, the book portrays the devil, who appears as the cultured professor Woland, and his bizarre retinue as they impose themselves on a society that refuses to believe in them. 

Part of the story, though, follows Pontius Pilate, who recognizes in Jesus the Nazarene a kindred spirit, but who finds himself forced into ordering his execution. Banga is the name of the dog who stays faithfully by Pontius Pilate's side as Pilate waits, through the long passage of years, for a chance to talk to Jesus the Nazarene.

For Patti Smith -- whose musicians have played with her faithfully for decades -- the song "Banga" becomes an anthem for the band. But the loyal dog is not the only character from The Master And Margarita to have inspired a song. Below, we have a list of other songs inspired by the book.

Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs, "Begemot (Behemoth)"

The Bulgarian producer and composer Kottarashky writes music that can include trippy electronics or the sounds of Balkan folk music.  Or both.  Here, he marries Indian tabla, klezmer clarinet, and trip-hop production to portray one of the Woland’s more colorful associates -- the demon Begemot (or in English, Behemoth) who usually exists in the form of a huge black cat, often armed and drinking vodka. The singing/rapping, in English, mentions colors frequently, ending, tellingly, with repeated use of "black."

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The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy For The Devil"

Mick Jagger’s character introduces himself in the first line as "a man of wealth and taste," a clear reference to the sophisticated Woland. The story goes that Marianne Faithful gave Jagger a copy of the Bulgakov novel when it was finally published in 1967, and this song was the result. In it we hear Bulgakov’s devil shepherding mankind through one calamity after another (Jagger adds the line about killing those Kennedys, which, of course, happened well after Bulgakov’s death in 1940) and gleefully observing the carnage that results. 

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Franz Ferdinand, "Love And Destroy"

This song from the popular Scottish band takes its lyrics from one of the most famous scenes from the Bulgakov novel. Margarita, drawn into Woland’s world on Walpurgis Night (the night of the witches’ Sabbath, as portrayed in Modest Mussorgsky’s famed orchestral piece Night On Bald Mountain), flies naked through the night over Moscow. "Rip the robes right off my chest," Alex Kapranos sings, "I fly high above the Muscovites' sky"

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Pearl Jam, "Pilate"

This early Pearl Jam track brings us back to Banga again. The lyrics of the verses are fairly abstract, though they could easily be the endlessly circling thoughts of Pilate as he ponders what he’s done and yearns for a chance to explain himself to Jesus. But the chorus, without naming Banga, is still pretty clear: "Like Pilate, I have a dog."

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Comments [1]

don from The Village, NYC

Here you have an example of two washed up figures (one of whom SHOULD wash up; enough with the wicked witch of the waste Smitty!) and a smug dodo NPR host whom I'd thought they'd had the sense to finally retire!! UGH!!! Public radio is worse than for profit when it come to refusing to face up to when it's time to LET GO!!

Sep. 24 2012 02:07 PM

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