James Heinzen is a professor of History at Rowan University where he specializes in modern Russian History. His new book is The Art of the Bribe: Corruption under Stalin, 1943-1953 published by Yale University Press.
Coil, “Tainted Love,” Panic, 1985.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Smoke on the fuckin’ water. If you think soon to be Russian prez Dmitiri Medvedev is a square, think again. Forget the Russian pretension for opera and ballet. Dima is a metalist, a head bangin’, shout at the devil, Rock afficionado.
One of Medvedev’s dreams came true. Last week, Deep Purple, one of his favorites, rocked a Gazprom party to celebrate his vacating the chairman seat. Even better is that Ian Gillian, Purple’s lead vocalist, gave an account of the gig in the London Times.
I don’t know if playing a Gazprom party really classifies as a “tennis and bar mitzvah gig.” The Russian elite spares no expense in showcasing their wealth. As Gillian describes,
Security was high but being checked by the guards was a lot less dehumanising than going through most commercial airports. The hospitality was fantastic. They provided my normal two boiled eggs, slices of toast, beers and whisky – and I have to say my eggs were cooked to perfection.
To be sure this was a far different scene than when Deep Purple played in the Soviet Union. Purple were icons behind the iron curtain. Their records were copied using the plates of x-ray machines or recorded on tape, sold in Russia’s urban centers or traded through the mail. The use of x-ray machines to copy records, or “rock on bones” (rok na kostiakh) dates back to the 1950s, when Soviet music fans used their connections to burn jazz, rock, samba, tango, and spirituals, on plastic x-ray plates. As Artemii Troitsky described the method,
These were actual x-ray plates–chest cavities, spinal cords, broken bones–rounded at the edges with scissors, with a small hole in the center and grooves that were barely visible on the surface. Such an extravagant choice of raw material for these ‘flexidiscs’ is really explained: x-ray plates were the cheapest and most readily available source of necessary plastic.
Who knows if any of this “necessary plastic” donning the tunes of Deep Purple still exist as commodities, but if they do, I wouldn’t be surprised if Medvedev has one.
Rock was the shit among Soviet youth in the 1970s and 1980s. As Alexei Yurchak describes in his excellent Everything was Forever, Until it was No More, Komsomol leaders used their connections and access to resources to put on gigs of their aspiring rocker friends. But the real point of ecstasy was when their favorites toured the Soviet Union. As Gillian recalls
We would play a stadium for a week and whole villages would turn up with their chickens and goats and make campfires. They wouldn’t know why they were there but there was an event going on and they wanted to be part of it. And when we played they went mental.
The Gazprom gig lacked the going mental part but it wasn’t as “straight” as some other corporate gigs played by the Purple. Young Russian suits got a bit loose though guarded as they looked “nervously over at their bosses to see whether they could loosen their ties. It was as if they were asking, “How much fun are we allowed to have?”
After their set, which was followed by Tina Turner, Gillian and his crew met with Medvedev and Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller in back room for drinks. According to Gillian, “When we met Medvedev he had this stupid grin on his face because he was meeting his favorite band.”
Putin was also there. But rock ain’t his thing. Gillian did notice him dancing with his tie loose during the opening act, which included a opera singer and a dance troupe.
Not Dima though. The devil got his due that night. I only wonder who will play the inaugural party. The Prince of Darkness, anyone?
By Sean — 4 months ago
Guest: Bryon MacWilliams on With Light Steam: A Personal Journey through the Russian Baths was published by Northern Illinois University Press.
By Sean — 3 months ago