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The return of Stingray

Published: December 17, 2004 (Issue # 1030)



  • Joanna Stingray (l) in 1984, the year she first met Boris Grebenshchikov (r) of Akvarium.
    Photo: FOR SPT / For The St. Petersburg Times

Twenty years ago a young musician from America came to Russia and played a small but significant part in ripping down the Iron Curtain. Now, after a stranger-than-fiction life that included bringing Russian rock to the West, a career as a singer and television host in Russia, a wedding that even became a matter of international diplomacy and an abrupt return to the U.S. in 1995, Joanna Stingray is back.

Now based in Los Angeles, Stingray returned to mark 20 years since her first trip to Russia with a one-off concert in Moscow and a flying visit to St. Petersburg last month. In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Stingray spoke out about what she did to change the world, her intimate relationships with legends of Russian music, and her encounters with Communist aparatchiks and Russian mobsters.

Although the 20th anniversary concert was held at B2 club in Moscow, Stingray's first visit to Russia was to St. Petersburg, then known by its Soviet name Leningrad.

The 23-year-old Stingray (born Joanna Fields), came to the city as an independent traveler with her sister Judy in March 1984. A Russian emigre friend in the U.S. helped her to contact Boris Grebenshchikov, the frontman of Akvarium, then the leading underground rock band in Russia. Grebenshchikov met Stingray at a subway station and took her to the apartment of Seva Gakkel, then Akvarium's cellist.

"That's where we first sat and talked," said Stingray by phone from her home in Los Angeles last week.

At the time, Stingray was a brand new pop/rock vocalist slightly reminiscent of Cindy Lauper, and who had released her U.S. 12-inch, 4-track debut, "Beverly Hills Brat," in 1983. Like Madonna, for artistic reasons she was then simply known by her first name.

"[Grebenshchikov] let me listen to his music, I let him listen to my album that I had out in the States. We started listening to each other's music."

In the U.S.S.R. bands such as Akvarium were officially considered at best "amateur," at worst "non-existent." Their musicians were supposed to have non-musical permanent jobs. They performed rare, unpaid, invitation-only concerts mainly at the specialized venues such as the local House of People's Creativity. The music was available only on home-produced tapes to be distributed privately, mostly among friends. But Stingray was impressed.

"I remember when I heard [Grebenshchikov's] music, it just sounded so spiritual and beautiful that it definitely moved me," she said. "I remember being just overwhelmed by his music even if I didn't understand the lyrics. For some reason the music and songs were just very powerful."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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