Johnny Bardo: "Basket Case"

Johnny Bardo, according to some promotional materials, is planning to give a series of performances in Russian mental homes. This, and all other information about the man, is not to be trusted. A sense of his overall unreliability can be fathomed from recent clips on Ukrainian TV. Using Russian, English, and Ukrainian, multiple attempts are made to communicate with Mr. Bardo.  None are terribly successful.

Typical conversations revolve around a Kiev band called Esthetic Education. The reason for this particular interest is that Bardo is an alter-ego of Louis Franck, a singer of Italian, Belgian, and Scottish heritage who was educated in Moscow.  Hence, it would seem, the quick jettisoning of Ukrainian in favor of Russian.

Franck is the lead singer of Esthetic Education and "Basket Case" is the first recording away from his physically challenged bandmates, gathered below. "Basket Case" is winning very positive press in Russia for a couple of reasons: the Russian/Ukrainian crossover market is big, both in pop and rock. Secondly, Franck speaks extremely good Russian and is close to the heart of many Slavs through his choice of spouse.

He's married to the famous actress Dina Korzun. The two of them are a common fixture on Moscow and Kiev's society pages, especially because Franck is involved in other high-profile projects with theater and photography. The entire silly business with Bardo is based upon the assumption/story that he's from Wisconsin.  He's woefully unfashionable and - says Franck - this allows for the development of unfamiliar, nontraditional experimentation.  "Johnny believes [in lamentably sappy ways] that music can heal people or reveal something positive in them.  I don't yet know what'll happen with him, or if he'll write another album.  If he does continue his existence and if there are concerts, then he'll get an entirely separate existence, all to himself."

Franck has drawn parallels between Bardo and other Anglo role-players in the States and UK: Jack Black, The White Stripes (as The Raconteurs), and Norman Cook (as Fat Boy Slim). The album was written according to the dual principles of "beauty and simplicity," traits which Johnny wanted to offer a series of Russian orphanages, once his request to do gigs in psychiatric wards was turned down.  Again he was denied - and the request was probably never made in the first place.

Playing games with these dopey disguises in Russia and Ukraine, however can be tricky. The drag artist below, Andrei Danilko, as alter-ego Verka Serdiuchka, represented Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest two years ago. People took to the streets in droves, complaining that age-old stereotypes of dimwitted, provincial Ukrainians should not be advertised to an international audience.

Johnny believes [in lamentably sappy ways] that music can heal people or reveal something positive in them...

Meanwhile the Russian authorities threatened to jam Ukrainian TV signals, since the nonsense lyrics of Danilko's song including a refrain that sounded like the phrase "Russia, Goodbye."  Nationalism had be stamped out at all costs.  Danilko said the phrase was Mongolian for "whip the cream."

It wasn't.

So for all these touchy issues of "provincial" cultures - whether it's Ukraine, Russia, or Wisconsin that we're talking about, the big surprise is what a fantastic album Franck has produced.  It's one of the most accomplished pieces of male performance on the Russian scene in recent memory.

The 1970s, sometimes referred to as the "decade style forgot," feature heavily in the life of Bardo.  Not only does Franck's double make good use of every synthetic fabric known to man, his musical leanings place him firmly in the territory of mid-70s' MOR, with those such as Al Stewart.

It's hard to imagine a less stylish locale than the North London house and interior used by Franck for the first video from "Basket Case," "My Girl." Thankfully, however, the same people and places have given us a CD that'll be treasured for a very long time. It's just better if you close your eyes.

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