Dubbed "the father of Russian punk" for his incendiary anti-Communist lyrics, Siberian rocker Egor Letov remains most celebrated for his stint fronting the influential band Grazhdanskaya Oborona. Born Igor Fyodorovich Letov in Omsk on September 10, 1964, he began playing guitar as a teen, drawing influence from the western rock & roll records handed down by older brother Sergei, who went on to become an avant-garde saxophonist of some distinction. At 18 Letov formed his first band, the punk-influenced Posev. With his low, guttural vocals and explicitly political lyrics, he quickly emerged as a lightning rod within the growing Russian underground rock community, and after founding Grazhdanskaya Oborona ("Civil Defense") in late 1984, he first attracted the attention of the KGB. Widely known as GrOb -- also the Russian word for "coffin" -- the group cultivated a devoted cult following in spite of Soviet restrictions against live performances, and fans discreetly distributed cassettes of their songs. Lyrical references to "Lenin rotting in his mausoleum" finally forced the KGB's hand, and in late 1985 Letov was committed to a mental hospital, suffering the same fate as so many dissident artists before him -- after three months on a steady diet of anti-psychotic drugs, he was finally released, but the experience only left him more defiant than before, inspiring Grazhdanskaya Oborona's best-known song, the anthem "Everything's Going According to the Plan." Following Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 1985 ascent to power, government restrictions against rock & roll began to ease, and in time Grazhdanskaya Oborona began performing openly. The band's influence grew exponentially throughout the remainder of the decade, buoyed by hits like "Some Guy Got Killed by a Bus." But as the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved, GrOb suddenly found itself battling enemies that no longer existed, and while the group remained successful, Letov struggled to remain a voice of rebellion, alienating a significant chunk of his fan base by adopting a stance rooted in Christian and nationalist ideals. During the early '90s, he collaborated with dissident Eduard Limonov to found the now-banned National Bolshevik Party, often merging his solo performances with the party's rallies. Letov further distanced himself from his punk past via the 2002 solo LP Meteor Shower, a collection of Soviet-era children's songs. He died of heart failure in Omsk on February 19, 2008.
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