Back in the 1980s, life in the Iron Curtain was slowly beginning to change. Pepsi products were the first Western product to ever hit the Soviet grocery store shelves, and they are starting to welcome tourists in. But along with this piece of freedom, the State could no longer control the underground music scene that is slowly beginning to become popular day by day. This was also the time when some Communist party genius decided to open several rock clubs in the Soviet Union in order to give the people their rock mania fix. This also paved the way for Soviet rock’s popularity to continually rise. In this article, we are going to talk about the Red Wave of Soviet Rock and how it significantly contributed to the music industry.
The Rise of Soviet Rock
Since rock clubs began to open in the Soviet Union, the cool kids back then finally had a place where they can socialize openly. However, they are still being watched by the KGB’s. In fact, from their clothes to the lyrics of the songs that they listen to, all have to be pre-approved by the StateState in order for bands to perform their art legally. Some reports say that a club named Leningrad Rock Club converted young and rebellious musicians into good communists at the same time they also able to influence their audience. Sometimes the lyrics of their songs would have double meanings, maybe because the artists just wanted to sing about simple pleasures such as walking home from a party with a girl.
However, despite all the effort of theState to filter all the lyrics, songs, albums, and other materials from the Western world still managed to find their way into the USSR. Marlboros, Levi’s jeans, and even David Bowie’s album became increasingly common.
Despite all the club and bars that existed, the Russian rock and roll rebellion still remained deeply underground. The Western world only got to listen to the Soviet rock and roll sound when a brave American woman tourist named Joanna Stingray decided to smuggle a handful of the band’s album back to the United States.
Who is Joanna Stingray?
Joanna Stingray, born Joanna Fields, is a southern California club girl who flew to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for a week. Little does she know, it was a week that would change her life and the history of the Russian rock scene forever.
In one report, Joanna said that she was at a rock festival in the Soviet Union when she decided to go to the Leningrad Rock Club. After the concert at the club, two guys grabbed her and started questioning her. It turns out that they were KGB spy operatives, and they are asking tourists like her some personal questions such as their names and nationality. After watching the concert at the Leningrad Rock Club, Joanna fell in love with the covert punk rock scene that is rising through the cracks of the Cold War. Joanna Stingray started to build friendships with the people who lead the music genre so much so that she began to sneak in the U.S. made musical instruments and California clothes every time she visits the place.
Until one day, she decided to evade the authorities in order to bring a little surprise to the Western world. During the peak of the global tensions that were caused by the Cold War, Joanna was smuggling out unofficial recordings of four Soviet rock bands in the heels of her boots. When she was able to pass through security and got home in the United States, Joanna compiled the albums into one and release it. She called the compilation album “Red Wave” and it was legendary because it is the first of Soviet Rock albums that was able to infiltrate the Western market. The album became a hit that it made noise through the more massive rock arena.
However, because it was an American woman who does all the work to get the genre to the Western world and not the Soviet government itself, the artists that were featured in the Red Wave album were all forced to sign official documents which all blamed Stingray for what happened.
This is why in 1987, Joanna Stingray was handed a six-month ban from the USSR. This meant that she will be missing her supposed to be a wedding with Yuri Kasparyan, a musician from the rock band Kino. As all of these happened, Joanna said that her antics didn’t sit well with other U.S. officials, either. She said that she was questioned by the FBI twice because they believed that she was a spy. But she insisted that she was just making music.
Unconstrained, Joanna still continued the underground Russian rock life where she ended up marrying and divorcing Yuri Kasparyan. Eventually, in 1996, Joanna Stingray decided that she wanted to return to a quiet California life. This is where she had a family and made a career in real estate.
Up until today, Joanna Stingray is still somewhat an icon to the people in Russia who are passionate and patient to share their art with the world.