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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

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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