Milan Hlavsa <http://www.sfgate.com:80/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/01/08/MN165456.DTL> Los Angeles Times Monday, January 8, 2001 If ever a case could be made that a rock band was at the center of a political revolution, that case could be made for Plastic People of the Universe. The seminal Czech group, formed by bass player, singer and composer Milan Hlavsa in the late 1960s, became a rallying symbol for leading dissidents nearly a decade later. Those dissidents, led by the playwright Vaclav Havel, formed Charter 77, which became one of the East Bloc's most influential human rights monitoring groups. Mr. Hlavsa died Friday in Prague. He was 49, and the cause of death was lung cancer. Plastic People of the Universe came into being during a period of liberalization after the Prague Spring reforms of 1968. The band found its inspiration in the darker corners of Western rock as embodied by groups such as the Doors, the Fugs and especially the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, taking their name from the Zappa song "Plastic People." "The group's early sound featured equal parts of the Velvet's brooding mystique and Zappa's neo-Dada disjointedness and cultural satire," said Steve Hochman, who writes frequently about pop music for the Los Angeles Times. During the '60s and '70s, the band's concert performances were reminiscent of San Francisco-style happenings of the psychedelic era. They featured set pieces, outlandish makeup and costumes, and light shows. And despite the fact that the band did not play out of its homeland until the late 1990s, it attained legendary status throughout Eastern Europe. Bootleg copies of the band's albums did brisk business in the old East Bloc and eventually found their way to the United States. But the band's official sanction was withdrawn soon after the Soviet-backed authorities crushed the reform movement in Czechoslovakia and began a "normalization" process to re-establish hard-line social and behavioral norms. By 1970, the Plastics' nonconformity led to the government revoking their professional license to perform. This meant they lost the use of their state-owned musical instruments and access to rehearsal space. But instead of giving up, the Plastics went underground. They made their own instruments and found rehearsal space at the homes of friends, one of whom was Havel, who would advise them on song lyrics. The band recorded one of its early albums at the writer's country home. "The ironic thing about the Plastic People is that our music had absolutely no political message," Mr. Hlavsa later said of those early years.
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