“Most of the clichés you hear about Russia under the USSR are true”

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Most of the time I felt like I was on a school trip. I remember the food was so meager; tiny, tiny portions of tomatoes and cucumbers as a hotel meal. Leningrad was beautiful, but I always had to stray from the route to meet the musicians with whom I wanted to speak.

The most memorable encounter was with a guy called Boris Grebenshchikov. Somehow, although he did not have the backing of the state, he had become a star and these days he is referred to as “Russian Bob Dylan”.

I was dying to meet him, and these two supposed young fixer-uppers did. The apartment he lived in was very drab and small, six stories with no elevator and no hot water. There he was, this very big star, and he lived pretty much the same conditions as everyone else in the Soviet Union. There was no star system there at all.

I remember the hospitality of the musicians was so heartwarming. The best dishes were brought in, we drank tea and talked about making music in the Soviet Union. What impressed me was their integrity and their knowledge of Western music.
Boris and his friends knew all about bands like Iron Maiden and Depeche Mode from the tapes that had been smuggled into the country. But there were huge gaps in their musical knowledge; it seemed to depend on which bands made it through the Iron Curtain.

As the trip progressed, I became more and more worried about betraying these musicians by meeting them. My two fixer-uppers just seemed to be able to make everything happen so easily, which just wasn’t the way things were in a society with so many restrictions.


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