Alex Genadinik is a singer-songwriter who lives in the vicinity of Hoboken, New Jersey. As his website notes, Alex’s songs are written to “make you think about life,” and his musical influences include some you might expect—like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young—and some you might bit even be familiar with—like 20th-century Russian poet-songwriters Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky. A quick glance at his YouTube page makes one thing clear: Alex loves fine art in all of its forms, and his songs touch on topics like Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl With A Pearl Earring and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.
You have some interesting musical influences. Can you say more about Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky? How would you describe their music? How did you learn about them? What is it about their music that touches you?
Since it’s 2022 and some of my poetry and music influences are from what was the Soviet Union, I should say that I was born in Ukraine. But I liked these artists long before the events of 2022. Furthermore, if they were alive today, they would be some of the most vocal voices against the likes of Putin.
I would think of Bulat Okudzhava as the Bob Dylan of the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Vysotsky as Johnny Cash of the Soviet Union because of his harsher musical tones. Okudzhava was active a little earlier, and Vysotsky often mentioned him as his inspiration.
Soviet singer-songwriters put a heavy focus on the quality of their poetry. Their poetry was humane, real, wise, and brave. It was brave because many poets literally went to jail for saying the wrong things about the government. But my inspiration with their music wasn’t because of politics, but rather the humanity in their poetry.
How does their music complement the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young, particularly in the context of your music?
I look at Bob Dylan’s poetry as in large part having political and social commentary. And Leonard Cohen has much less of that, and more focus on love, life, and the humanity of it all. Of course, Dylan has that too, but a lot of Dylan’s work focuses on social class issues.
Something similar can also be said about Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky. They oscillate between love, life, and politics. To learn more about the work of Bulat Okudzhava in a way that’s accessible to English speakers, here is a page of where I put together translations and covers of Bulat Okudzhava’s music into English with my commentary: Bulat Okudzhava Poems And Songs In English.
What do you like about Dylan, Cohen, and Young, and what are some ways that their influence shows up in your music?
In simple terms, I love music that gives “the feels.” In ancient Greek terms, it would be music that gives a catharsis.
The topics I often gravitate to aren’t political, but humane. It’s a great experience when I can identify my own experiences in something an artist is describing, especially when that artist offers a unique perspective, especially when it’s in a beautiful song.
Clearly you have an interest in what many regard as classic paintings. Why is this a topic that appeals to you? What do you see as the relationship between painting and music?
I find most art mediums enriching: music, visual arts, theater, etc. It’s actually a coincidence that my music focuses heavily on paintings. Or maybe I didn’t realize how the imagery in these paintings affected me.
Especially the song about repainting the Birth of Adam by Michelangelo – the original painting has such strong imagery that I guess it lived in my mind much more than I realized. For reference, here is that song:
In the song about The Girl With The Pearl Earring, the opening line of the song is “I passed a painting as if dreaming. It was The Girl With The Pearl Earring.” It’s actually true. When I was young, I had a boring job at a dormitory of an art college. They had a copy of the painting of The Girl With A Pearl Earring on the wall. The first time I walked by that painting, I had to do a double take. That girl made a tremendous impression on me. Her beauty was really something else, and the lightning-bolt-strike of that experience stuck with me. For reference, here is that song:
Do you do any painting yourself?
I was always horrible at drawing. So, no. I am just a fan.
Shakespeare and Beethoven also make their way into your music. Can you say a little bit about that?
Just like the visual arts, I love the classics both in music and literature. Both Shakespeare and Beethoven are so enriching, so it only makes sense that I’d riff off and build on top of their work. They are both inspirations.
It seems like you have a vested interest in preserving the past—or at least memorializing it in your songs. Is that fair to say? What accounts for your love of history?
I think it’s natural to do that. All the paintings, classical music, and writing we discussed so far have been so enriching to my inner life. Life would be many levels emptier and worse without them.
It’s probably accurate to look at it less in terms of me preserving history, and it’s probably more accurate to look at it with appreciation to them for doing the work that they did. They left tremendous gifts to humanity.
And, of course, if you are active in any field, it only makes sense to learn about the great people in your field who came before you. Not doing that is probably called ignorance. So in my mind, I am not doing anything too out of the ordinary.
Of course, none of this is to say that your music is stuck in the past. How do the works inspire your music translate to modern experiences?
I guess my feeling is that the deep human experiences are universal, whether it’s the touch in Michelangelo’s paintings or Shakespeare’s ideas about love. They don’t get outdated through time, and are still relatable.
But if you ask younger people, they will likely frown on the fact that I don’t talk about the same things that Drake does. So perhaps, I am a little outdated (let’s say rustic) in my tastes.
The New York City skyline features prominently in your video for “Nobleman.” Is there a “New York influence” on your music?
I just happen to live in an area where there is a nice view of Manhattan, so I chose that background for the video because frankly I am not great at creating music videos. The song itself is a translation and a partial re-write of one of Okudzhava’s songs. The song has nothing about actual New York.
Although New York can use a little bit of the hopeless romantic. It prides itself on being so tough that a little vulnerability would be welcome.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to re-release a few of my older songs with better vocal performances, more interesting musical arrangements, and more interesting production.
I am also currently writing a song that riffs off a topic from a Socratic Dialog in which the question “What is beauty?” is explored. The Socratic dialog doesn’t provide a definitive answer to that question, so I try to do that in this song. My definition to “what is beauty?” is “something is beautiful if it inspires” which is perhaps also fittingly vague. The song will likely be released around December 2022 or January 2023. It will be released on my website and my new YouTube channel onto which I plan to post my upcoming music.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!