(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s >>
Joanna Stingray & Madison Stingray
Стингрей в стране чудес • Stingray in Wonderland • Courtesy © Joanna Stingray & Madison Stingray
Chapter 23 – Hold On To Your Pants
I was working for Ronald Reagan. At least, that’s what the letter from the President’s United States – Soviet Exchange Initiative implied. It thanked me for my thoughtful letter and Red Wave record I had sent to the President, reassuring me that “by introducing Soviet contemporary music in the United States, you are carrying out President Reagan’s desire to expand cultural contacts between the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union.” I was then further instructed to keep them advised of my projects. Sure, it was a forced platitude, but it was the first time I had really heard it for what I was doing. I was starting to feel that both countries finally understood that I was doing nothing more than music, and that music was a positive thing.
A few weeks later I got my visa to return to Russia in October of 1986, as well as word from my friends that VAAP, a Soviet publishing company, was trying to get the Red Wave musicians to sign a paper that said they had no idea about the album and that I had stolen their music. Suddenly I questioned if my visa would still get me through the border. For some reason, it was the easiest time I’d ever had getting in, the calm before the lightning struck and burned my world to the ground.
Photo shoot from the end of 1985 for the Red Wave double album with musicians from AQUARIUM/АКВАРИУМ, KINO/КИНО, ALISA/АЛИСА and STRANGE GAMES/СТРАННЫЕ ИГРЫ. Note that not all of the four the bands‘ members were present.
Leningrad, Mikhailovski Garden with view of the Church of the Saviour on Blood. ©The Joanna Stingray Archive
After Red Wave and all the publicity in the West, Russia was starting to open up more and welcome the curious guests of the outside world. What was so great for me is that anyone coming in would contact me to hang with them and introduce them to some of the Leningrad rockers. The first band to come through on October 6, 1986, was UB40. They showed up with ten musicians and Brummie accents from Birmingham to a double line of about a hundred stiff and stern soldiers guarding the stadium. I’d never seen anything like it. Russians were captivated by the number of black musicians and crew members, their eyes following the dark silhouettes from the bus to the stage door. The lead singer, Ali Campbell, gave me a wink and pulled himself up next to one of the soldiers.
“LOOSEN UP GUY, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUCKIN’ FUN,” he shouted in the man’s ear, shaking the man’s cement shoulders. I was instantly a UB40 fan.
I had been given a backstage pass to go wherever I wanted and take photos of the concert. I watched as the band unloaded their own equipment and drowned out the sound of the audience with their shiny, loud, crisp music. It was so different from the intimate, provocative Leningrad band concerts to which I’d been that for a moment I felt disoriented. Where the hell was I?
After their concerts the band would come to hang out at different apartments through the city, jamming and chilling with the boys I adored. Those Birmingham boys were the first people I’d met who could give the Russians a run for their money with drinking.
“That’s fuckin’ right,” Ali sang after downing another shot. “You Russian boys better hold on to your pants!”
I was so amused by him, his vulgar language and sharp smirk. I went back with the band one night to their hotel on the other side of the river, watching as they stumbled across the streets and swung themselves in circles. At some point in the evening I knew the bridges would open on the canals and I wouldn’t be able to get back to the other side, but I was having too much fun to keep track of time.
“Uh oh!” Ali laughed, throwing an arm around my shoulders. “Looks like you’re fuckin’ stuck!”
“Lucky you,” I laughed.
When none of us could keep our eyes open Ali told me I could crash in his room. We squeezed into his small twin bed and I fell asleep to the sound of wind passing the window. Early the next morning, before the sun had even colored the sky or the buildings, I snuck out and crossed town while Ali was still sleeping.
“You just fuckin’ left!” He said to me when I saw them again in Moscow for their next concert, his brown eyes wide.
Late one evening in Moscow I was with the band in Red Square when one of the musicians told me that he had to piss. Before I could say anything he unzipped his pants and peed in the middle of Red Square. I stood there dumbfounded as a guard ran up and tried to arrest him. Somehow one of the road managers with us managed to talk the guard out of it or pay him off, but the country had already been Christened as a destination for western bands. It was a piss poor welcome, but nevertheless marked a period of change.
More and more of my friends were informing me about the VAAP papers where all the Red Wave bands had been asked to sign against me in September. Gorbachev was in power now, though, and I truly felt that things had to be loosening up. How bad could it be? I found out that two of the original members of Strange Games signed the letter against me but Vitia didn’t despite his fear for his family, and that Kinchev and Sergey basically told VAAP to go fuck themselves. Kino ignored the request. Sergey told me later he was at Ksana’s apartment in the center of Leningrad when he got a call from Victor about it.
“I’m at the dacha with Boris and he said that tomorrow when we get up we should go together to VAAP and sign the letter,” Victor said softly into the phone. “What do I do? I don’t want to sign against Joanna but I don’t want to upset or disappoint Boris.”
“Are you fucking crazy!” Sergey screamed back at him. “You get on the next bus back to the city and leave immediately!”
No one said no to Sergey.
Sergey Kuryokhin and Joanna Stingray, mid 1980s. ©The Joanna Stingray Archive
Boris ended up signing the letter against me, and many people were as furious as Sergey. It was strange, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel that anger or betrayal that everyone else did. I had told Boris hundreds of times to protect his family and his band, and I knew that him signing the letter was what he had to do. Boris was the rain over my California desert – even if he did a little damage I was still so grateful he was there. Nothing could ever make me love him less.
Boris and I never talked about him signing for VAAP. I never asked him about it because I knew he didn’t like any confrontation, and for what would I be confronting him? He had never tried to anger or disappoint me or anyone else – he was a peacekeeper and a ray of sunshine who just wanted to bring the world together. He never wanted to be part of any problems. I knew that he did what he had to do in that moment and it had nothing to do with me.
Joanna Stingray and Boris Grebenshikov, Leningrad, mid 1980s. ©The Joanna Stingray Archive
Years later I read a book on Sergey Kuryokhin that said when Red Wave was out, someone from VAAP brought it in to Gorbachev.
“How can it be that these bands are released in the U.S. and not here?” He supposedly said.
It’s been documented that in the months after Red Wave came out in the West, the Soviet authorities started scrambling to try and make it look like the bands were ‘official’ bands in an attempt not to embarrass themselves as the government suppressing such popular and accepted music. They chose Boris to be their darling of Glasnost – of course, who wouldn’t choose an angel for the top of their tree – and offered him and his band Aquarium the chance to play in Jubileyni. Jubileyni was the largest concert hall in town! Aquarium, Zoo Park, Kino, and other Rock Club bands started to get played on the radio and eventually on TV, with Aquarium and their chamber orchestra getting the honor to be the first rock band ever to perform in the prestigious hall in Oktyaberski.
“It was not at all by chance that Boris Grebenshikov and his band Aquarium were somehow chosen as the sort of banner of Perestroika and rock,” Alex Kahn later pointed out in an interview. “Boris changed. And he changed naturally. That was a natural evolution of an artist. He was not as aggressive, as sarcastic, or as satirical as he had been. He became much more mellow both in music and lyrics, and it coincided with the general evolution of the society, with perestroika. So it brought together the cultural establishment and Aquarium. They fitted each other very well.”
I remember that Boris could have become official many times before Red Wave, but he passed on the expensive apartments and shiny BMW cars that some of his friends had sheepishly accepted. He had stayed true to himself and now he was finally being offered the opportunity to retain his music and his soul but take his place in the stars for which he’d been reaching. I couldn’t dream of taking that away from him.
At this point I ran to Moscow to meet with VAAP. I wanted to explain the record and explain the positive impact of what I was doing. I knew I needed to go and try to protect myself from their finicky, capricious hunger.
“The album was put out illegally,” they kept telling me. “There are copyright laws.”
“Fine, yes, the musicians didn’t know!” I finally lied. I knew I had to protect my friends, but I was so angry about this whole charade. These people with whom I was arguing were the ones who had been working with me to bring Bowie to the Soviet Union as well as a bunch of Yamaha equipment for the Rock Club. I knew we both wanted to go forward with those projects, and I also knew we both were aware that the musicians had consciously contributed to Red Wave. It felt like a losing battle between toy soldiers. “I did it alone. It was all me. But it’s serving such a good and important purpose. I didn’t mean any harm.”
I was asked to sign a statement admitting my guilt and pay a fee, promised that we could then put the incident behind us and work together. On October 16, 1986, I signed a paper admitting to copyright infringement and paid a fee to reimburse for moral and material damage. For some reason, I chose to sign it Joanna Stingray, which was not yet my legal name. The second I signed the coarse white paper their entire attitude towards me changed.
“We heard you have some music recorded. Maybe we could put your record out on Melodia,” one of them said to me.
Suddenly I was their little American darling again. Their smiles dripped with the hunger of a carnivore that I bet not even Ronald Reagan had ever seen face to face.
Hannelore Fobo: Introduction to Stingray in Wonderland. >>
J. & M. Stingray: Hold On To Your Pants (Chapter 23) >>
J. & M. Stingray: Grudges (Chapter 24) >>
Hannelore Fobo: Epilogue. After Red Wave. >>
|Uploaded 10 June 2019|