So when I was sixteen I was in this band, and you’ll have to excuse me, called The Fags (it was a punk-rock thing). It was a messy, good-at-times band that sounded kind of like Fugazi, Nick Cave, and some ska band thrown in a blender. It was led by the charismatic Eugene Nikolaev, an immigrant from the Ukraine who was great onstage, flinging himself around with no shirt on and singing slightly nonsensical lyrics in his thick Ukrainian accent. My friend Darren was also in the band, and we were both in high school, so it was cool to be playing shows at the local rock club in front of a few hundred people.
It didn’t last in part because Eugene was a dick, and in part because I was a dick. He was obsessed with how “punk rock” things were. He once told the singer of another band I was in that he wasn’t punk rock, that he didn’t even know “who Nick Cave and Bad Seeds are.” It’s a stupid obsession because, if you want to break it down, nobody is really punk rock. Even Sid Vicious might have done some softy thing in between slashing his arms with broken glass. Nevertheless, Eugene gave me and others the insult he considered the harshest of all, the tragedy of not being punk rock enough. I would soon discover that I don’t have the stomach for being in a rock band at all.
I ended up going to college in Vermont and Eugene moved to New York, and through the years I would hear about his new band, Gogol Bordello, and how good they were, about how he changed his named to Eugene Hutz for some reason, and about his life as a model who appeared on the covers of European fashion magazines.
Yesterday Darren sent me a link to the trailer for the new film, Everything is Illuminated, adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer’s hugely successful novel. I remember reviews of the book that mentioned a comic character in the book, a Ukrainian who mangles English in cute ways. I hadn’t thought about that for a while (though recently I did walk by Jonathan Safran Foer and his wife, Nicole Krauss, in my neighborhood, which made me feel cool for about two seconds).
So Darren sent me the link to the trailer, and I watched it. That funny Ukrainian sidekick? He’s played by Eugene Hutz! My Eugene Hutz! His name is even second on the poster, right after the star of the film, Elijah Wood! It’s totally insane to watch the trailer and see Eugene talking in the same accent I remember, acting as the comic sidekick to Elijah Wood. I’m happy for him, and I’m sure he’s great.
But one question comes to mind: is it really punk rock enough?