Things of Latvia: Andris Kivičs

As a rule of thumb, the longer any particular Latvian party is drawn out, the higher the chance someone will put on something by Andris Kivičs, use his lyrics to make an ironic point, or simply mention him, often apropos nothing, to score an easy laugh.

Known chiefly for his role as the lead singer in the rock band Z-Scars that produced several hit songs in the early 2000s, Kivičs' appearance strikes a chord of incongruity, the muscular physique of a basketball-playing weightlifter contrasting the hypersensitive public image of an acoustic guitar player singing his heart out via sentimental lyrics.

At the height of his fame, Kivičs' private life was mercilessly dissected by the press, especially after he confronted a journalist who had published revealing photos of his then-girlfriend in a newspaper. 

2011 saw the release of My Private Life, a memoir in which Kivičs finally gave his side of the story. It does not appear to be ghostwritten, containing such memorable lines as: "That night, I went into the shower, and contemplated what I should do in a situation like this."

In many circles the book, the writing of which was certainly a brave step, was met with mockery. Be that as it may, his lyrics have become an indispensable part of Latvian party culture. When people have relationship problems, you can readily quote Kivičs: "You have someone you're afraid to lose."

In an unpleasant situation, such as an overcrowded bar where you find yourself seated next to your former boyfriend, your friend might say: "Maybe you'd like to be somewhere else." 

But when someone recounts their first cigarette, first kiss or what have you, you can say, "Pirmo reizi tikai mē-ēs, atceramies vēl un vēl" (It's the first time we remember all the time.) 

On a critical level, Kivičs' lyrics are sometimes derided for their perceived sentimentality, associated as it is in Western society with weakness and lack of intelligence.

But that's the point. Kivičs' success and popularity can be attributed to an understanding of what people find most important, what makes their 'weak' spots. The greatest hit of his band, You're Coming Closer to Yourself (Tu tuvojies sev), was released in 2003 with a video featuring emigre Latvians recounting their stories, just as emigration was to soar when Latvia joined the EU the year after. 

The song still affects me today. Even if none of my friends or relatives have left Latvia, it works in the abstract when I think about how many empty houses there are in Riga, and how many of the people who might have been my friends have left for elsewhere, maybe never to return. 

But it could equally be seen as a song about being unable to face intimacy, adding a curious twinge of irony in that it's now used to avoid feeling what you don't want to feel.  

Everyone has a story about Kivičs. It's Latvia. You bump into him on the street, or find yourself on a bus en route to a corporate party, full of people singing songs in unison with the bard, or hear about him doing something foolish, much like a messed-up-years Britney Spears.

My Kivičs experience was very simple. I went to a concert a few years ago, and laughed with the others when he requested a refill for his whiskey and was promptly ignored. Then I sang along to a cover of Kino's Pachka Sigaret and was genuinely moved, though felt pangs of guilt for being so.

I then asked him to sign a CD. It wasn't even a record by him. I said it's for my girlfriend. He asked her name, and signed it with the name and the note, "Please love your boyfriend." He shook my hand with a strong but warm handshake and told me to do my best to love her as well. 

I'm not sure I'd have the guts to say a thing like that. 

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