Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A love for cars among today’s middle-aged Muscovites surely traces back to this song from their teen years.
Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab staffers share their favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.
When CityLab recently interviewed architectural historian Nikolai Vassiliev about the Moscow Metro system, he mentioned how car culture has become so ingrained in the Russian capital that “it seems impossible to get the generation that is now between 40 and 55 years old to switch to public transportation.”
Now we know why: We’ve found a late-1980s music video that middle-aged Muscovites must have bobbed their heads to blissfully as teenagers.
Olga Voskognyan’s 1989 synthpop track “Cars” is a wistful tribute to the private automobiles that were just beginning to become attainable to ordinary citizens in the Gorchachev era, with a pinch of shade thrown at the old, constrained trolley added in:
Having gone grey with time and dust,
Automobiles race across the land
On old and new paths
Through corrosive heat, cold and rains.
And sometimes it happens: having worn out,
The automobiles stand sadly,
Having punctured a rubber foot,
Cursing the difficult road.
But, remembering a far-off city,
It is unlikely that they envy the trams,
Whose path, whether through sleet or blizzard,
Is prescribed strictly by parallels.
After strutting through Moscow traffic and pointing approvingly at frumpy Ladas and Volgas parked nearby, Olga takes off with an unknown man inside the admittedly badass Pangolina—the Soviet Union’s answer to the DeLorean and Lamborghini. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a coincidence that tram line length in the city has been cut by over 200 miles since this video was first released.
Song translation courtesy Jenny Holm