Finnish rockmusic and cultural memory



Since my BA thesis treated the Finnish identity and how it appears in Finnish rockmusic, I decided to continue the same subject in my Master thesis. My aspect is now a little bit narrower and I proceed from concept of cultural memory.

The reason I chose rockmusic (and to say precisely – rocklyrics) was simple. The identity is not a ready and prepared phenomenon, but it’s constantly changing and developing, so we cannot find the actual way of seeing the world only from canonised products of culture. The condition for identity continuent is deliberately interpret, complement and update the old values, and this is what rocklyrics do.

My main object of interest is the lyrics written by Pauli Hanhiniemi. He is one of the most famous and beloved songwriters in Finland. His first band called Kolmas Nainen broke apart in 1994 and now his band is Perunateatteri. For a long time he has been writing lyrics also for other groups, for example Popeda, Yö, Tiktak etc. In my Master thesis I’m going to survey also other writers’ creations when needed, but the important demand will be, that the author performs his lyrics himself. So I’ll take from Pauli Hanhiniemi’s creation also only those songs, that he has performed with his bands.


Background of concept of cultural memory

The most obvious area from where we can find appearance of identity is national literature. It is the complex of texts, which are produced by persons representing the nation. However, identity is much more, it appears in clothing-style, food, national currency, economical system and political behaviour and so on.

For that reason, I would rather talk about cultural memory and how it appears in rocklyrics. Cultural memory is closely related to the term of collective memory, but it’s not the same. For example: a bunch of people has experienced a war. War memories belong to their collective memory. Then somebody writes a book about the war. The same bunch of people read this book, “approve” this and it remains to their treasury of literature. If now younger people, who haven’t experienced the war, read this too and through this find the connection to their past, we can talk about cultural memory.

Therefore, we can say, that cultural memory contains a complex of texts approved and accredited by certain group of people. If we talk about nation, this complex holds commonly “the great stories” as religious and mythological texts and national belletristic heritage. That is the area from where new texts find their material for allusions. The majority of the nation knows those texts - these are part of their sophistication and so it’s easy to indicate and quote those texts. The allusions produce the joy of recognition for the readers, but above all, the allusions produce the feeling of belonging to something bigger. Possibility to produce and recognise the allusions strengthens the identity.

Initial material

As I said, the initial material contains mainly the lyrics written by Pauli Hanhiniemi, but in the Master thesis I’m going to use also other songwriters creations when needed, to illustrate or to procure evidence of my assertions.

From the times of Kolmas Nainen there are eight albums (all together 12, but these four are “the best of” -s). Perunateatteri has published five albums by now. That means that the total number of texts is about 200. Of course, not all of these do reach the standard needed for textual analysis.

I have divided the initial material by principle of lexical and semantic characteristics. So some of the texts might be represented in several parts of analysis, some just in one.

We can bring out three main types of lexical and semantic areas of characteristics, which help us to concrete the issues concerned:

The most interesting and also the most difficult parts are to recognise the indications and quotes and to find them their origins. When you finally find these origins, you must also understand why they are used and what they add to the text. Because we talk about the cultural memory, the most reasonable way is to start looking from the texts nation lays great emphasis on.

Background material

Background material divides into two great parts:

These are the most general areas from where the material of allusions, quotes and indications is found. Considering the Finnish nation, the authoritative texts are Bible and earlier Finnish literature, for example the creations of Väinö Linna, Aleksis Kivi, Eino Leino etc. The unauthoritative texts are lyrics of popular tunes (kansanlaulut), hit songs (iskelmät) and rock/pop songs. The last one is quite confusing area and it demands deeper examining, because there is very few material to base on from other researchers.

In addition, we must point out the speciality of expressions (idioms, metaphors). They are often opaque and for that reason it is important to understand them, too. The explaining is even more important in Pauli Hanhiniemi’s case, because often he uses some expressions in the “wrong” way and the possibility of (mis)interpretation grows.




  1. Expressions, phrases, adages

These are very old lexical constructions in languages and often have become opaque, as said. In Pauli Hanhiniemi’s case we can divide their usage into three large categories:

  1. normal usage;
  2. usage in unexpected context;
  3. dialectical usage.

Normal usage is when an expression is used in acceptable context. (For background information: Hanhiniemi uses idioms and adages a lot. A critic once said about his second album with Perunateatteri, that it was like a lexicon of Finnish adages. The tone of the critic was vicious, but he had a point. On the other hand: talking to listeners in the same “own” language affirms the common identity.)


kun voittajat jakaa saalistaan

minä näppejäni nuolen vaan

when winners share their prey

I just lick my fingers

‘To lick fingers’ means ‘to be left without’, ‘to get nothing’. It’s correct and expected context to use this expression.

Usage in unexpected context means that a writer deliberately uses some expressions in places where it gets absolutely different meanings or different meanings occur when writer adds some elements, which change the saying.


kelkaton ei ala

kelkkaa kääntämään

person without sledge

wouldn’t turn the sledge around

The expression ‘to turn the sledge around’ means that somebody changes his or her opinion. But when Hanhiniemi adds the idea, that person doesn’t have any sledge, we can decide that he doesn’t have any opinion. Such expression - ‘kelkaton’ (‘person without sledge’) doesn’t exist in Finnish and it wouldn’t mean anything without complementing idiom.

Dialectical usage means that writer uses some expressions which clearly indicates the county or the region of a dialect he is from (in this case it is Etelä-Pohjanmaa, Southern Ostrobothnia, where Pauli Hanhiniemi is born).


ja kuinka käy kun

laskisangon ripa katkeaa

and what happens

when slop pail’s rope breaks

It’s so rare expression that I couldn’t find it from any encyclopaedia and finally I had to ask Hanhiniemi’s manager, what it meant. It’s only used in Etelä-Pohjanmaa. It means that when two people take out the slop pail keeping from the same rope and the rope burst, both get shit on them. The deeper meaning is that when two people (husband and wife) break up, neither of them survives with honour.

  1. Indications and allusions

The headline might cause some confusion, so I try to explain it. The allusions form through indications or quotes. The reason I separated the quotes from indications is because the quotes always indicate, but indications are more difficult to recognise and to connect to some certain things.

Lots of indications are connected to Bible. It is one of the most important texts in human history and most often interpreted. That means that some lexical constructions, which we use in everyday speech, are from Bible but we don’t even recognise this fact. That’s why I wouldn’t analyse Bible’s influence to rocklyrics, because it demands too much explaining and larger knowledge.

From Hanhiniemi’s texts we can find two types of indications:

  1. indicating by names;
  2. indicating by events.

Indicating by names is unfortunately so large issue, that explaining of it all doesn’t fit in this short writing. There are many types of indicating: by names of politicians, cultural and historical persons, personally known persons, by names of enterprises and so on. This is the reason I picked a text for example, where names are use from all areas.


aikaan SYPin, KOPin, SKOPin

kaikki oli paremmin

aikaan Tuunasen ja Kourinkin

aikaan Dingon, vielä aikaan

elävien Eppujen

kulta-aikaan Naisen Kolmannen

aikaan Rytsölöitten, Marankin ja Mika Häkkisen,

aikaan silikoonitissien

aikaan Mukan, Kalle Palsan, Urkin, Reidarinkin,

kahvitauon Harri Holkerin

aikaan ennen Mikko Alatalon syntymää

sinne asti ei ees Tervo nää

Isometsän, Myllylän ja Marjaliisankin

aikaan Irwinin ja Baddingin

in the times of SYP, KOP, SKOP

everything was better

in the times of Tuunanen and even Kouri

in the times of Dingo, even in the times

of living Eppus

golden times of Kolmas Nainen

in the times of Rytsöläs, even Mara and Mika Häkkinen,

in the times of silicon teats

in the times of Mukka, Kalle Palsa, Urkki, Reidar

of coffee break with Harri Holkeri

in the times before the birth of Mikko Alatalo

so far doesn’t even Tervo see

(in the times of) Isometsä, Myllylä and even Marjaliisa

in the times of Irwin ja Badding

Of course, it’s a marginal example and in principle it demands quite long explanation, if someone doesn’t recognise the indications. But the deeper meaning of this text is mocking the nostalgia, the yearning for things that never can come back, and also mocking the fact, that people tend to gild events of the past. For Finnish people lots of allusions rose from this song and after the song was published, it was the most played hit on radios.

Name by name explanation is: SYP, KOP, SKOP were banks, which went down during the lama-period; Tuunanen and Kouri were bank directors; Dingo, Eppus (=Eppu Normaali) and Kolmas Nainen were the greatest bands in 1980’s Finland; Rytsöläs were the brothers who became first millionaires by internet-business in Finland; Mara is the nickname for ex-President Martti Ahtisaari; Mika Häkkinen is the best Formula 1 driver in Finland; Timo T. A. Mukka is a postmodern writer and Palsa was a contoversal and misunderstood painter; Urkki (= Urho Kaleva Kekkonen) is ex-President, too; Reidar Palmgren is also a writer, but his main job is acting; Holkeri is an ex Prime Minister; Mikko Alatalo is a singer; Jari Tervo is a writer and a critic of Finnish society; Jari Isometsä, Mika Myllylä ja Marjaliisa Hämäläinen-Kirvesniemi are skiers; Irwin Goodman and Rauli “Badding” Somerjoki are singers from 1970-1980’s. That of course does not explain the usage in this context, but this is a theme for longer discussion.

Indicating by events means that time to time Hanhiniemi talks about political or cultural events, but he always doesn’t say directly, what event he is explicating. For example he has a song called Uupumusharhaa (Tiredness’ hallucination). In this song he talks about Baltic States becoming independent, but he doesn’t say it by direct words. There are also lines:


lihansäikeet telaketjussa

no nyt on Herra nähnyt omiaan

muscular fibres in caterpillar

well now the Lord has seen his owns

Actually, there are two events implicated in this verse. By saying ‘muscular fibres in caterpillar’ he considers unpleasant incidents in Latvia and Lithuania (Estonians had more luck – no bodies), but the other part of the verse indicates Väinö Linna’s novel Unknown Soldier (it’s a modified quote from this book). So he compares Baltic States’ fight to the war of year 1944 in Finland, which was in principle also the war for independence.


  1. Quotes and allusions

As I said earlier, the most quoted areas are belletristic literature and unauthoritative texts, for example popular songs. Some of the quotes are easy to recognise when you have read important novels and poems of Finnish literature, some of them need a little bit more research and background information.

Belletristic literature as material to indicate to is used for example in a song Uneni on vasta alussa (My dream is just beginning).


pysy kaukana kavala maailma

pysy poissa paha susi

pysy poissa poissa mun unesta

ihana uneni on vasta alussa

stay away insidious world

stay away bad wolf

stay away away from my dream

wonderful dream is just beginning

‘Stay away insidious world’ is a quote from Aleksis Kivi’s poem Sydämeni laulu (Song of my heart) represented in Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers). It’s a lullaby sang by a mother to her dying child. Also earlier observed quote from V. Linna in song Uupumusharhaa fits in this subdivision.

Unauthoritative texts are my favourite. It is the least studied area and I have experienced those texts also partly myself. We can divide unauthoritative texts to popular songs, hit songs and rock/pop songs (these are also examinable in the light of indicational usage). In addition, I must say that I have a lot of material from other writers beside Hanhiniemi in this area too, but this piece of writing is too short to represent them all.

Popular songs are here used in the meaning of newer folksongs, written at the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th. They are often quoted in rocksongs to get ironic colour to sayings or to produce nostalgic allusions (and as you will see, it could be examined also in subdivision of indications by names). In the next example the goal is irony.


ei saa laulaa Rannanjärvestä

Rannanjärvi on kuollut

ei saa laulaa Kekkosesta joka

kummittelee vaikk’ on kuopattu

you can’t sing about Rannanjärvi

Rannanjärvi is dead

you can’t sing about Kekkonen who is

haunting though he’s burried

‘You can’t sing about Rannanjärvi, Rannanjärvi is dead’ is the verse of popular song Isontalon Antti ja Rannanjärvi (Antti of Isotalo and Rannanjärvi). In this context this quote indicates to Finnish heroic history, but by mentioning Kekkonen in the next verse, it gets ironic colour. In fact, there is also another but not very important indication as well. Rannanjärvi and Antti of Isotalo were famous “knife-heroes” (puukkojunkkarit) from Etelä-Pohjanmaa and as we remember, Hanhiniemi is from the same region.

Hit songs (iskelmät) are extendedly exploited, too. Their duty in the quoting is the same as it is with popular songs (mostly irony), but proceeding from their short history they might be even easier to recognise by people who have listened to those songs in their youth.


Jartsa istuu yöhuoltamolla

puoli kolmelta

tuijottaa tyhjää


takanaan on luja putki rilluvuosien

se tuntee jäljet tuhansien tuoppien

Jartsa is sitting in gas station

at half to three (AM)

staring empty coffee cup

behind him is many years

of intensive feasting

he knows trails of

thousands of beer mugs

The translation ‘behind him is many years of intensive feasting’ is not very good, but the point can be found. This is tautological quote from Frederik’s hit song Olen kolmekymppinen (I’m thirty), which is a foolishly happy song about man’s best years. In Hanhiniemi’s interpretation this quote gets absolutely different meaning. Beside irony it rises a horrible feeling of a Finnish man’s life wasted on alcohol. And yet, Hanhiniemi was about 20, when he wrote this song.

Rock/pop songs form the most confusing subdivision. There are a lot of cross-references, some bands replay to other’s indications and so on. I don’t recall any such indication from Hanhiniemi right now, but classical example about this kind of quoting would be Dingo’s biggest hit Autiotalo (Abandoned House), where Neumann slightly modifyingly repeats Eppu Normaali’s hit Njet Njet.


ja Eput laulaa älä mene njet njet

menet tai et silti sydämeni viet

and Eppus sing don’t go njet njet

you go or not, you still take my heart away