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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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Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianity’s holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti — Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the desert’s most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDA’s Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBA’s Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.