Obituary: Egon Bondy

Dissident Czech writer and lyricist for Plastic People of the Universe

In the west, Egon Bondy, who has died aged 77, was best known as an era-defining lyricist for the Plastic People of the Universe, the Czechoslovakian rock group. He even featured on a Plastics' album title, Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned (1973-75), which was originally circulated on tapes and first appeared commercially in 1978 in France. The Plastic People meanwhile took their name from a song on the Mother of Invention's 1967 album Absolutely Free, and the band provides part of the narrative thread for Tom Stoppard's 2006 play Rock'n'Roll.

In his homeland, Bondy was known as a prominent and prolific writer - he published more than 60 titles, many in secret under the Stalinist regime - a philosopher and poet. He published many samidzat volumes on philosophy, many republished in the 1990s, including a work on Buddha. As a Marxist, Bondy was fiercely critical of the regimes imposed on his homeland by the Soviet Union, and went on to denounce the US and the western capitalist-dominated "banana republic" that had emerged after the fall of the Berlin wall. In 1993, the "Velvet Divorce" had split Czechoslakia into the Slovak and Czech Republics. This was against the will of the majority of the population of the former Czechoslovakia, and Bondy moved in protest to the poorer partner in the old marriage, Slovakia, denouncing the split as a Prague capitalist plot.

Born Zbynek Fiser in Prague, he was better known under his nom de plume, Egon Bondy. He fell into postwar surrealist circles, had his first book of verse published in 1952, and from 1957, studied philosophy and psychology at Prague's Charles University.

The Plastic People of the Universe formed in September 1968, a month after the Soviet-led invasion suppressed the "socialism with a human face" of reform Communist prime minister Alexander Dubcek. The Plastics were heavily influenced by New York's Velvet Underground and Prague's psychedelic Primitives Group whose Ivan Jirous - alias Magor (Looney) - became their much-imprisoned manager.

In 1970 the authorities revoked the Plastic People's professional licence because of their music's "negative social effect". Years of harassment and personnel changes followed. Bondy's importance to the band coincided with its decision to increase the percentage of Czech-language material. His work, much of which was settings of his earlier poems, dominated the band for most of the 1970s with its tales of vomiting, constipation, pill-popping, alcoholic over-indulgence and graveside visits.

In March 1976, more than 20 people, many of them musicians including every member of the Plastic People - but not Bondy - were arrested. Sentences were handed out for "organised disturbance of the peace", with Jirous getting 18 months.

The incident led, on January 1 1977 to the Charter 77 petition. Among the Charter 77 movement's founders was the future, post-Stalinist Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel. It began as a protest against that police clampdown on the Plastic People. It developed during the Husak years of intense repression as the voice of opposition.

In January 2007, the Plastic People finally made their British debut at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a defining occasion for Anglo-Czech cultural relations. They played four of Bondy's works and encored with a four-part Bondy segue. It was an exceptional evening - and doubled as the prelude to the 30th anniversary of Charter 77.

Bondy died in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. His marriage to Jaroslava Krematikova produced one son. From 1963 until her death in 1994, he lived with Julie Novakova.

· Egon Bondy (Zbynek Fiser), poet-lyricist, writer, philosopher and political commentator, born January 20 1930; died April 9 2007


Ken Hunt

The GuardianTramp

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