Fifteen lessons from the Front Man Algirdas Kaušpėdas

Algirdas Kaušpėdas. Photo  Ludo Segers

Some 30 years ago, during the dying years of the Soviet regime, Kaušpėdas rose to musical fame in Lithuania. With his group, Antis (Duck), their music performances and hard-hitting messages were an integral part of the combined effort to end the Russian occupation of Lithuania. ‘Antis’ is an anagram of ‘Tiesa’, with a slight modification to make it sound more ‘fun’. Tiesa in Lithuanian is literally translated ‘the truth’ and the Lithuanian-language equivalent of Pravda, the Soviet controlled and published newspaper that elevated propaganda to new heights. Kaušpėdas and his group made it their mission to ensure that the truth got out. Their audience appreciated the songs and particularly the cleverly crafted lyrics combined with Antis’ highly theatrically performances that integrated anti-Soviet symbols, both in colour and stage props.

Although the urgency of the message has changed, Kaušpėdas still sees himself playing an important role in bringing civic duty and values to his audience. In Washington, DC, he entertained the audience with some insights that has guided his career as an artist, but also as a successful architect-turned-entrepreneur. His presentation – 15 Lessons from a Front Man – focused on the creation of his stage act. These same 15 lessons can be applied to most entrepreneurial situations, especially those with a strong requirement for creativity.

Kaušpėdas nevertheless makes it clear that you can take the front man out of the show, but you cannot take the show out of the front man. In a very entertaining presentation, he spoke about a range of ‘front man’ role models – Mick Jagger, Bono, Freddy Mercury just to mention a few – but also of elements of synergy that can be applied across a number of different fields ranging from music to architecture. With his views and insights acquired during a rich career and living through the transition from a totalitarian to a functioning and integrated democracy, his messages are also very valuable for today’s younger audience.

That was abundantly clear with the Washington, DC, audience that crossed all generations. Algirdas Kaušpėdas wants to see more young people actively participating in the development of Lithuania as a valuable and innovative society. He has a burning wish for some smart young people to participate in Lithuania’s government and to take over some of the functions that still have a bit of a dark shadow of the past hanging over it.

This was Algirdas fourth trip to this country. We sit down after the presentation to reflect on these 25 years after Lithuania’s independence. Kaušpėdas with Antis will celebrate soon their 30th anniversary and they will be performing a few select concerts later this autumn. Prior to his engaging presentation in Washington, Kaušpėdas performed with Dainava, a Chicago based Lithuanian choir at the occasion of Black Ribbon Day and the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way. In 1990 during their first visit to the USA, Kaušpėdas with Antis performed also in Chicago. During that same 1990 tour, Antis also performed in various clubs in New York City.

In 1992 Kaušpėdas returned to the USA as director of LTR, Lithuania’s national radio and television. Those were early days for Lithuania and various talents were selected to fill new positions. Says Kaušpėdas about his role as director of LRT ”At the time, right after independence, it felt a bit like being drafted into the military and to perform duty for one’s country. ”The second visit had been organised by CNN who had invited the CEOs of the world’s TV stations for a global conference. Shortly thereafter on his third visit, the American government invited him for a 2-month long special educational programme to learn better practices of TV management. ”That was a very interesting experience,” says Kaušpėdas.

Now after 22 years this marked his first visit to the USA and he noticed that the country had seen quite a bit of transformation. ”I see a lot of change for the better in America and it has visibly changed. There appears to be more order and the streets look a lot cleaner, everything seems brighter.” He feels also that he has gained a better understanding of America, mainly because he has been able to live in a free and democratic Lithuania for more than 20 years. ”I see much more similarities and convergence.”

Reflecting on these nearly 25 year since independence, Kaušpėdas says, ”Lithuania has changed a lot over these years and the younger generation, those younger than 30, already grew up in a free country. The country became a much more pleasant and interesting place. Much more innovation is taking place in Lithuania and in that way it has become more intelligent country.” As to some lingering nostalgia for the past, he reflects that… ”There are always people that (over)rely on government and one finds those in nearly every country. These people make demands on the government, rather than being innovative and self-supportive.”

Kaušpėdas particularly enjoys contact with younger people, principally those that engage in innovative activities. He is happy to be invited and he is glad to give something back to society. ”Many of these activities split my time between my professional activities and I encourage young people to build a new identity for Lithuania where they can contribute their innovate ideas. It is important that these young people can find a unique identity. A country’s national identity is probably its greatest wealth. Restoring Lithuanian pride is an important factor and a big advantage for the country. Just as a person has a name and a surname, they also require some roots. A person without roots will quickly become a zombie.” The front man’s message for a strong and independent Lithuania has little changed over the last 30 years.

We talk about the early days of Kaušpėdas and Antis. The band was based in Kaunas and although their following was largely among young people, the local Soviet leadership certainly took notice. Sadly, all originally recorded materials, including the masters, have somehow vanished. There are still the vinyl albums that have survived, but that’s all we have from the past.

As for so many other musicians, The Beatles were an early love as was Blood, Sweat and Tears, a jazz-rock band fronted by David Clayton Thomas and a band with a strong jazz horn section. In the late 1980s, the very theatrical David Byrne and The Talking Heads were a big favourite. Kaušpėdas adds ”I also liked King Crimson and Frank Zappa, although there was not one particular artist or band that I was really a fan of.”

Wondering about similarities with Pink Floyd, the famous UK based band that had been formed by architectural students, Kaušpėdas says… ”We were very aware of various musicians and groups in these days. There are many synergies between certain aspects of architecture and music. Music is in a way very mathematical, structured and the melody, rhythm and themes are elements that are also very much present in architecture. ”

Nowadays Kaušpėdas listens to more alternative rock. ”Rammstein and Muse are some of the bands I like to listen to now. We are fortunate that nowadays there are many groups coming to play in Lithuania.” When asked which bands he saw recently Kaušpėdas hesitates a bit and it looks that there is a long list of shows going through his head. ”Peter Gabriel was recently in Vilnius for a performance,” he says. How fitting! Legendary performer Peter Gabriel is a man known for his lifelong combination of innovative theatrics and meaningful lyrics just like Algirdas Kaušpėdas and Antis.

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