Growing up a Cold War kid in Oklahoma, I naturally became fascinated with the (forbidden) Soviet Union. In high school, I thumbed through copies of Soviet Life in the school library for a report on life in the USSR. Later I read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for fun, then took Russian classes in college (even though it didn’t count for my major). Right after the Soviet Union collapsed, I signed onto a summer-long study/work program in 1992 in St Petersburg and Moscow.
I travel a lot. But no trip can compare with that one. For one thing, I learned that, yes, Sting, Russians do love their children too. (Also, Russians have more flower shops than any other kind of shop. Which is kind of sweet.)
My favorite souvenir from the summer of ’92, though, was the stack of Soviet rock records from the ’80s, mostly new wave bands like Kino. These were bands who had little to no access to Western music. Until the ’80s, rock’n'roll was banned (before that, fans would press records onto old X-ray slides on the sly). People could be arrested — or worse, I learned — by simply trying to rock.
A record cost less than a dollar back then. Now they are hard to find. So on my recent visit to St Petersburg — my first time in 25 years – I tracked down a record store where I met NIK, a former drummer who first heard rock’n'roll music in East German in 1957!
Watch the latest episode of Robert’s Record Corner to see my talk with NIK about the evolution of Russian rock music, and some key bands to being your Soviet rock explorations.
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