In March 2010, Kornelije Kovač, one of the most important composers of pop and rock music in Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, published an autobiography, entitled Fusnota (Footnote). In it, he relates the circumstances which inspired some of the most important songs in his half a century long career. Kovač writes about composing songs for Korni Grupa, his band (1968 - 1974), who were influential pioneers of Yugoslav rock and roll and who went by the name Kornelyans in Western Europe. He also composed songs for Zdravko Čolić – a singer who went on to become a famous Yugoslav pop star.
"Everything I wrote sprang from some well of autobiographical feelings, information, events. I would not have been able to write this book if I had not lived it. This is probably why I shall never become a prolific writer. Once I have used up all my experiences, then I have nothing more to write about", said Kovac, 68, in an interview for Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
The keyboard player of Serbian-Hungarian origins from Subotica in northern Serbia adds that though it may look like a novel, Fusnota isn't one. It is rather "a chronicle of the times, people and events during the decades when these songs were born."
The book, which is published by Belgrade publishers Laguna, has the subtitle ‘Stories about songs which left their mark on the Yugoslav rock scene’. In it, Kovač remembers composing a song entitled Jedan Groš (One Groat) for Korni Grupa, having previously wound scotch tape around his hands so that he could only hit two piano keys at the same time. Why scotch tape? Because what he wanted to produce was a simple melody.
He wrote the verses for Slika (Picture) as a memento for a friend of his who had died in a car accident, and the inspiration for his Etida (Etude) came from listening to Ludwig van Beethoven. He even kept the list of a group of actors he used as a choir for the great Yugoslav pop hit Trla Baba Lan in 1970.
"I found it because everybody had signed it as proof of having received 50 dinars in payment in order to avoid paying them more once the song became a hit," said Kovač jokingly.
Trla Baba Lan was later rearranged into Ram Dam Dam sung by the famous French pop singer Dalida, whom Kovač had the opportunity to meet only a year later, when she visited Yugoslavia.
Fusnota also contains Kovač’s recollections of the time when Korni Grupa was recording their album Not an Ordinary Life in Italy in 1974. The album was produced in English for foreign audiences but did not have the kind of success they expected. He also writes about the origins of Moja Generacija (My Generation) which Korni Grupa, shortly before it fell apart, took to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. As was expected, the progressive Yugoslav rock band ranked among those with the lowest scores at the Europe-wide pop festival in the year when ABBA triumphed with their song Waterloo. Interestingly enough, Kovač's band and the Swedes shared the same dressing room in London.
Starting from the mid-1970s, Kovač composed a number of big hits for Zdravko Čolić, the former Korni Grupa singer. Among these pop songs are Jedna Zima sa Kristinom (One Winter with Kristina) and Ti si mi u Krvi (You're in My Blood), but Kovač refuses to claim to have been the most important element in Čolić's career as an independent singer.
"People often say to me: ‘You made Čolić into what he is’. This is wrong. I cannot make anyone; we have to do it together. It's how they sing that matters. You can compose a terrific song, but if it is for a bad singer then it may go unnoticed," Kovač points out.
Kovač says he may continue to write and may perhaps discuss another thirty or so of his more important songs. His songbook contains the Korni Grupa magnum opus Put za Istok (The Road East), and he also wrote the lyrics for the psychedelic Plima (Tide) in 1968, one of the most famous songs by Indeksi – a band from Sarajevo.
"When I read Eric Clapton's autobiography, there were hundreds of names I could not recognize but it did not matter. I write about all these ordinary people from Sarajevo. Why should I include only the famous ones? The others are also important to me. The best bit I wrote was about the song called Jedna Žena (One Woman). This is because I managed to link together all these characters which are important to me and which led me to do it the way I did," says Kovač.