Moscow, Winter 1992: At Long Last, Russia
© 2001 by Scott Wallace
Moscow — As the clock counted down the final days of the Soviet Union, I booked a ticket to Moscow for Dec. 27, expecting to reach Red Square in time to see the hammer-and-sickle come down for the last time on the staffs above the Kremlin. But events accelerated. The final day of the USSR came on December 25, a week early, and by the time I saw Red Square for that very first time, on the night I arrived in Moscow, the Tsarist Tri-Color was already flapping in the brisk wind overhead, illuminated by spot lights. I stood in the plaza spellbound by its utter vastness, gazing up at the mysterious glow of the huge ruby red stars atop the spires of the Kremlin.
For the next six weeks, I explored Moscow relentlessly. I spoke with philosophers, filmmakers, artists, historians, poets, columnists, folk musicians — you name it, anyone connected with Russia’s deep intellectual life — about whither Russia following the Soviet Union’s collapse.
There was one comment that gripped my heart for the sheer truth it seemed to embody and the utter conviction and authority with which its author spoke it. I was trudging down a dimly lit street with Russian philosopher Vladimir Maalivin. It was only four in the afternoon, but the streetlamps were already fighting a losing battle against the gathering gloom. Snow was falling, and it muffled the traffic and slowed it down. Everything was remarkably hushed. We were talking about the new Russia; no longer the Soviet Union, but Russia. Vladimir spoke English with the kind of methodical, academy-imparted precision that betrayed a life of iron discipline. “Youknow,” he turned to me and smiled. “This talk about how Russia should become a Western-style democracy is absurd. It will never happen. It’s not in our nature.” He paused and added: “We will always be a dark mirror to the West.” If only those who formulated our policy toward Russia for the next ten years had Vladimir on their team…
In the end, I hooked up with one Russian rock band, Brigada-S, led by Igor Sukachev. Igor, known to his friends as “Garik,” was a hard-living guy with a beautiful girlfriend named Marina. I followed Garik and the band to rehearsals, concerts, and studio sessions. They had been an underground band during the Soviets; Garik and the others were routinely hauled in by the KGB and accused to propagating Western filth and decadence. They played a rousing fusion of
Russian folk inspired by Tom Waites and CCR. Their twanging guitars were backed by a spirited horn section and a hard-driving accordion that conjured images from the depths of the Siberian forests. I penetrated their backstage scene and their after-hours parties. I ended up sleeping on their floors and living room couches. I loved their music. I loved their spirit of rebellion, and I loved their company.
Rebels during the Soviets, and rebels still; they seemed to be just about the only rock band in Moscow in the winter of 1991-92 that was resisting the trend to slavishly copy American heavy metal.