Excerpts from =

Music, Culture, and Community in Unsettled Times

with the assistance of

[SAC editor has inserted boldface and explanatory hypertext links in the following excerpts. Michael Urban builds his narrative on an interesting theoretical scaffolding in this otherwise very detailed, "hands-on" account. He combines personal observation with serious research, and he subjects both to theoretical analysis. His is, in a sense, a travelogue with serious interpretive shape. For one thing, he is exploring the inteface of folk art and pop-arts [LOOP] with broad cultural issues. The reader should use the FIND function to isolate the moments when that interpretive shape is most obvious. More than one theory of cultural analysis is embodied in the narrative, but none are more important that those that place accent on cultural "signifiers". F/sign/ [EG] in what follows. But also F/construct/ [EG] in order to discover Urban’s theoretical concept of personal identity and cultural or political "meaning" in general. One unconscious theoretical assumption that pops up frequently is that the capitalized word "West" signifies a distinct entity. F/West/ in the narrative below. SAC editor considers application of the adjective "Western" to the blues most curious.]

Table of Contents =
Why Blues?
The Setting: Parallels with the U.S. Experience?
The Attraction of the Music

Cultural Resonances
Transmission of Music and Culture
Politics of Culture
Community Formation
Subversion and Resistance

CHAPTER ONE [pp. 1-27]
Why Blues?

Blues in Russia is a postcommunist phenomenon. In part, its relatively late appearance in the country had been due to the communist state's policies of cultural repression and censorship that severely restricted contact with the outside world. Of even greater import in this regard, however, would be the Western music [here the author does not mean "country and western"] for which the Iron Curtain proved no match: rock. Curiously, rock 'n' roll has accounted both for the delayed emergence of blues and for its initial development on Russian soil. Throughout the communist epoch, popular tastes had never singled out blues for special attention. Moreover, during the late Soviet period when rock had become the rage, the listening public drew no particular distinction between these two music styles. Accordingly, the handful of Russian musicians who had managed to acquire some recordings from which they learned to play blues were generally regarded as rock musicians, a judgment reinforced by the British style of blues-rock that most of them performed. Only in communism's aftermath did blues precipitate out of the country's rock movement as an identifiable musical form -- played by particular bands at particular venues -- with its own following. Moscow was the principal site for these developments. By the mid-1990s, some forty blues bands were active in the capital, generating the sensation that a Russian blues boom was indeed under way. Dozens of clubs featuring blues had sprung up, from fashionable nightspots that seemed almost directly plucked from, say, New York or Paris to low-end joints with a rough-and-tumble atmosphere. Most of these blues clubs were thriving, and so were the performers. At a time when average monthly wages hovered around the two hundred dollar mark in the capital, many bluesmen were making one hundred dollars per night and more, some playing as many as twenty-five dates per month.1 However, the financial crash of August 1998 -- in which the ruble lost two-thirds of its value in three weeks -- swiftly undermined Moscow's nightclub economy and, along with it, the city's blues scene.2 Within a few months, almost half of the restaurants in town had shut down.3 Many blues clubs


closed, too, and, among those that managed to remain open, diminished revenues were often unable to support live performances. Nationwide, monthly incomes declined precipitously, from an average of 170 dollars in May 1998 to only sixty dollars in May of the following year.4 Yet, although the steep drop in disposable income sharply pruned Moscow's burgeoning blues scene, it by no means eradicated it. Moreover, in other parts of Russia where the blues had put down roots, things continued much as they had before the crash. New bands formed and new clubs opened.

By century's end, the novelty and faddishness that had surrounded the Russian blues scene in the mid-1990s had largely disappeared. But blues still retains a not inconsiderable number of devotees. Relying on the estimates of knowledgeable informants, I would conservatively conjecture that some twenty thousand Russians are closely connected to this music as performers, promoters, or fans. Some multiple of that number -- perhaps by a factor of ten or more -- would approximate the extended audience for blues, taking into account those who might not place it at the top of their list of musical preferences but whose listening habits would nonetheless include this type of music. How and why have these Russians become involved with blues?

This chapter takes a crack at that question in full expectation that the answers will be provisional, awaiting more complete development as this book progresses. This is, after all, a big question in which a number of separate yet related issues are lodged. Here, I focus on some of them, beginning with the matter of social conditions. Do those historical circumstances surrounding the creation and development of blues music in the United States evince any meaningful similarities with conditions prevailing in postcommunist Russia? In other words, do aspects of each setting help to account for the reception of this music by African Americans at the beginning of the twentieth century and by Russians at century's end? Turning to the music itself, I inquire into those aspects of blues that appear to hold a particular attraction for Russian performers and audiences. At issue here are both musical content and listener receptivity. Therefore, the discussion concerns the appeal that the music holds for its Russian aficionados, and those aspects of Russian culture that appear to resonate with the blues idiom. Thereafter, attention is focused on the process of cultural transmission, that is, on the ways in which cultural objects, on crossing frontiers, register some change in the lives of those adopting them, while they are themselves modified in the course of adoption. Finally, this chapter broaches a question to which the discussion often returns in subsequent ones: What light is shed on the larger society by means of an investigation of that group of people -- "the blues community" -- connected to one another through their participation in this music?5


The Setting: Parallels with the U.S. Experience?

The blues was born in the rural South of the United States amid the socio-economic dislocations following the abolition of slavery and, later, the end of Reconstruction.6 Former slaves were set free to make their way in a new world in which the direct dominion of the masters had been superceded by other forms of economic exploitation which -- along with the socio-political constraints and indignities attendant on segregation and overt racial oppression -- consigned them to the miserable bottom of a rigid social hierarchy. Under these circumstances, skin color alone served as a constant, visible reminder of their status in a world in which the idea, much less the actual condition, of social equality held no practical significance, even as a remote prospect. In the post-slavery South, the dream of freedom had been eclipsed by a crushing sense of disappointment with that long-awaited liberation on which hopes and expectations had been pinned, coupled with a host of new problems ushered in by liberation itself: the need to make autonomous economic and sexual choices and to struggle with a new set of constraints -- above all, finding and maintaining gainful employment -- impinging on the individual.7 Blues represented a reaction to those conditions. It indexed that "trouble" facing everyman and found ways to surmount it in song. Confronted by ubiquitous and degrading inequalities, it resolutely asserted the dignity of the individual. In the face of hopelessness, it mustered both lament and laughter to affirm the individual's capacity to resist and to endure. Dreadful circumstances notwithstanding, blues never stopped talking about freedom and about what the individual might make of it.

On the surface, at least, some obvious historical parallels can be drawn between these conditions in the United States and those prevailing in Russia. As Peter Kolchin has noted, by the eighteenth century Russian serfdom had become in key respects a version of the chattel slavery practiced in the American colonies and, later, in the United States.8 Accordingly, conditions of bondage generated a culture of personal dependencies in which the ethic of submission would supplant any notion of social equality.9 Although the communist epoch altered the face of the country in innumerable ways, it also sustained this culture of personal dependencies and thus retarded the development of equality in the social consciousness.10 As Katherine Verdery has argued, the authority structures of communist systems scripted citizens in the role of supplicants, and officials in that of parents or teachers. Abuses and indignities suffered by the former might give rise to a narrative of "rights" -- "They don't have the right to do this to me" or "I have a right to ..." -- but "right" in this context should not be confused with a general statement about social relations among formally


equal individuals. Rather, "right" would function purely as an expression of individual lament or accusation.11

The comparability of these social orders --
U.S. slavery and Russian serfdom -- has been employed by some scholars to frame another comparability in their modes of social expression: whether in the folklore of slaves and serfs in an earlier period or in belles lettres of more recent times.12 Moreover, the fact that blues took root in Russia only after the collapse of communism invites us to underscore the significance of these parallels. In the same way that blues appeared in the postemancipation period and wrestled with the new problems besetting those liberated from slavery, so blues music only became an identifiable form on the Russian soundscape in the aftermath of the country's liberation from communism, where dashed hopes for a better life kept close company with a myriad of new problems for the individual. Should we then push the comparison further and entertain the idea that roughly the same set of circumstances that conditioned the appearance of blues music in the United States was also present among Russians in the postcommunist period, thus helping to account for its reception there?

A number of those interviewed for this study would respond in the positive. Aleksei Agranovskii, both a biologist at Moscow State University and leader of the blues band, Chernyi khleb (Black Bread), himself raised the question:

Why has blues music come to Russia? Well, what we've got in Russia now is just the same thing that existed in the United States when blues first appeared. A big element here is frustration. There are a lot of Russians who feel that they've actually become different people now that the Soviet Union no longer exists. They feel they've become Negroes. Yesterday they were slaves and our forebears were slaves, too, for many years. People actually feel this. Now what have we got? Well, our freedom, you might say, along with a mass of other problems in which money always seems to figure. Blues is a way to surmount the hang-ups and complexes associated with all that. It is a music that expresses instability and expresses ways in which one can deal with it.13

Vitalii Andreev, vocalist and leader of St. Petersburg's Big Blues Revival, remarked on the U.S.-Russian comparison thusly:

I think that the problems are quite the same ... It's not very important whether we are in America a century ago or in Russia today. Take the example of Vladimir Vysotskii, the great Russian poet... In one of his songs you will find the folio wing question: "Today they were given freedom. And


what will they do with it?" That is, you have so many young people entering a totally new economic situation, namely, some kind of market economy, one in which every man is for himself. Totally different, totally new economic relations. And, of course, as a people we are completely unprepared for this. Our experience has been one of being an employee working for the state. And now employment is greatly reduced and people are thrown out onto the street.14

Similarly, laroslav Sukhov, a Petersburg artist and blues-lover, noted that:

blues music began to be socially more appreciated after our revolution, after liberation from communism, because we learned that the machine is different but the oppression remains. Simply different levers are used, now more economic levers as opposed to the physical ones in the past. And it happens that you find much more resonance in the blues to this kind of life ... It makes things much more transparent. I find it very attractive because you are chopped down by the crowd in the kind of protest associated with rock 'n' roll (during communism's final years). But in blues you remain yourself.15

These remarks are broadly representative of the views expressed by a number of individuals in our sample, suggesting an awareness in the blues community of a parallel that obtains between the conditions in which they find themselves and those that they envisage in the American South a century earlier. However, in the face of these perceptions, some aspects of the comparison raise doubts about its validity. For instance, whereas blues had become a genuinely popular music among blacks in the South, it occupies only a small segment on Russia's musical map. Moreover, the blues emerged as an indigenous response to the particular situation confronting blacks in the American South, whereas in the Russian context it appeared as an import to which are attached certain claims to cultural distinction, as detailed below. Consequently, the parallel itself can be regarded as, at best, partial. Nonetheless, from the point of view of many of our subjects, it informs their sense of place in the world. By drawing attention to it, they give voice to one of the myths bolstering the identity of Russia's blues community which traces a relationship between social context and cultural expression, enabling at least some Russian bluesmen to see themselves in a role not unlike that played by their musical heroes in the United States. Moreover, the parallel seems to speak directly to their experiences in the postcommunist milieu. They make the connection in their own lives between new, unsettled, and inhospitable social conditions, and the blues idiom as a way of making sense of them.


The desire to make sense of one's position amid the dislocation and chaos attending Russia's postcommunist transformation has already summoned into existence armies of bunco artists and crackpot cults, making fortunes large and small.16 In Moscow alone, "healers" and assorted purveyors of the black arts have come to number around fifty thousand by the end of the 1990s.17 The text of a handbill advertising a blues performance in St. Petersburg, provides a glimpse of how those in the blues community position themselves within this jumbled social context:

5 March 1999
Esteemed ladies and gentlemen!
St. Petersburg's best blues group
is happy to congratulate you and to share
your company on the eve of International Women's Day
Concert begins at 19:00
Admission is free
Address: Square of the Proletarian Dictatorship, number 6
Second floor (opposite Smolnyi Cathedral)

The entire text of the original handbill is in Russian with the exception of two key signifiers which appear in English -- the name of the club ("Blues on the Corner") and the name of the band ("Belinov Blues Band")

[The Belinov Blues Band was later known as "LetTheBelinov Blues Band", and Belinov often employed the name "King B" = YouTube#1 | YouTube#2("King B" with his 260-day pregnant wife "Queen B") | YouTube#3(ditto, but even better) | YouTube#4(with much younger dancing wife) | YouTube#5:A bizarre presentation of a gig in Moscow, with Queen B dancing on the train with members of Wynton Marsalis's band and, later, on a whacky TV show in the capital, dancing with snakes].

One reading of this use of English would be that it signals the presence of valorized cultural products associated with the West: the club, the band, the blues. Another would understand the use of English as a code indicating to the reader just what type of people -- "cultured ones" -- would be welcomed at this event.18 However, a third reading of this text -- in no way opposed to the other two -- might see in it a defocusing of the Russian context which teems with confusion. The physical location is a large new building, the International Center for Business Collaboration (a name that provides an official representation of the marketizing economy but one that most Russians would likely interpret as the place where large-scale swindles occur), that is located on the Square of the Proletarian Dictatorship, itself standing opposite a grand religious edifice, Smolnyi Cathedral [pix], whose adjoining buildings for some seven decades had housed the city's Communist Party headquarte+rs and, later, the office of the city's mayor (more swindles there). Moreover, the text employs a stilted prose -- "Esteemed ladies and gentlemen!... is happy to congratulate you and to share your company" -- to invite would-be patrons. These are rather stock expressions in Russia today, but they are rooted in the past. Above all, that


past most immediately signifies "Soviet," as the particular holiday being marked. International Women's Day, would readily connote.

In the context of this collection of discordant signifiers, "blues" appears as a sign distancing -- as the English language in the handbill would suggest -- the subject from his or her surroundings. This distancing function of the music itself would be represented textually here as an accessible enclave ("on the corner") situated at one remove from layers of the past and present that are referenced as matters of fact in the handbill.19 Accordingly, the signifiers at play here neither deny nor negate the surroundings; they instead place the individual squarely within them while simultaneously providing a certain distance from them. It would be in the space thus created that community can form and identity can be constructed

Interview respondents expressed themselves in various ways on this issue of blues as a personal compass for charting one's direction amid unsettled and uncertain surroundings. Mikhail Mishuris -- vocalist and leader of Moscow's hottest new blues band in 2001 [YouTube], Mishuris and His Swinging Orchestra -- referenced the characteristic of "cool" in the blues-man's demeanor.

In blues, you need to be cool. All kinds of trouble may have found you, but you need to be cool. And this is the same in Russia. When all the idols [from the communist era] were broken, young people needed to find something that will help them to live. Some fundamentals. Some personal ideology ... You need to start from somewhere to find yourself. And blues ideology, blues mythology, is a good start.20

Aleksei Kalachev, narrator of a popular weekly blues program on national radio, emphasized the importance of storytelling in this respect.

I use all my talent and experience in order to put on a show that does more than simply play records, but actually involves telling tales, adding commentary, and producing entertainment. Our surveys show that a number of people are attracted to the program because they like to hear these stories and my commentary. You see, irrespective of skin color, bluesmen in the United States have been living through problems that are exactly the same as the ones that people in Russia have to endure. Therefore, when I tell tales about [their experiences in the United States) there is a receptive listening audience.21

Kolia Gruzdev, a young guitarist with St. Petersburg's Soul Power Band, indexed the social turbulence surrounding performers -- and the creative impulses that it occasions -- in his remarks that:


Watching, say, a Muddy Waters video shows me that although there are real differences, the idea of this music is very close to what we are doing here ... I think that when black people play blues, they feel the same way. They have nothing to lose ... And that's what the Russian soul is like. In the old times, Pushkin created in a bad political situation. The Decembrists and the Silver Age poets were always in a bad situation. Now is really a strong period for us. Nobody knows what is going to happen and it's a real good time to create things. And you've got a certain freedom because you don't know what is going to happen. And we have to adapt. And when you do that all the time, you stop thinking about difficulties. Your "immune system" helps you to react to these difficulties, helps you not to pay attention to them. Musicians are very special people in this respect. [We can't earn a decent living and] so we are not satisfied with our roles, [but] there's no way to stop. Like in [rushing] water, you're being dragged along by it.22

With respect to new challenges which many Russians have been ill-prepared to meet, blues guitarist Valerii Belinov related the following story:

We had this group, Rhythm and Bluesy, and we recorded a tape of our original music in August 1991, just before the putsch in Moscow. We sent out the tape to about seventy different companies and we got no favorable replies. So this was very depressing because a person like myself who plays music certainly wants to see the end result of his labors. The end result is mainly the appreciation of other people and that door was closed to me at this point, so it was depressing. But this experience helped me to surmount some of my naivete. Like all other Soviet people, we didn't have any idea about how to construct a real business, so what we did was actually funny. And it is even funnier when you think about it. Here we were, Soviet people with a real desire to enter the world stage of music, but with no idea whatsoever as to how this is done ... What buttons to push? What makes this big entertainment industry go? We simply had this naive desire to be a part of it, but no idea about how to go about doing that.23

A final parallel attending the context in which blues music was introduced both in America's urban north and in Russia concerns the fact that the music seemed to have made a successful journey thanks to the fact that in each case it had brought an appreciative audience in tow. When American blues migrated from primarily rural settings to urban centers such as Chicago and Oakland during and after World War II, its raw, abrasive sound was not immediately well received by local residents for whom "blues" had meant something far more polished and jazzy. It was African American migrants from the South who supplied the audience for blues


in the Northern cities, filling the jukes to listen to that music in whose traditions they were already rooted.24 Likewise, in postcommunist Russia, much of the initial audience for blues music arrived in the form of young foreigners from the West (primarily from the United States) who, as part of a U.S. blues revival during the late 1980s and early 1990s, had developed a taste for this music while at college. Rather like their black counterparts a couple of generations earlier, they had come for jobs (and adventure) and would frequent the blues joints popping up all over Moscow to spend some money, hear some blues and, often enough, introduce their Russian friends to this music.


The Attraction of the Music

Although outwardly a simple music, blues consists of a rich synthesis of African and European musical forms that has married the rhythmic structures of the former to the latter's tonal harmonies, altering these in the process as well through the introduction of "blue" notes (the flattened third and seventh).25 The music's proximate sources are also multiple and varied, from field hollers and work-gang chants to gospel music, minstrelsy, ragtime, and marching bands.26 It is perhaps the inner complexity of this synthesis that has contributed to the impact of blues on the musical mainstream, enabling it to revolutionize popular music, first in the United States and later around the world.

[NB! the tone and vocabulary of the preceding sentence. The author drops issue of "myth" or "signifiers" or "construction" as he addresses question of USA whites picking up black blues. Why aren't these terms as appropriate to the description of US affection for the blues? In USA, it's all about "inner complexity", "rich synthesis", and "mainstream". The coming of the blues to "The West", its roots in human slavery and its perceived assault on traditional values, is not his topic, but it does supply a foundation of presumption. As such, it is an analytical or theoretical presumption at odds with that underlying his account of the blues in Russia. Why are blues any more natural to that reified location "The West" than to Russia? The verb "to revolutionize" offers our only escape from possible contradiction.]

[...] [9]

[Pages 9-12 discuss the musical elements of the blues that help explain their universal appeal. Urban concludes that discussion with attention to lyrics=]

[...] [12]

The next layer of elements in blues music inducing audience involvement consists of the lyrics. With some exceptions, the surface content of blues lyrics would scarcely seem to fire the imagination. Indeed, to the uninitiated the repetition of laments pertaining to personal predicaments ("My baby left me." "I'm so broke and disgusted.") or to exultant emotions ("I've been drinkin' gin like never before. I feel so good, I just want you to know.") can seem trite. Naturally, since most Russian blues performers do not speak English, the semantic content of the lyrics usually holds no particular import for them.

Vocalists who have translated that content and are thus aware of its meaning in English often display small regard for it. Mikhail Sokolov -- a veteran Moscow player whose vocals and harmonica front Blues Hammer Band -- would be speaking for many of his colleagues when he remarks that "blues is a rather primitive music with a banal content. Really banal, like 'You don't love me, so I'm gonna get drunk,' or 'I really cried a lot when you threw me out.' This is banal and pretty much all the texts are alike, am I not right?"44 However, the meaning and impact of blues lyrics lie a step or so removed from their surface content. Rather like the intricacies of blues rhythms and textures that seem at first altogether simple and undemanding, blues lyrics constitute a critical element in a musical language that is "refined, extremely subtle, and ingeniously systematic."45 With neither a command of the language nor familiarity with the cultural associations encoded in the lyrics, Russian performers and audiences are not much attuned to the references, nuances, and suggestive tropes vocalized in blues songs. But the nonlinear narratives commonly employed in this idiom that spit out terse statements and powerful, compact images "close to instinctual sources" can engage them in another level of understanding.46 As is the case with related musical genres such as rock 'n' roll, blues does not so much convey a cognitive content to its audiences as it demands from them a response.47 It is the directness of the lyrics, coupled with the first-person expressions of the vocalist with whom the audience -- drawn in by the rhythmic, instrumental, and stylistic devices discussed previously -- is encouraged to identify, that gives blues its particular impact on listeners. As American blues man Charlie Mussel white has remarked, apropos contemporary conditions:


In today's world, the blues is kind of like an antidote to all the computers and things all around us that lack a human quality. It doesn't matter where you live or what kind of background you come from: when you hear the blues, it reminds you that you are human and it hooks you forever.48

His comments are echoed in the reminiscences of a young St. Petersburg guitarist, Volodia Rusinov, who recalled his initial exposure to the music.

At first, I bought an anthology of Eric Clapton's stuff. When I heard his work with the Blues Breakers and Cream, it just knocked me out. It was like this huge amount of musical information that I now had to process. I had to listen to it over and over again (because] I had never really heard music like this before. One of the things that impressed me about this music was that it was so direct. It's not jazz; you don't need all that stuff. Direct and simple emotions are what blues features.49

Blues speaks both with and beyond its lyrical content. That is, the typical blues situation -- one that ostensibly motivates vocalized expression and is thematized in that expression itself -- is one that is in some way or other unright. Blues lyrics usually content themselves with naming that situation. Descriptions tend to be thin and analyses even thinner or absent entirely. Rather, the lyrics conspire to subvert that situation in another way, relying on startling images ("I feel like slappin' a pistol in your face") or pointed ironies rather than on linear narratives to undo the already devalued present. Whether enlisting humor to defy hardship or overblown statements ("I'm gonna murder my baby") to redress the moral outrages that have been suffered, blues lyrics combine protest with affirmation through a reassertion of the primacy of desire, insisting that the individual has not and will not succumb to misfortune.50 Moreover, the vocal techniques already noted -- the growls, wails, and screams -- carry the communicative enterprise beyond the lyrics, indicting the words themselves, their inadequacies or even euphemistic qualities, as somehow complicit in the unright situation.

These aspects of blues singing point beyond the situation that they describe and beyond the words used to describe it. They conduce to a release of repressed feelings, to catharsis. This cathartic effect is the product of all of the elements discussed hitherto -- the groove, the texture, the call-and-response style, as well as the lyrics -- that are brought together in performance.51 In this respect, blues music accomplishes a transition reminiscent of Walter Benjamin's reworking of the Freudian categories, melancholy and mourning.52 As with the blues itself, both of these states of mind reflect an unright situation. Yet Benjamin draws a deep distinc-


tion between them. On one hand, melancholy connotes an introverted condition of grief in which actions are deprived of value, and knowledge-seeking contemplation intended to change the world leads instead to the cul-de-sac of depression and insanity. On the other, mourning implies a certain "loyalty to the world of things" and a resolve to occupy one's ostensible place within it.53 As with Benjamin's mourning, blues refuses to sound a retreat from the world, steadily conveying the notion of human worth in its very capacity and will to endure. An active politician, Sergei Mitrokhin, remarked in this vein on the earthly manner that he associates with blues.

I like the idea of waking up with a terrible hangover, finding all my money and my woman gone, and thinking: "This isn't so bad." Blues is like that; experiencing terrible things but at the same time surviving them, and knowing that you are able to survive them. It makes you feel good about yourself.54

Vitalii Andreev recalled a moment that altered his life as a musician, mentioning a St. Petersburg performance in the early 1990s by English rhythm-and-blues singer, Arthur Brown:

When I saw Arthur Brown on stage, especially when he was doing "I'll Put a Spell on You," I was seeing a man who had been involved with the blues for over thirty years, and I could see what it meant to play blues. I could see how everything depended on the internal arrangement of the person, on his internal side. When he went out on stage, he was another person. He had changed completely. I am not sure that I know how this happens, but I hope that people who leave the hall after we've been lucky enough to have played a good concert have that same experience and that same feeling with them.55

Finally, and from a quarter deep within the Russian tradition, St. Petersburg bass player Ivan Kovalev had this to say on the subject:

I, myself, am an Orthodox believer. You can probably refer to blues as "music of the soul," but here there would be a sharp distinction between "music of the soul" and "music of the spirit." And it is the latter form that the Orthodox Christian would be in search of. I see it on a higher spiritual plane. People who don't have this kind of inner spiritual conviction and orientation, they search for their peace and satisfaction in other forms -- in more ostentatious forms. And here, through the medium of blues, they find a kind of food for their souls. And this particular satisfaction of his soul that


an individual might get through blues music could perhaps well be a phase in a larger search for spiritual music and spiritual fulfillment.56

Cultural Resonances

The second part of the answer to the question -- Why blues? -- would involve locating those aspects of Russian culture that evince an affinity to the elements of the music just discussed.57 The comparability between African American and Russian forms of folk expression derives in large measure from the particular mood or attitude with which cultural products are received and interpreted, a mood that designates the significance of their content as close to life or, through the prism of their respective artifices, as life itself. Just as the tradition of Russian folk epics (byliny) takes its name from the past tense of the verb "to be" (byt’) -- suggesting that the events and personages recounted in the tales really "were" -- so, as Henry Townsend points out, "the original name given to ... (blues] music was 'reals.' And it was real because it made the truth available to the people in songs. "58

Russian folk products of more recent vintage -- the twentieth-century traditions of urban songs and songs from prison camps (blatnye pesni) -- reflect this closeness-to-life mood as well, whether confessing the pain of unrequited love or reporting on events in the world from the wrong side of the law.59 It appears that these genres today occupy a niche in that social stratum, the intelligentsia, which is also the country's primary audience for blues. As Aleksandr Dolgov -- editor of the St. Petersburg musical magazine, Fuzz -- has observed, "If you have an intellectual in this country who is oriented toward emotional music, and he has [the relevant] information, then he will likely be listening to blatnye pesni or to blues."60 Along these lines, Aleksei Agranovskii recalled how his father -- Anatolii Agranovskii, a well-known journalist with the newspaper, Izvestiia -- used to play on his seven-string guitar and sing urban songs and blatnye pesni in the home.

This music in the home was a kind of family tradition. And the expressions in these songs -- the incredible naïveté and simplicity -- [contain] elements that are very similar to what you sing in blues. A common theme in each would be the individual laughing at himself. There is tremendous humor and humanity in the Russian tradition of urban songs and blatnye pesni. This would be Russian blues in the commonly accepted meaning of the term. Many of the themes are parallel: being in jail, being unlucky in love, having no money, and so on.61

Agranovskii's band has included some elements from these Russian folk genres in their performances -- usually by inserting a couple of verses into a standard blues number -- while St. Petersburg's Big Blues Revival occasionally adds a Russian urban song to its set list. In both cases, audiences tend to warm to these efforts with enthusiastic appreciation.

Although a number of respondents remarked on the affinity that they detect between blues and these Russian genres -- with respect to both the overall mood reflected in each and their basic musical structures -- others have rejected the comparison outright. In their view, Russian folk music and blues would belong to "completely different" traditions. Usually, those professing this opinion back it up by pointing to the differences in rhythmic patterns -- in blues, the second and fourth beats of the measure are accented while in the Russian folk tradition stress falls on the first and third beats -- and sometimes complain that Russian audiences joining in spontaneously to clap time have unwittingly impaired their band's efforts on stage. This dispute would be worth noting insofar as it cautions against presuming the existence of some innate or objective similarity joining imported American blues to the body of homegrown music. Whatever similarity there might be in this regard would depend on the ear of the listener. Indirectly, Aleksei Kalachev raised this same question in describing the format of his radio broadcasts:

The emotions that are laid into blues are not premeditated. They are expressions of what people have survived. They are a heavy, dramatic story of black Americans which is similar to the history of Russians ... I don't want to pretend that this music, and even my radio show, are approachable for everyone. That is, I would say that maybe one out of thirty listeners would be able to appreciate it, to understand it. But that one-in-thirty, nonetheless, has a right to his own art, doesn't he?62

Turning to the issue of broader cultural proclivities that might resonate with blues style, mention might first be made of the common blues practices of testifying and signifying. Whether sung or spoken, these practices appear as a particular moment in song when the performer seeks to divulge to the audience some especially important information, usually about the trouble that he or she has been facing. Significance is signaled by marking off such a segment with imperatives such as: "Now listen," "Look here, people" or "Wait a minute." These suggest that, although that which is about to be related may strain credulity, it is the honest truth. But this stance is also mildly mockish, often intimating that a free pass for exaggerations has also been warranted. Exaggerations, too, are part of the story, part of the "effect of meaning" that the blues idiom conveys.63 In this


respect, Nancy Ries's study of Russian conversational practices and her descriptions of the extended tales of woe ("litanies") or mischief making that regularly inform them represent counterparts in Russian culture to testifying and signifying, respectively, in blues discourse.64 Each pattern exhibits a bipolar structure based on the opposition of lament and exultation. For either testifying or litanizing, the mood is solemn and the content of expression tends toward the sorrowful. Conversely, signifying (as in Russian mischief tales) proceeds on a lighter note, undoing an inhospitable world through the devices of irony, mockery, and double-voicing. As is the case with testifying and signifying, litanizing, in particular, is cued -- usually by the long, heavy sigh -- that alerts the listener to the extraordinary nature of the personal episodes about to be recounted. Appropriately signaled, the ensuing narrative takes part in an identifiable discursive form that combines the mundane with the magical, themselves rough counterparts to fact and exaggeration in the blues idiom. It is within the intimacy attending these conversational practices that souls are revealed.65

During interviews, Russian bluesmen often remarked directly on the affinity that they detected between blues and their own cultural orientations. "In my view," explained bass player Sergei Mironov of Big Blues Revival,

blues is really close to the Russian personality. It's the soul, the soul. Everybody knows that Russian people are people who love to open themselves up before everyone. When I'm on stage, I am unable to disguise my feelings very well. I don't try to hide them. Say, 1 might be a little sad. That's soul, that's blues.66

His colleague, Vitalii Andreev, expanded on this point:

Just look at some of our poets -- those who have died young, those who have died young by their own hand. In principle, a Russian person suffers, suffers always. Here we have that melancholy [toska). The great poet, Mikhail Lermontov, would be a good example. He had that Russian melancholy, that Russian suffering, that Russian emotional free fall. As a Russian person, he was capable of quarreling with his best friend, just for the sake of provoking a duel. And all the time he knows perfectly well that he will not shoot. As a result, he gets killed. So, in my view, blues is actually, in the Russian context, a progressive thing inasmuch as the Russian person is condemned to suffer. Listen to Russian songs. They share the Russian soul. There are some really amazing songs you'll hear grandmothers sing in the countryside and these songs come directly from the people [narod]. They


are about the external world but, most importantly, they are about the inside of the person.67

Ries associates the proclivity to litanize tales of woe with the feminine dimension of Russian conversational practices. The masculine dimension, on the other hand, dispenses with direct statements of misfortune; it does not so much absorb the blows struck by unkind conditions as it does parry them, counterattacking with mischief making and mayhem. Whereas the response to misfortune in the feminine mode would be to dwell on it and to derive personal dignity through suffering, the masculine mode secures that dignity by laughing at trouble. In this respect, some of the remarks made by Kolia Gruzdev during an interview underscore certain affinities between Ries's "masculine" mode of expression and the blues ethos. "When you're playing," he said:

It's like an orgasm. You come to a certain point and you peak. That's what the Russian soul is like. Russian people are very unpredictable. They have a rebel spirit. It's inside. That's the way they act; how they present themselves to the world; the way they talk; the way they weave around. They do some stupid things or cool things, you know. And that's all about blues, because that's the way you live, the way you talk and the music is very close to what you do. I find this strong analogy with the Russian poet [Sergei] Esenin. He was always hanging out with prostitutes and bandits in the clubs and he's got very soulful poetry. It's about life, [both] modem and things past. And blues is like that. It's inside of us. And if you realize it, you can show it off.68

Ries's categories do not designate females as the sole bearers of the "feminine" discursive form, just as males are not the only ones to participate in the "masculine" mode of storytelling. Rather, as analytic concepts they aim to identify the poles of the conversational axis with which all members of society have direct experience. Taken as a whole, this discursive system appears quite congruent with its bimodal counterpart in the blues idiom: worries and trouble on one end, exultation on the other. What is more, both traditions have drawn their power from their ability to rework in song or speech the materials that life has provided, either by inverting a miserable world through a moral valorization of suffering or by a jubilant leap beyond it. As Dale Peterson notes with respect to the religious roots anchoring both Russian and African American cultural practices, "in the midst of captivity and humiliation, true believers enact sudden, convulsive turns from lamentation to exultation; one is obliged not to let go a long-deferred dream of liberation.69


This transformational moment in the blues tradition appears to occupy an important place in the consciousness of many Russians who have been attracted to the music. For instance, laroslav Sukhov speaks of blues as containing a "radiant sadness. When I look around myself," he continues:

I see sadness, sad things. And that's not just because I'm getting older, but life makes it so that some of our optimism fades. But this is precisely where the blues comes in, to rescue our best hopes, to be able to face that sadness and not surrender hope. So in old blues songs you hear of some kind of dark drama that has unfolded, some unrequited love; and all that is taking place on the physical level, but the music transcends the physical level and transcends time. Blues music transcends that sadness and leads to hope.70

Along similar lines, Nikolai Arutiunov mentioned that:

The attraction of blues for me is hope and disappointment and energy, energy that keeps hope alive. You listen to Johnny Winter and he might be singing about disappointment, but the actual music that he is playing is full of hope. So blues has this division between sadness and disappointment that you hear in the words, and the power, the conviction, and the hope that abides in the music. In some blues you have the first verse that is something like "I don't have any money," and then a second verse "Because of that I lost my woman," and then the third verse, something like "That doesn't matter because I'm going to come out on top anyway." That's the optimistic side of this music that gains some adherents here in Russia.71

A second aspect of Russian communicative practices evincing an affinity to the blues idiom would be the valorization of ironic forms of hyperbole and understatement. Svetlana Boym has called attention to the ways in which "the facts," especially among educated Russians, are often regarded as resistant to direct expression. The supposition appears to be that a thorough verbalization of some important episode or event in which the individual is personally invested would somehow cause it to lose its full significance. Accordingly, speakers often tend to rely on indirection, suggestion, or meaningful silences in order to convey podopleka (the real state of affairs) or, in blues dialect, the "true facts."72 This same discursive tactic is encountered in the blues practice of signifying, or double-voicing, which employs irony and double entendre to impart that to which the knowing listener is already attuned.73 Signifying represents a non-European [non="Western"?] form of discourse that traces a charmed circle around those participating in the communicative event. It is "essentially a technique of repeating inside quotation marks in order to reverse or undermine pre-


tended meaning, constituting an implicit parody of a subject's complicity."74 Rooted in clandestine dialect designed to prevent the masters from understanding the communications of their underlings, signifying survives in contemporary blues largely as a double-voicing of (usually) sexual innuendo in which all manner of modern machinery and appliances -- from trains and automobiles to washing machines and cross-cut saws -- can be impressed into the service of the sexual imaginary. In Russian folk culture, the still popular chastushka -- a song composed of short verses, often ribald and commonly containing a strong (but submerged) mockery of authority -- is constructed along similar lines.

The rakish streak in blues music that takes aim at piety and pretension would appear to be particularly congenial to Russian audiences overfed on the promises of communism, perestroika, and, most recently, a democratic-capitalism heralded as the harbinger of material plenty, personal freedom, and, not least, a "normal" life.75 As Greil Marcus has noted, by debunking the moral mouthings of authority, blues rescues the possibility to believe.76 Belief, in turn, lies largely beyond the plane of verbal expression. It more inhabits the sonorous landscape of shrieks, wails, moans, and silences. This tendency in blues to go beyond the words themselves calls to mind certain counterparts in the world of Russian letters, whether the poetry of zaum (literally "beyond mind") or absurdist prose associated with writers such as Daniil Kharms, whose work in the 1920s and 1930s has enjoyed considerable popularity in Russia once the ban against its publication was lifted in the early iggos.77 As with these Russian literary trends, the blues idiom often employs words as gateways to worlds in which truth is uncluttered by verbal description. Summoned by the musical sounds heralding its occasion, truth emerges from the innermost quarters of consciousness where the memories and desires that bind it to the phenomenal world are stored. A number of performers brought up the truth factor in their discussions of the blues sound, its simplicity and directness. One, Vania Zhuk, a young St. Petersburg guitarist, contrasted it to other forms of music, saying that "when you play classical music or whatever else, you might enjoy the pictures that you draw in the air [with it]. But when you play blues, if you are drawing pictures you are lying."78

Transmission of Music and Culture

As cultural forms cross international frontiers, chain reactions are initiated when foreign objects and practices register an impact on the receiving culture. Simultaneously, individuals in that same culture play an active role in the process, consciously borrowing and imitating foreign objects and


practices, and modifying or domesticating them in the act of reception.79 The appearance of blues music and culture in Russia represents a clear illustration of this process in four respects. First, the foreign import has the potential for creating cultural distinctions. Its conspicuous consumption associates participants with something more momentous or significant -- the modern, the West -- than what might be associated with their everyday lives.80 Second, and related to this point, transmitted objects and practices often undergo an inversion in their status as they traverse international boundaries. That which had been associated with "low" culture in its original milieu becomes transformed into a specimen of "high" culture in its new surroundings.81 Third, successful transmission depends on extant conditions in the receiving culture, most especially the presence of existing networks of individuals prepared and poised to respond to the new cultural imports.82 Finally, a certain concern attends this process -- particularly in the incidence of musical practices -- that speaks to the issues of cultural imperialism and the concomitant homogenization and degradation of cultures around the world. If a few multinational corporations control the airwaves, monopolize the recording industry, and saturate markets with their products, has not the global stage been set for the dominion of the West's "culture industry" and with it, the vapid sameness of a debased commercial culture?83

Taking this last issue first, the subject matter of this book does not much fall within the scope of issues -- principally, does the global music industry drive out or encourage local musics and local musical innovation? -- contested in the cultural imperialism debate. The reason for this is straightforward: blues produced in Russia can hardly be considered commercial music. Although blues bands make recordings, these usually are self-produced CDs or audiotapes recorded at concerts which mainly serve as promotion materials to secure live performance dates. Valerii Belinov's description of the difficulties encountered by his band in this endeavor would be emblematic of the experiences of many groups.

We spent all of our money on promotion materials. First, it took us two years to get the money to make a good photograph for publicity purposes. Just to get the clothes to wear. The money for a tape was all contributed by sponsors, so there was a long process of meeting with people and trying to convince them of our project. It took 2,500 dollars to make [the tape], which for us was an enormous amount of money. We cut it over the course of about two weeks and got three hundred copies that we used for promotion, not for sale. David Goloshchekin played it on his radio program here in Petersburg and it was played on the radio in Moscow. The cassette accomplished what we had hoped; namely, it opened a lot of doors ... We


had a legitimate, professional, first-rate blues group with a cassette that would get us gigs anywhere. But it didn't last. The bass player immigrated to Germany. Then the drummer turns very heavily to drinking and becomes a total drunk. So, with these two guys gone, our publicity is out of date. Our cassette no longer has these two people on it. We have to do everything again.84

Mikhail Sokolov confirms the standard nature of these practices. "As a rule, groups here make so-called discs with a maximum of two hundred copies. Our group cut a record, for instance, and only six copies were made."85

Although blues recordings are on sale at shops in large cities, almost invariably these are the work of U.S. and British artists. Some Russian blues is available at the Purpurnyi Legion Record Shop and its three branch stores in Moscow and at that city's flea market, Gorbushka. However, the selection is meager and availability is hit-and-miss. Even the most commercially successful band in the country, Crossroadz, derives the bulk of its income from live performances, rather than from the sale of its commercially produced recordings, and these performances overwhelmingly occur in small club venues where the pay is modest.86 Consequently, the Russian blues community is relatively unplugged from the global music industry, although, as discussed more fully in chapters 6 and 7, that industry represents a noxious presence for most blues musicians who construct part of their identity around the idea of struggle against it. This musical community, then, tends to resemble those studied by Ruth Finnegan and David Coplan in which local artists in England and South Africa respectively reproduce and combine in their own fashion both imported and domestic music, usually with no larger purpose in mind than the pleasure of performing it before appreciative local audiences.87

The remaining three issues, however, are quite pertinent to the transmission of blues music to Russia, and they are taken up here in succession. First, there is little question that blues music -- along with jazz and rock 'n' roll before it -- is valorized by virtue of its association with the West. Russian conditions, as Katerina Clark has pointed out, have made this association particularly important due to the fact that effectively all domestic sources of otherness had been scotched in the Soviet period since the 1930s.88 Social distinction, then, came to depend heavily on displays of Western goods (especially clothing) and Western cultural products (especially music). Judging simply by the photographs displayed on the walls of their apartments, today's Russian bluesmen -- particularly those who have toured in Western countries or who have performed at festivals in the West -- place great store on this association.


Second, considering the social origins of blues music in the United States and placing that same music in the context of its contemporary Russian audience, one encounters something of a textbook case of cultural inversion. Although Russian blues is performed at a number of venues -- from up-scale supper clubs to down-at-the-heel bohemian joints -- it is usually the case that bands playing the traditional Delta variant -- a music "created not just by black people but by the poorest, most marginal black people [living in] virtual serfdom" -- are the very ones to be found performing in the posh establishments.89 There, one will witness sedate, smartly attired audiences responding to this rough, gut-bucket variety of blues with subdued and studied appreciation. Levan Lomidze -- guitar virtuoso and leader of Moscow-based Blues Cousins -- recalled the social composition of blues clubs during the city's blues boom, noting that:

In the mid-nineties, [Foreign] Minister [Andrei] Kozyrev and lots of other big shots would come to the blues clubs. When we played, the audience was full of the new rich and the new class. And, of course, members of the intelligentsia. Until about 1996, blues was fashionable, it appealed to the elite.90

Similarly, Aleksei Kalachev observed that blues "has been established in Moscow as the music of young intellectuals of the middle class," a point echoed by Nikolai Arutiunov:

When clubs opened in the early '90s, people with money began going there. At that time it was the so-called New Russians -- the new business class -- and a lot of members of the intelligentsia. In this respect there was definitely an element of snobbism. Snobbism, simply because blues was Western music. Some people were trying in this way to show that they were -- and I use the English word -- "cool." But snobbism has no place in blues, a music that is very simple and accessible. There is no snobbism around the blues in America. But here, for particular historical reasons -- namely, that the people listening to it were largely from the upper layer of the middle class and felt distinguished somehow by their appreciation of this music -- an element of snobbism surrounded it.91

The issue of cultural distinction -- Arutiunov's "snobbism" -- touches on the issue of musical authenticity: What constitutes "real" blues? This vexed question is taken up in chapters 6 and 7 which examine the ways in which this issue both establishes an identity for Russia's blues community generally and informs its internal status structure. Here, the purpose is to locate the links between the import and the importers. In so doing, it be-


comes apparent that blues and related musics have crossed the country's frontiers with considerable cultural baggage already in tow. Within the imported music a certain statement on authenticity had already been inserted, one acquired during the music's travels through American and British youth cultures decades prior to its arrival in Russia.

At bottom, the cultural associations appended to the blues import derived from the appropriation of African American music by youthful white audiences after World War II. In the United States, this appropriation has been associated with an expression of rebellion against mass culture and its premier musical form, pop. By the mid-1950s, a sea change had occurred in the musical tastes of American teenagers who began punching black rhythm-and-blues plays on their juke boxes instead of the familiar pop selections, and who tended to purchase black "originals" rather than the white cover versions of the same songs served up by major record companies.92 In postwar Britain, too, young white audiences gravitated toward blues and jazz in search of an authentic cultural ground in which to anchor their resistance to both the old social order and the new commercialism.93 Although the musical trajectories of these subcultures eventually charted somewhat different courses -- a resurgence of rock 'n' roll in mid-1960s America infused with elements of the earlier folk revival, leading to the emergence of the folk-rock idiom; a blues explosion in Britain that laced the music with elements of rock 'n' roll, yielding a new variant, blues-rock -- devotees of either hybrid putatively drew from their respective traditional music sources ways of positioning themselves against the superficiality and hypocrisy associated with the dominant culture.94 By the end of the 1960s, the new rock in Britain and the United States had spun an ethos for these musical subcultures that was pitched around the virtues of sincerity, directness, honesty, and truth to oneself.95

This ethos appears to have traveled with the music to the USSR in the 1970s where, in a different sociocultural context these same values would be reproduced in Soviet rock.96 The history of rock in Russia underscores its importance as an unstoppable cultural force during the late-Soviet period, despite all attempts by the authorities to suppress, and later to co-opt and contain it.97 Regardless of official disapproval, by the mid-1980s, there were some 160,000 rock groups active in the USSR.98 Much of the attraction of rock music at the time resulted from its capacity to channel youthful rebellion and protest, a factor that could help to account for the importance attached to rock lyrics and, accordingly, the replacement of English-language texts by those in Russian." Rock music drew on subversive associations with an idealized and much valorized "West," channeling the energies of many millions of adherents into a cultural struggle against the officially proclaimed "Soviet way of life" and, of course, against


the restrictions, pretensions, and hypocrisy associated with it in youth consciousness. As was true elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc, the collapse of communism was coincident with the decline and disintegration of this movement.100 As Alexei Yurchak put it, this collapse represented a "mutation in cultural logic from which all nonofficial art drew its inspiration and on which it based its relevance. Suddenly, the official and nonofficial symbols and meanings became equally irrelevant."101 As the rock movement disintegrated, it opened separate spaces for those types of music that had been alloyed with it in Soviet times; among them, blues.

This sketch of the prehistory of blues in Russia highlights the fact that the version of blues music that first reached the country overwhelmingly arrived in the form of the recordings of a cohort of white performers in Britain who had themselves learned the music by listening to the records of black bluesmen in the United States.102 It would seem probable that the British variant, which had grafted elements of rock 'n' roll onto the blues form -- especially strong, simple rhythms, and powerful guitar instrumentation -- would have been more accessible than "deep" or "classical" blues to Russian performers and fans already immersed in the rock idiom. Groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, along with individual artists such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green, represented for Russian players in the late and post-Soviet periods the same objects of emulation that U.S. bluesmen had previously been for these same British performers. Consequently, the import of the music via Britain not only tended to define for Russians what blues actually sounded like; it also contained a particular gender bias inserted by the masculinist tendencies apparent in the British interpretation of the music that had erased from the genre a rich tradition of blues music performed by women.103

As charted in subsequent chapters, much of the history of Russian blues represents a backward movement in time, away from rock 'n' roll generally and from British blues-rock and toward the sources of these music styles in the older traditional forms played by blacks in the United States. The odysseys of individual musicians reflect that pattern. Aleksei Baryshev describes his musical journey as "looking for a kind of truth. Listening to all that rock 'n' roll naturally led me to search for its truth, its source. That's what I discovered in blues, the pivotal element in rock 'n' roll, the pivot."104 With respect to specific sources, these comments from Vladimir Berezin -- guitarist with the St. Petersburg group, The Way -- are representative of many of those offered by Russian bluesmen during interviews:

All of us [in the group] were familiar with the Rolling Stones, Credence [Clearwater Revival], and Grand Funk Railroad before we came to blues.


This was probably a kind of bridge for us to blues music ... But I became less interested in playing their music or in playing rock 'n' roll generally, because it struck me as just copying what Western groups were doing. I became more interested in playing blues because of the freedom to interpret it in the way that I would want to. Hendrix was then a bridge. Later, Stevie Ray Vaughn served as another bridge ... He was the one who opened the door for us and, going through that door, we discovered the older bluesmen, such as B. B. King.105

A final aspect concerning the import of blues into Russia involves the presence of networks of performers and fans who had been prepared for the music's reception in the country in the postcommunist period. Above all, this cohort was composed of individuals who had been exposed to blues outside of Russia proper, and who brought it with them on their return home or when they repatriated to Russia after the end of communism. Certainly, some Russians had discovered blues during communist times without leaving home at all. A number of interview respondents spoke of B. B. King's concerts in the USSR in 1979 in terms that suggested musical epiphanies. And some blues recordings were traded on the black market despite state repression. However, the role of that particular cohort exposed to the music because of less restrictive circumstances and who then returned to or repatriated to Russia deserves particular mention. This group is represented among those interviewed for this study by Sergei Voronov, leader of Crossroadz, who discovered blues in East Berlin as a teenager in the 1970s (his father had been stationed there as a journalist); blues diva Inessa Kataeva, who listened to blues at an early age in Hungary (her father had been posted there by the Soviet army); Vovka Kozhekin, who attended a public school in England where he was introduced to blues in the early 1990s; Valerii Belinov, who grew up in Riga where Western music of all types was far more available than it was in the Russian Republic; Levan Lomidze and Giia Dzagnidze, whose younger years in Tblisi were likewise spent under conditions in which Western music was relatively available; and Edik Tsekhanovskii, whose naval service in the 1980s and subsequent peripatetic hitchhiking and palling around with sailors in port cities brought him into contact with the blues. Given the closed character of the Soviet Union it is not surprising that blues music, rather like most Western consumer items before communism's fall, was largely hand-carried into Russia.




[...] Sometimes the patrons [of Moscow’s blues clubs] appear dominant, filling a club's space with their signs; sometimes it is the club's decor and ambience doing most of the signifying, while the actual club-goers, sitting passively at their tables, seem more or less inert by comparison. To illustrate, consider the contrasting cases of Club Alabama and Kantri bar (Country Bar), both located in central Moscow. Club Alabama's owner, Nikolai Kalandareshvili, describes the conception behind his establishment as that of an "art club."9 Accordingly, the club's spacious interior is simply and very sparingly appointed. A few photographs adorn the walls in keeping with Kalandareshvili's taste for jazz. However, rather than icons of the greats, these are photographs of jazzmen who have actually performed there. Once Kalandareshvili had made the acquaintance of fellow Georgian Levan Lomidze -- who persuaded him that blues would also be appropriate for his enterprise -- the club began booking blues bands two or three nights per week. On blues nights, colorful crowds are likely to appear and a kind of masquerade might ensue. For instance, at a performance by Mishuris and His Swinging Orchestra on August 22, 2001, about half of the crowd was in costume: women wearing full skirts or pedal pushers, puffy blouses and hair in pony tails; men, with oversized trousers, rolled-up short sleeves, and butch cuts or pompadours for hairdos. The club's atmosphere crackled with a kind of electric charge as the band cranked out high-energy jump blues while the costumed portion of the crowd threw itself into the jitterbug. The spectacle seemed to drip with nostalgia, a reenactment of fashion and fad from the 1940s and early 1950s. But in this respect, a second incongruity asserted itself. This was, after all, neither New York nor even London, but Moscow. Here were young Muscovites displaying "nostalgia" for something that the country had never actually experienced. It would appear that they were, in a sense, borrowing someone else's nostalgia, trying it on for size as a set of visible and audible markers signifying their association with some larger community. For these young club-goers, entrance into that community would require a leap in time and space, catapulting the imagination into some other "here," some other "now." Curiously, that "here" and "now" represented the contemporary West, which projects itself to them through stylized images of its own past.10 These young Muscovites, then, were constructing themselves as modern individuals by participating in one of the West's constitutive cultural practices, the art of nostalgia, even if they needed to appropriate someone else's appropriated memories in order to do so.11




Politics of Culture

The final aspect of politics in the blues community concerns a related issue: the struggle for culture. In this respect, culture can be regarded in a broad sense as "the signifying system through which necessarily (though among other means) a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored."12 As Murray Edelman has argued, cultural products provide society with a finite number of vantages from which the political world is apprehended, assessed, and, indeed, constructed.13 Culture is therefore political in the deepest sense. Its "meanings are constitutive of processes that, implicitly or explicitly, seek to redefine social power."14 Members of Russia's blues community experience their activities as a struggle along those lines, as many of their remarks would indicate. The coherence of their community itself hinges on the meanings derived from the music on which it is based. How does this fundamental process, this engendering of community, occur?

Community Formation

At bottom, the formation of a musical community depends on some shared conception among its members regarding what their music communicates. Paradoxically, however, these shared conceptions can neither be fully revealed nor directly known. Inasmuch as revealing or knowing in this context would amount to lexicalizing the music, translating a musical message into a linguistic one, something -- indeed, something of critical importance -- would be lost in the process. As John Blacking has put it, "musical discourse is essentially nonverbal... and to analyze nonverbal languages with verbal language runs the risk of destroying the evidence."15 Consequently, our subject, here, requires a change of tack away from the conventional approach that has been relied on thus far -- namely, saying things about music, appending adjectives to sound -- and toward a consideration of music making per se as a signifying practice with its own particularities and possibilities.

Roland Barthes's reflections on nonverbal media are particularly useful in this respect. Barthes distinguishes three levels of meaning present in films and photographs: "communication" (the transfer of information), "signification" (the framing of the information's relevance, import, connotations, and so forth) and a "third meaning" which cannot be named


but can be perceived and grasped intuitively. This third meaning involves the production of a signifier that has no corresponding signified, a something that not only refers to nothing but contains no specifiable meaning itself, yet is present in the image, contributing a kind of mood, perhaps provoking association with other signifiers and their signifieds, available to perception as a layer of meaning that is suspended somewhere between the image itself and its description. As an ethereal presence in the image, the third meaning seems to appear and to disappear just as quickly. Its presence, in Barthes's words, "maintains a state of perpetual erethism, desire not finding issue in that spasm of the signified which normally brings the subject voluptuously back into the peace of nominations."16 This characterization of a third meaning -- a signifier without a signified -- in photographic images would seem equally to pertain to the sound of a musical phrase.

Although he did not make the connection explicitly, Barthes has employed a comparable approach to music in formulating his influential concept, "the grain of the voice."17 This term refers to that something that is heard in vocal or instrumental music over and above the words or notes themselves. Its signifying ceases the moment that one drags it down to the level of connotation by loading it up with adjectives: "Her voice sounds so.. .earthy/troubled/joyous," As noted previously, blues is a highly textured sound replete with this "grain." In its propulsive rhythm, distorted notes, screams, and wails, it conveys any number of third meanings available for association with other signifiers present in social consciousness.18 These associations, triggered by the indefinable third meaning, enable listeners themselves to construct meanings, to speak about what they hear in the music and what it means to them; in short, to dissolve the third meaning into a lexicalized chain of signs. These two distinct moments in musical signification -- sonic and verbalized -- would be apparent in the differing modes of apprehension displayed during performance: on stage, musicians smiling and nodding as they wind their way through some improvised passage, unified by the purely musical communication transpiring among them; at a side table, a music reviewer translating the sounds into language for a column in tomorrow's newspaper.

In writing that column, our reviewer would be tapping into socially available associations. He might compare the band's sound to that of other groups, appending the appropriate adjectives; he might identify particular features of their sound in this same way ("The plaintive phrasing of the guitar work provides a startling counterpoint to the relentless drive of the rhythm section."); and he might draw on metaphoric associations to describe their music ("The howling harmonica delivered a pulsating current of pure power."}. In the process, the reviewer would be making manifest


some of the meanings available in the music, there to be heard, interpreted, and articulated. These meanings, of course, do not stand outside of culture any more than music does. They are immanent to both.19

However, encoded in music, the meanings appear in an ambiguous fashion. Charles Keil describes this aspect of musical meaning as "participatory discrepancies," the disjunction that often obtains between the musical moment in which performers have found a groove and play within it as a single unit, and a reflective moment that follows in which they discover that they have radically different perspectives on what they were just doing.20 Music's participatory discrepancies thus broaden its scope of involvement. Listeners, of course, must be sufficiently enculturated in order to "hear" the music and, thus, become involved with it. Yet they need not hear it in the same way or hear the same things in it in order to appreciate it collectively. The act of listening to the same music together suspends the differences that might exist among them with respect to its meaning. Thus, collective involvement rather than explicitly shared interpretations creates musical community. Particularly in the context of live performances -- where music is simultaneously produced and consumed, and where dancing, call-and-response, and other forms of participation blur the lines separating performers and their audience -- individual interpretations are enclosed in the common experience of a collective practice.21

Overtly, blues does not address itself to common experiences in a way that would thematize them as political, at least in the conventional understanding of the term. There are exceptions to this rule -- songs such as Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" or John Brim's "Tough Times" would be counterexamples -- but they are very few and far between. As a music sung almost invariably in the first person singular, blues seems to lack that component essential to the production of political discourse: "we." Moreover, references to general conditions, all the more a critique of them, are quite sparse. But it would be a mistake to conclude on the basis of these observations that blues music lacks a politics. Its very source in a repressed and exploited community stigmatized by the hegemonic culture of white America represents one powerful set of associations.22 As mentioned previously, those associations are not absent from the consciousness of Russian performers who refer to the feeling of "becoming Negroes" in communism's aftermath or "blackening" as a result of their efforts to master this musical idiom.23 In addition, as demonstrated by Brian Ward's study of the role played by rhythm and blues in shaping African American consciousness during the U.S. civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, popular music without an explicit political content can nonetheless tap into broad-based expectations and aspirations, thus engendering a


community aware of its common dispositions.24 Many Russian bluesmen are quite sensitive to these considerations, as the remarks of one would suggest:

Blues is the most apolitical music one can think of.... The political moment ' is excluded, at least on the surface of things. Blues is individual. A blues-man never says "we"; he sings about himself. But, on the other hand, it is the most political music imaginable inasmuch as blues always sings about freedom. Even if the song doesn't use the word "freedom," the implications, the context is always about achieving some liberation from conditions that surround the person. Therefore, in any society the bluesman is a kind of dissident. I think that in America in the 1960s, people like The Band, Canned Heat, Paul Butterfield, or the Blues Project were not overtly politically oriented but at the same time were participants in a broad social movement that concerned itself with freedom. I think that much the same thing is true here today.25

Vitalii Andreev responded to my question about blues as a social movement in Russia in comparable terms.

  Vitalii Andreev: Well, if rock 'n' roll is a music of protest, then blues is about freedom.
Interviewer: Do you mean that it's the demand for freedom or the use of freedom?
  Andreev: No, it's the feeling of freedom. It's the feeling that you are free.26

As did Kolia Gruzdev:

[Blues] is some type of inner freedom. I think that when black people play blues, they feel the same way. Like Lightnin' Hopkins, who spent his life in small pubs and bars in Texas and didn't want to play to huge audiences. He was free to do this. He was a bluesman. Whether he was sitting on the street one day and playing and then playing in some club, it was all the same. He was the same. There was no conflict inside of him. He was congruent.27

Much like his counterpart anywhere, in singing about himself the Russian bluesman is simultaneously serving as a vicarious voice for unseen others who lack the means of self-expression. Whether these others actually appreciate this benefaction is an issue that is beside the point here. For present purposes, it is sufficient to note the congruity that obtains between the bluesman's role and the traditional norms and practices of the coun-


try's intelligentsia which has historically seen itself as the voice of a silent and long-suffering people. Russian bluesmen continue that tradition and, as Arutiunov's remarks about the bluesman qua dissident would suggest, in at least some cases they do so self-consciously. However, the medium that they employ dispenses with the sermonizing for which the intelligentsia has been renowned and tends to disguise the function itself by confining expression ostensibly to the first person singular. Moreover, communication is channeled through the artifice of blues aesthetics which creates the effect of experiencing performance as a kind of reality. This effect -- that the performer is not merely performing, but actually conveying his own feelings -- stems from the music's saturation with a direct, emotive content which works to suppress the perception of artifice itself, and to conjure the impression that one is listening to the unadorned truth. This aspect of blues represents the kernel of what I have called "authenticity in the music," a quality central to Russians' appreciation of the idiom. The spell cast by the music's emotional authenticity invites listeners to identify with the bluesman's personal statements. It is on that basis that the bluesman is able to speak to and/or others.28 Muddy Waters once referred to this communitarian aspect of blues performance by noting that when a person "gets to realize that others have the same kind of trouble -- or even worse -- he understands that life isn't just pickin' on him alone."29

To whom and for whom do Russia's bluesmen speak? When I raised this question with some of them during interviews, pointing out that rather than society's downtrodden, their audiences primarily consist of young, middle-class professionals, they smiled at my lack of comprehension. Aleksei Agranovskii told me that:

This middle class that you are talking about always feels that they are sitting under a bomb, waiting for it to fall. This is a young capitalism and it has no stability to it. Second, we have the experience of just yesterday, slavery. So there is no way that you can consider this middle class to be a bourgeois middle class. Moreover, this is a middle class in constant intercourse with bandits and with the police. Maybe I am exaggerating this. Maybe these same people won't tell you about these parts of their lives. Maybe they will just say that they like the music. But I think that this is the actual, case. I see it among students because we play for them a lot.30

Kolia Gruzdev put it this way:

Even if you are a rich man here, you have most of the same problems that other people do. The difference is that you're not hungry. You might be listening under different circumstances, but you have the same problems, the


same troubles. Because in Russia it is not actually that easy to be wealthy. Because [referencing the rash of contract killings that still plague the country] you get killed.31

It may be that this pivotal capacity of blues -- singing in the first person singular while employing the performer's artifice of emotional involvement that stimulates the identification of others -- is particularly relevant to the creation of community in contemporary Russia. As has been noted, the disappointments and dislocations following communism's collapse have led individuals to withdraw from the public sphere and to focus their attentions and energies on survival strategies, hinged on cooperation with kin, friends, and acquaintances organized in informal networks. As Vladimir Kostiushev and his collaborators have shown in their study of the related phenomena of contemporary Russian subcultures, identities are not constructed on the basis of ideology, program, or formal organization -- even among ostensibly political groups -- but instead entail a display of surface markers such as symbols, rituals, jargon, and dress serving to distinguish members from others. Rather than a commitment to programmatic objectives, sociability seems to be the primary incentive for participation in subcultural life.32 It may even be that the population evinces a certain caution, if not fear, with respect to mobilization for larger purposes. Having experienced the catastrophes attending the communist revolution and then those of the anticommunist one that followed, they appear to have grown distrustful of would-be mass movements and their eschatological ends. As a result, the category "we" tends to be excluded from practical consciousness.33

The blues community's form of organization reflects much of that pattern. However, the music on which it is based allows for a certain transcendence of it as well. Rather than recoiling from an inhospitable world, the blues ethos insists on standing one's ground. Although things may be bad and unlikely to change, "that's all right." Those participating in this music thus register their membership in a "we," an imagined blues community that spans continents and a century or more.

Subversion and Resistance

The sound of blues is itself subversive. The music's signature tonality -- especially the distortion and dissonance effected by its texture and drive -- disrupts the familiar and undercuts the sense of order inherent in standard European melodic structures. Adding to this effect, the music's overlay of rhythmic patterns on top of the basic beat engenders "the feeling... of... trying to break out of the constraining, divisive meter" that structures the


song itself.34 As suggested by the Russian slang term ugar [loosely: "rush"] that respondents have often used during interviews and conversations, the sound and propulsion of the music is experienced as an undoing of constraints. Vocal techniques can further enhance the music's subversive impact. Whether stretching meaning beyond the words employed or communicating through nonverbal shrieks and moans, blues can index extramusical memories and aspirations. Numerous quotations scattered throughout this book attest to the way in which Russian bluesmen appreciate these features of the music.

Blues in Russia is subversive in other ways as well. The transformation of a "low" cultural form into a "high" one would appear to be transgressive on its face.35 As previously outlined, this transgression for those in the country's blues community is twofold: their subculture is not based on a domestic cultural product, but on a foreign, Western one; at the same time, this particular cultural product carries its own reproachful valence vis-avis standard manifestations of Westernization. Moreover, because the social origins of blues are imprinted in the music itself, performing it inverts the social hierarchy by presenting the world from the perspective of the marginalized and oppressed. In consonance with this social inversion, the capacity of blues to undercut conventional musical constraints has meant for Russian performers, as it has for white players everywhere, that "to step out in the guise of the blues is to step out of line."36

The line in question, here, is racial as well as musical. Crossing it may not have been much on the minds of Russia's first generation of bluesmen who cut their teeth on the music performed by British artists, but as they and others delved deeper into the roots of blues, a vicarious identification with African Americans has been fostered, as made clear by many interviewee's comments. That identification contrasts sharply with the invidious racial distinctions that one encounters in Russia today. In this context, blues represents a subversion of a racialized social consciousness, but a subversion that is indirect, operating through the medium of a distant other: black bluesmen in the United States, and the ensuing spool of associations to their audiences, conditions of life and so forth that supply imaginary links to Russians. By playing blues, Russians are neither staging a direct assault on racism in general nor explicitly criticizing the racism present in their own society. Rather, they are contributing to social learning by undermining racial categories in subtler and perhaps more effective ways simply by inviting listeners to participate in this music and thus to share in its associations.

[NB! the loss of an obvious opportunity to explore the relationship of Blues popularity in USA and the "invidious racial distinctions that one encounters in" USA.]

Obviously, the problem of racism among Russians concerns their relations with a proximate other, people of color in their own society. Seventy-four years of communism -- which outlawed openly racist expressions


and installed an explicitly antiracist code for all forms of public speech -- did not succeed in erasing racial antagonism from the social landscape, in part because the Soviet state often tacitly incorporated racist categories into its policies as if they were self-evident matters of fact, thereby reinforcing and naturalizing racist practices.37 When that state collapsed, the threshold for overt expressions of racism came down as well, as illustrated dramatically by the periodic pogroms visited on people of color in those public markets where they peddle their wares, or routinely by city police singling out and shaking down dark-skinned individuals in public places. Moreover, in quotidian terms, race seems a central marker on the social maps drawn by many individuals, for whom "dark" or "black" references the inferior, the unworthy, and the dangerous. By contrast, "white" -- that is, the speaker and his preferred reference group -- would be commensurably valorized.

Some observers have remarked on the rationale that appears to underlie this racist orientation among Russians, seeing it as an attempt to position the self against uncomprehended but apparently threatening forces connected to the new and mysterious commercial economy and its criminal contingents, as well as an effort to signal through their whiteness an affiliation with some imagined transnational community composed of developed and cultured people.38 Yet this positioning can be ambivalent: dark-skinned people who are proximate may be marked negatively whereas those who are remote, such as African Americans, can assume the form of blank slates on which individuals are free to inscribe their own aspirations and fantasies.39 The identification evinced by Russia's bluesmen with blacks in the United States would seem to follow that second pattern, imagining an idealized other who can be enlisted for the construction of personal and collective identities.40 [?...and the "idealized other" in USA....?] However, the fact remains that bluesmen are performers who actively express those identities in performance. In the act of playing blues, they therefore disturb the black/white dichotomy central to racial stereotyping, stripping the concept "black" of its negativity and joining it to a positive assertion of "us." This subversive moment is therefore a subtle one, dispensing with didacticism or any overt statements on the value of racial equality and so forth. Rather, the reverence shown the music itself both communicates and instantiates the idea of racial harmony as a matter of fact.

Resistance is a second face that blues music turns toward the hegemonic culture of the larger society [ID first face]. It sometimes appears as imaginary excursions to another place and time, as exemplified by the episode recounted in chapter 4 in which a jump-blues performance served as the occasion to re-enact dances and sartorial modes associated with the United States in the 1940s. Even if the "nostalgia" in this instance had been borrowed from an -


other culture -- or, perhaps, especially because it has -- it nonetheless serves to position individuals outside of their everyday milieu, representing some ground on which to stand that is experienced as an alternative free of society's constraints.41 The same would appear to hold for the music, itself, which indexes another place and time sonorously delivered to the here and now. That capacity to transform the present would be additionally apparent in improvisation that comprises such an important feature of blues. By stressing spontaneous, cooperative, and creative activity, improvisation forms a resistive counterpart to the standardization of social relations in commodity-based cultures as reflected in the repetitive nature of most contemporary popular music. The Russian bluesman's hot solo thus appears as the community's ultimate weapon in the struggle against popsa [pop-arts (LOOP)]. Improvised passages reconstruct musical codes for performers and listeners alike, amounting to forms of dialogue around the issue of musical problem-solving that may suggest in their turn more open-ended and negotiated forms of human relationships.42

As is the case with a message of freedom that Russians find encoded in blues, resistance appears in subtle forms: palpable, but difficult to pinpoint or to circumscribe. A number of comments recorded during interviews and already cited in this book reflect a personal resonance with this intangible element of resistance: Sergei Mitrokhin's reference to "experiencing terrible things but at the same time surviving them, and knowing that you are able to survive them"; Aleksandr Bratetskii's appreciation for the "primordial energy" that he detects in the music; Iaroslav Sukhov's feeling that "in blues you remain yourself"; and Giia Dzagnidze's point that "blues is recalling what you have survived." Enduring and surviving are qualities that Russia's bluesmen associate with resistance rather than with retreat. In their music they have found a particular stance in that regard, one positioning them against both the remnants of the unexpunged past and the troubling conditions surrounding the still unfolding present.




1. The contents of this paragraph derive from a number of conversations with bluesmen, club managers, and observers, the most important of which were with: Levan Lomidze (Moscow, 25 July 1999), Mikail Sokolov (Moscow, 23 July 1999), Michael Osley (Moscow, 21 October 1998), and Vladimir Padunov (by telephone, 4 August 1998).

2. Boris Kagarlitsky, Russia Under Yeltsin and Putin (London: Pluto, 2002), p. 200.

3. Vechernaia Moskva, 17 November 1998.

4. National news program Vremia, Russian Public Television, 21 June 1999.

5. Paul Gilroy ("There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack": The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987], p. 187) has called attention to the problems attending the use of such terms as "subculture" with respect to identifying social groups distinguished by certain discourses and practices that center on music. However, his recommendation to substitute the term "movement" does little to overcome the same lack of clarity present in the marker that he has rejected. Although "movement" may capture the notion of overt resistance to a dominant culture that is mediated musically -- as it would for hippies and punks -- it is much less certain that this term would convey an accurate representation of other social groups organized around a musical idiom (such as bluegrass or, for that matter, blues). The term "community" does not admit to that problem. Moreover, its very ambivalence -- suggesting, on one hand, affective relations within a tightly knit group and, on the other, a collection of persons bound together simply by common practices, norms, and interests (say, the journalistic or scholarly communities) -- sits well with the circumstances under consideration here. The Russian blues community is constituted both by strong, affective, face-to-face relations at microlevel and, with respect to the country as a whole, by a common sense of identity that individuals share with (imagined) others who perform and listen to this music. Moreover, the term "blues community" has been used to designate a comparable collection of individuals in Britain by Theodore Gracyk in his I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), p. 108. Blues Community was also used as a name by a St. Petersburg blues band in the late 1990s.

6. Francis Davis, The History of the Blues (New York: Hyperion, 1995), p. 23-47; Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (New York: Viking, 1981), pp. 17-18; LeRoi Jones (Amiri Buraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1963), pp. 62-65.

7. William Barlow, "Looking Up at Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), p. 8; Ray Pratt, Rhythm and Resistance: Explorations in the Political Uses of Popular Music (New York: Praeger, 1990), pp. 79, 87-88; Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (New York: Pantheon, 1998), pp. 4-5,45-46,67-72.

8. Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1987), esp. pp. 2-41.

9. Marshall Foe, "A People Born to Slavery": Russia in Early Modern European Ethnography, 1476-1748 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), esp. pp. 196-226; Robert Tucker, The Soviet Political Mind: Studies in Stalinism and Post-Stalin Change (New York: Praeger, 1963), esp. pp. 83-89 [See later edition].

10. Michael Urban, "Conceptualizing Political Power in the USSR: Patterns of Binding and Bonding," Studies in Comparative Communism 18 (Winter, 1985), pp. 207-26.

11. Katherine Verdery, What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 222-23.

12. Kolchin, Unfree Labor, pp. 229-36; Dale Peterson, Up from Bondage: The Literatures of Russian and African American Soul (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000).

13. Aleksei Agranovskii, interview by author, Moscow, 23 August 2001.

14. Vitalii Andreev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 13 July 1999.

15. laroslav Sukhov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 17 July 1999.

16. See Eliot Borenstein, "Public Offerings: MMM and the Marketing of Melodrama," and idem, "Suspending Disbelief: Cults and Postmodernism in Post-Soviet Russia," both in Consuming Russia: Popular Culture, Sex and Society since Gorbachev, ed. A. Barker (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999), pp. 49-75 and pp. 437-62, respectively.

17. Oleg Pachenkov, "Nekotorye aspekty deiatel'nosti sovremennykh rossiiskikh 'selitelei'," (St. Petersburg's Center for Independent Social Research, 1998), p. i.

18. Aleksandr Tsar'kov, the former director of Moscow's Arbat Blues Club, noted that his establishment regularly employed English in its advertisements in order to discourage the "wrong" clientele from attending, interview by author, Moscow, 16 August 2001.

19. Adam Gussow, Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), esp. pp. 23,83.

20. Mikhail Mishuris, interview by author, Moscow, 13 August 2001.

21. Aleksei Kalachev, interview by author, Moscow, 24 August 2001.

22. Kolia Gruzdev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 15 July 1999.

23. Valerii Belinov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 21 July 1999.

24. Palmer, Deep Blues, pp. 134-35; Mike Rowe, Chicago Blues: The City and the Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1975), pp. 26-39; Lee Hildebrand, "Oakland Blues, Part I: Essay," in California Soul: Music of African Americans in the West, ed. J. C. Dje Dje and E. S. Meadows (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 104-12.

25. Inter alia, Paul Oliver, "Savannah Syncopators" in Yonder Come the Blues: The Evolution of a Genre, Paul Oliver et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), esp. pp. 21-73.

26. Paul Oliver, The Story of the Blues (2nd ed.; Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997), pp. 11-15; Giles Oakley, The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues (2nd ed.; New York: Da Capo Press, 1997), pp. 21-40.


44. Mikhail Sokolov, interview by author, Moscow, 23 July 1999.

45. Palmer, Deep Blues, pp. 18-19.

46. Paul Garon, Blues and the Poetic Spirit (2nd ed.; San Francisco: City Lights, 1996), p. 10.

47. Barry Shank, Dissonant Identities: The Rock 'n' Roll Scene in Austin Texas (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994), p. 99.

48. Quoted in Good Times, 13 May 1999, p. 16.

49. Volodia Rusinov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 28 June 2000.

50. Paul Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, p. 155; Garon, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, pp. 54-55.

51. Keil, Urban Blues, pp. 118-22; Barlow, "Looking Up at Down," pp. 4-5.

52. Compare, for example, Walter Benjamin's treatment of these terms in the work cited in the following note with that of Sigmund Freud in his General Psychological Theory: Papers in Metapsychology (New York: Collier, 1963), pp. 164-79.

53. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (London: Verso, 1977)' PP- "9-57, esp. p. 157.

54. Sergei Mitrokhin, conversation with author, Santa Cruz, Ca., 6 January 1999.

55. Vitalii Andreev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 13 July 1999.

56. Ivan Kovalev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 31 July 1999.

57. On the issue of cultural transmission and receptivity with respect to musical forms in particular, see Mark Slobin, Subcultural Sounds (Hanover, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1993), pp. 68, 76-78.

58. Quoted in Clyde Woods, Development Arrested: The Elites and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta (London: Verso, 1998), p. 25.

59. Robert Rothstein, "Popular Song in the NEP Era," in Russia in the Era of NEP, ed. S. Fitzpatrick, A Rabinowitch, and R. Stites (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), pp. 268-94; idem, "How It Was Sung in Odessa: At the Intersection of Russia and Yiddish Folk Culture," Slavic Review 60 (Winter, 2001), pp. 781-801.

60. Aleksandr Dolgov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 26 June 2000.

61. Aleksei Agranovskii, interview by author, Moscow, 23 August 2001.

62. Aleksei Kalachev, interview by author, Moscow, 24 August 2001.

63. The term "effect of meaning" has been coined by A. J. Greimas in his Structural Semantics (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).

64. Nancy Ries, Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997).

65. Dale Pesman, Russia and Soul: An Exploration (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000)

66. Sergei Mironov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 13 July 1999.

67. Vitalii Andreev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 13 July 1999.

68. Kolia Grudzev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 15 July 1999.

69. Dale Peterson, Up from Bondage, p. 70.

70. laroslav Sukhov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 17 July 1999.

71. Nikolai Arutiunov, interview by author, Moscow, 25 July 1999.

72. Svetlana Boym, Common Places {Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. i, 275-78, 289.

73. Garon, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, pp. 194-97.

74. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Figures in Black: Signs and the "Radical" Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 240, quoted in Peterson, Up from Bondage, p 191. See also pp. 108-24,186-99.

75. Garon, Blues and the Poetic Spirit, pp. 144-49.

76. Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n Roll Music (3rd ed.; New York: Plume, 1990), pp. 22-29.

77. Katerina Clark, Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 40-57; Neil Carrick, Daniil Kharms: Theologian of the Absurd (Birmingham: Dept. of Russian Language and Literature, University of Birmingham, 1998).

78. Vania Zhuk. Interview by author, St. Petersburg, 29 June 2000.

79. Studies outlining this process in various contexts include: James L. Watson, ed., Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Mark Slobin, ed., Retuning Culture: Musical Changes in Central and Eastern Europe (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996); Gregory Lee, "The 'East is Red' Goes Pop: Commodification, Hybridity and Nationalism in Chinese Popular Song and its Televisual Performance," Popular Music 14 (January, 1995), pp. 95-110; Robert Hanke, "Yo Quiero Mi MTV! Making Music Television for Latin America," in Mapping the Beat, ed. T. Swiss, J. Sloop, and A. Herman (Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 219-45.

80. S. Frederick Starr, Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 43 -79; Timothy Rice, "The Dialectic of Economics and Aesthetics in Bulgarian Music," in Retuning Culture, ed. Slobin, pp. 179-99.

81. D. Palumbo-Lice and H. U. Gumbrecht, "Introduction" to their Streams of Cultural Capital (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 8-13; Irmela Schneider, "Wide Worlds in Confined Quarters: American Movies on German Television," in ibid., pp. 129-53; Eric Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 17-34.

82. Andrew Lass, "Portable Worlds: On the Limits of Replication in Czech and Slovak Republics," in Uncertain Transitions: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist World, ed. M. Burawoy and K. Verdery (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), pp. 273-300.

83. Varying treatments of the effects of the global music industry can be found in: Georgia Born, "Afterword: Music Policy, Aesthetic and Social Difference," in Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions, ed. T. Bennet et al. (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 266-92; Roy Shuker, Understanding Popular Music (London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 33-37; Tony Mitchell, Popular Music and Local Identity, pp. 49-52; John Levering, "The Global Music Industry: Contradictions in the Commodification of the Sublime," in The Place of Music, ed. Leyshon, Matless, and Revill, pp. 31-56.

84. Valerii Belinov, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 7 August 1999.

85. Mikhail Sokolov, interview by author, Moscow, 23 July 1999.

86. Sergei Voronov, interview by author, Moscow, 18 July 2000.

87. Ruth Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). David Coplan, In Township Tonight! South Africa's Black City Music and Theatre (London: Longman, 1985).

88. Clark, Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution, p. 294.

89. Palmer, Deep Blues, p. 17. For instance, two bands of this type -- Moscow's Blues Hammer Band and St. Petersburg's Big Blues Revival -- play regularly in their respective cities' most elegant blues venues: Forte Club in Moscow and JFC in St. Petersburg.

90. Levan Lomidze, interview by author, Moscow, 25 July 1999.

91. Aleksei Kalachev, "Prikliucheniia bliuza,'' Nezavisimaia gazeta 2 June 1997, p. 8; Nikolai Arutiunov, interview by author, 25 July 1999.

92. James Salem, The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n'Roll (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), pp. 103-4,172.

93. Paul Oliver, "Introduction (to Part Two)," in Black Music in Britain, ed. P. Oliver (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990), pp. 80-82.

94. On the derivation of rock from blues, see in particular Allan Moore, The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1993), esp. pp. 66-73.

95. This thesis on the ideology of rock has been extensively developed by Simon Frith. See his: "The Magic That Can Set You Free: The Ideology of Folk and the Myth of the Rock Community," in Popular Music, ed. R. Middleton and D. Horn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 159-68; Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock 'n' Roll (New York: Pantheon, 1981), pp. 27-36, 70-72; and Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 40-41. See also Keir Keightley, "Reconsidering Rock," in The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock, ed. S. Frith, W. Straw, and J. Street (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 109-42.

96. Thomas Cushman, Notes from Underground: Rock Music Counterculture in Russia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 34-194.

97. On a history of rock 'n' roll in the USSR, see: Artemy Troitsky, Back in the USSR: A True Story of Rock in Russia (London: Omnibus, 1987); Timothy Ryback, Rock Around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Sabrina Petra Ramet, ed., Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia (Boulder: Westview, 1994); Thomas Cushman, Notes from Underground.

98. Sabrina Petra Ramet, Sergei Zamascikov, and Robert Bird, "The Soviet Rock Scene," in Rocking the State, ed. Ramet, p. 181.

99. Mitchell, Popular Music and Local Identity, p. 95; Julia Friedman and Adam Weiner, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Holy Rus' and Its Alternatives in Russian Rock Music," in Consuming Russia, ed. Barker, pp. 110-37.

100. Anna Szemere, Up from the Underground: The Culture of Rock Music in Post-socialist Hungary (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), p. 7. Sabrina Petra Ramet, "Rock: The Music of Revolution (and Political Community)," in Rocking the State, ed. Ramet, p. 3.

101. Alexei Yurchak, "Gagarin and the Rave Kids: Transforming Power, Identity and Aesthetics in Post-Soviet Nightlife," in Consuming Russia, ed. Barker, p. 91.

102. Bob Brunning, Blues: The British Connection (New York: Blandford Press, 1986), p. 9.

103. McClary, Conventional Wisdom, pp. 43-45,52-58.

104. Aleksei Baryshev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 8 July 2000.

105. Vladimir Berezin, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 31 July 1999.

Notes to p.79

9. Nikolai Kalandareshvili, interview by author, Moscow, 22 August 2001.

10. This episode appears to constitute an instance in a larger pattern of nostalgia based on borrowed memories that prevails in much of contemporary youth culture in Russia. As Svetlana Boym has observed in this respect, "Young
Russians restore the dreams of someone else's youth, mimic the fantasies of others." See her The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 69.

11. It is interesting to note that a parallel tradition, that of the stiliagi who appeared in Russia in the 1950s, has been eclipsed by the appropriation of Western nostalgia. The third generation of stiliagi whom Hilary Pilkington studied in the early 1990s has already evolved into a variety of Russian retro, its members thus distinguishing themselves from those adopting Western styles and, in this case, Western nostalgia. Pilkington's analysis of latter-day stiliagi appears in her Russia's Youth and its Culture: A Nation's Constructors and Constructed (London: Routledge, 1994), esp., pp. 220-48.

notes to excerpts from final chapter

10. Boris Bulkin, interview by author, Moscow, 28 August 2001.

11. Aleksei Agranovskii, interview by author, Moscow, 23 August 2001.

12. Raymond Williams, Culture (Glasgow: Fontana, 1981), p. 13.

13. Murray Edelman, From Art to Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995). With respect to music in particular, see also Ron Eyemian and Andrew Jamison, Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 42; and Anna Szemere,

Notes to Pages 143-149 | 171

Up from the Underground: The Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist Hungary (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001}, p, 69.

14. Sonia Alvarez, Evelino Dagnino, and Arturo Escaban, "Introduction- The Cultural and the Political in Latin American Social Movements" in their Culture of Politics, Politics of Culture (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1998), p. 7.

15. John Blacking, Music, Culture & Experience: Selected Papers of John Blocking ed. R. Byron (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 226. This same point is argued by Simon Frith in his Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 146, 263-65.

16. Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), pp. 52-68, esp., p. 62.

17. Ibid., pp. 179-89.

18. Susan McClary, Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 6-7.

19. John Shepherd, Music as a Social Text (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), esp. pp. 6-35, 77-88, 214-19; Steven Feld and Aaron Fox, "Music and Language," Annual Review of Anthropology 23 (1994), pp. 25-53.

20. Charles Keil, "The Theory of Participatory Discrepancies: A Progress Report," Ethnomusicology 39 (Winter, 1995), pp. 1-19.

21. Sara Cohen, Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 39-40, 94-96.

22. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (Wesrport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1963); Giles Oakley, The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues (2nd ed.; New York: Da Capo Press, 1997), esp., pp. 7-8; Adam Gussow, Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

23. Vladimir Kuznetsov, "Ot Khukera do Khendriksa," Sankt-Peterburgskie novosti, 30 December 1995.

24. Brian Ward, Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

25. Nikolai Arutiunov, interview by author, Moscow, 25 July 1999.

26. Vitalii Andreev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 13 July 1999.

27. Kolia Gruzdev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 15 July 1999.

28. Albert Murray, The Hero and the Blues (New York; Vintage Books, 1995), pp. 83-87.

29. Quoted in Sandra Tooze, Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man (Toronto: ECW Press, 1997), p. 116.

30. Aleksei Agranovskii, interview by author, Moscow, 23 August 2001.

31. Kolia Gruzdev, interview by author, St. Petersburg, 15 July 1999.

32. V. V. Kostiushev, ed., Molodezhnye dvizheniia i subkul'tury Sankt-Peterburga (St. Petersburg: NORMA, 1999).

33. I am indebted to Aleksei Kuz'min for this idea. Conversation with author, Moscow, 30 August 2001.

34. Shepherd, Music as Social Text, p. 131.

35. John Sloop, "The Emperor's New Makeup: Cool Cynicism and Popular Music Criticism," Popular Music and Society 23 (Spring, 1999), p. 63.

36. Tony Russell, "Blacks, Whites and Blues" in Yonder Come the Blues: The Evolution of a Genre, ed. Paul Oliver et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 232.

37. A clear illustration of racist practices operating below the level of official rhetoric can be found in Soviet gender policy in the wake of the so-called "demographic crisis" that surfaced in the 1970s. At that time, population data showed a depressed birth rate among the Slavic and Baltic republics on the one hand, and a robust one in Central Asia and the Caucasus on the other. Within a generation or two, the dark-complected people of the USSR could be expected to outnumber their fair-skinned countrymen. The regime therefore undertook a massive effort in social policy aimed at increasing the birth rate among whites in order to head off the impending -- and, from the standpoint of the official antiracist code, thoroughly absurd -- imbalance among groups in the population. On this gender policy driven by racial considerations, see: Rebecca Kay, "A Liberation from Emancipation? Changing Discourses on Women's Employment in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia," Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 18 (March, 2002), pp. 51-72, esp., pp. 52-54; Sarah Ashwin, "Introduction," and Olga Issoupova, "From Duty to Pleasure? Motherhood in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia," in Gender, State and Society in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia, ed. S. Ashwin {London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 1-29 and pp. 30-54, respectively.

38. Alaina Lemon, Between Two fires: Gypsy Performance and Romani Memory from Pushkin to Post-Socialism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000), pp. 62-73; Hilary Pilkington, Russian's Youth and its Culture: A Nation's Constructors and Constructed (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 255.

39. Lemon, Between Two Fires, pp. 76-77

40. This possibility was suggested by Victor Wolfenstein (personal communication, 10 January 2003) and Mark Slobin (personal communication, 3 September 2002).

41. Frederic Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on Postmodernism (London: Verso, 2000), esp., pp. 7-10,54-62

42. Alan Durant, "Improvisation in the Political Economy of Music," in Music and the Politics of Culture, ed. C. Norris (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1989), pp. 252-81.