Thursday, 24 April 2014

Czech rock star Ondřej Hejma looks back on his career's epic ride

By Kirsty Rigg | Prague Daily Monitor |
13 February 2013

As he celebrates his 62nd birthday, Czech rock star Ondřej Hejma looks back on his career's epic ride, and the journey which has led him into being one of the country’s favourite characters.

In an interview with Kirsty Rigg, the aging rocker reflects back on his childhood, and talks of life, music, and his true feelings on the recent presidential elections...

It's February, and the Czech winter has made sure it's presence is known on the ice-covered cobbled streets of Prague. Crowds huddle into Malostranská beseda on a freezing Saturday night (2 February), and perch themselves in front of the stage, heads still sunk into their scarves. They wait eagerly for the Žlutý pes concert to begin, and when front man Ondřej Hejma finally bursts out of the shadows, he does so in sunglasses and a straw hat. The tambourine starts rattling in his hand and off he goes. It's enough to leave one curious at the very least.

It is a widely known fact that this man is quite the catch for his quirky personality, and this latest concert was certainly no exception to that. Clutching a whiskey mid-set, Hejma toasted the crowd and informed everyone that it is, in fact, his birthday, and that we should help him celebrate.

“I think I celebrated most of my recent birthdays on stage” he said. “It is always a good excuse to have a little party which is when you do all kinds of things, many of them in private”.

But this party-animal image is a little bit of a mask. In fact, waters run much deeper than that. For those who don't already know, Hejma has also made his mark as a successful Associated Press journalist, a copywriter, and a translator of English and Chinese (yes, Chinese).

“I started college in October 1969, a few weeks before the borders were closed for travel and the Iron Curtain went down again after the liberal episode of the Prague Spring in 1968” he said.

“Studying English and Chinese then was not easy by today´s standards, but it gave us the feeling we were doing something unique, something of value and I´ll always be grateful to my teachers whoever they were”.

Hejma, who also has his fingers in Czech politics as a passionate ODS supporter, spoke of his disapproval of Karel Schwarzenberg's presidential campaign: “I have nothing against him personally, but to me, his campaign seemed excessively emotional and generally not credible. Too much style and too little substance”. When asked if it reminded him of the Velvet Revolution he added: “Yes, there was an echo of the Havel years, but no revolution this time.”

He admitted that like “most Czechs”, he is glad the elections are finally over.

When asked about his feelings about the success of Žlutý pes he said: “I feel lucky. The fact that as a young band we were banned from the media in the 1980´s and had to play unofficial concerts only, was paradoxically beneficial after the revolution when we emerged as a “new” band on records and TV and that gave us a new beginning; a second life. I know it sounds strange, but those were the days.”

These days, apart from performing with his band, Hejma sometimes swaps his microphone for a pen, and has taken to book writing. His novel Fejsbuk (Facebook) is available on iTunes and in paperback, where you can find much more detail about his past, and his views on the history of the country in the last forty years. He is currently finishing a sequel, which he plans to have ready by the summer.