4 weeks in Russia: Joanna Stingray (in Wonderland)

Thirty five years ago a young American woman arrived in Leningrad and fell in love not only with the city but also with the music scene – bands such as Kino, headed by the legendary Viktor Tsoi (whom I also fell in love with two years ago on discovering him and whom I  often think of  as my second  Russian teacher)

The love affair continued when she subsequently fell in love with and married Tsoi’s bandmate Yuri Kasparyan.

That woman was Joanna Stingray and she went on to play a major part in Russian music of the final years of the Soviet Union, and was also responsible for introducing Russian singers to the USA, via somewhat difficult means. I’d read about Joanna when I read about Viktor Tsoi and so when I spotted an advertisement in a local bookstore announcing her arrival yesterday (Saturday) to publicise her new biography, complete with reminiscences of that time, I decided to turn up. I wasn’t sure whether Joanna would be a half forgotten name from the past, with plenty of spare seats, or whether she still held cult status and people would be queuing up outside to catch a glimpse of her. Either way, I arrived 45 minutes before the start time of 12 midday, since I am that kind of person anyway! And when I arrived, there were only a couple of free seats left at the back. I was lucky. I got a seat. I estimated there were about a hundred chairs but by 12 midday there must have been at least another hundred people standing all around (Russian health and safety, anyone?) and I realised  Joanna Stingray is still very much in the hearts of Russian people.

She gave the whole interview in Russian -fluent Russian albeit full of grammatical errors – very much the kind of Russian you’d learn if you picked most of it up along the way. But hey, kudos to any American who learns/learned Russian, and it certainly allowed the audience to connect with her.  They asked many questions about people of the time, about Tsoi, about communism… and many of her answers were met with applause, from people happy that someone at that time from ‘the West’ had shown an interest in and desire to promote their culture outside of the then Iron Curtain. It was interesting to note that a significant number of the audience would not have been born at the time Joanna, Viktor and other Russian singers and bands were around, and yet they still felt the need to come.

Of course I bought the book! I’ve even started to read it – I can make out quite a bit of it, as it is written in the first person in a fairly conversational style. There is the added motivation that I am interested in the era so I actively want to understand it – always a boost. Here it is (Russian only) Стингрей в стране чудес  –  I got mine at a considerable discount as part of the event. Great photos, and apparently there are two more books on the way over the next couple of years.


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