Last summer, the whole world looked on as Billy Joel took his music and his concert show to the Soviet Union in late July and early August. As Billy has noted. 'You're not quite the same once you've been there.''
The tour to the Soviet Union was not only unprecedented, it was tremendously exciting and was a vivid demonstration of the power of music as a way to connect and communicate. And for those of us who experienced Billy's six overwhelming concerts in Moscow and Leningrad; who spent three weeks working side by side with the Soviets; and who made many great friendships, it was truly an unforgettable experience.
Despite the length of this issue of The Root Beer Rag, we have only been able to convey a small part of what occurred in the Soviet Union. Pulling off the Soviet tour was a monumental task. But as you will read, it was clearly worth it. This edition focuses on what happened and how it affected everyone involved. You will get a sense of the tremendous difficulties we encountered in mounting this tour; what we learned about the Soviet people and how so many of our American preconceptions were shattered; and the sheer exuberance of the Soviet concertgoers as they were energized by Billy's music and performances.
You will see that what Billy accomplished was very special as hundreds of thousands of Soviets threw aside the rule book that has determined public activities in the Soviet Union for generations.
So Billy felt a very strong desire to produce an expanded edition of The Root Beer Rag to share not only what happened but also the huge impact the Soviet trip had on him and on all those –Americans and Soviets- who were involved in making the tour such a success. For almost a decade, usually on a biannual basis, The Root Beer Rag has been a creative means to update those people who wish to know more about Billy’s music and career. This newsletter has allowed Billy to share some of his thoughts about music as well as provide a behind-the-scene look at the production of an album or a concert. And while it has taken a bit longer than usual to produce this edition of The Root Beer Rag we think you will find it worth the wait.
To get the latest scoop on Billy’s activities, Root Beer Rag checked in with Billy, ensconced in a rented home-studio in Long Island, where he’s working on material that will eventually be used on his next album. Here’s what he told us:
“First of all, I’m working with different musicians. The only original member of the band is Liberty. Basically, I wanted to try something new. I wanted to work with some new people to see…just to see what it’s like to work with other musicians and other kinds of musicians. It was a way to challenge myself. I wanted to listen around to find some musicians who were very, very different from the guys I’ve been working with. What I’ve come up with is a four piece. It’s me, Lib, a young, black bass player who has a real fusion, funk R&B kind of playing, and a guitar player who does rhythm and lead.”
“The idea was to try and work with a real small unit; to go back to being a bar band, which was the first band I was in; very simple instrumentations, straight ahead R&B-based songs that don’t need a lot of augmentation. Before going into the studio, I like the idea of walking into a club one night, picking up some band’s instrument and playing. On the last tour, we had had two back-up singers, a synthesizer, two guitar players, saxophone, all kind of things. But I want to try something else. I know it’s true for me just like a lot of other artists: you have to tear away layers to get back to what you were originally. You got to go back to the bare bones. As you go along, you get further and further away from the original reasons for playing music in the first place. So I want to go back, not in terms of what kind of songs I’ll write, but in terms of how things are played. In a way it’s a reaction to what’s popular right now –very synthesizer-laden, heavily produced, conceptual music. My favorite music has always been stuff you hear in bars. A good bar band can play and knock your socks off.”
“I rented this place where I don’t have to worry about bothering anybody and I stuck a whole bunch of sound equipment inside. I’m not using a synthesizer or a grand piano. I’m writing on a Hammond organ and electric piano, my original instruments. And the band gets together and just blasts away. After I work with them a while I come up with ideas. We’re what we like to play –Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Otis, Sly and the Family Stone. It’s not that I want to write in that direction, but I want to see what everybody’s strength is. When you have fun playing, it makes you want to write towards the musicians. I am trying to write towards the band rather than this singer-songwriter kind of thing. It frees me up to play a little more, too.”
“Before we go into the studio, I want to get half an album’s worth of material written and arranged and then go somewhere and play and see what an audience thinks. The question I think about is, ‘Do you have the guts to go up and play this and think an audience is going to accept it? Once we’re on stage, people expect to hear old Billy Joel stuff. People don’t have a lot of patience with new things. It had better be good. I don’t know anymore than that. I don’t know how long it will take to be written or when or where we’re going to record. I don’t want to preconceive anything. I want to let it go. The songs I’ve got so far are more blues-based rock and roll, R&B tinged, more like soul-rock, but I don’t know what I’m going to write next.”
“The other thing I’ve been doing is thinking back about the trip to the Soviet Union. Now that I’m further away from it, I have more and more unresolved questions in my head. Nothing’s settled nicely. It hasn’t become pretty and wrapped up in a package. I’m troubled by it –especially by the people. I keep hearing them say to me, ‘Please don’t let this be the only time this happens.’ I feel a certain itch to go back there somehow. I don’t know when. But I feel the itch to go back.”
SINCE THE LAST RAG…
With our last edition of The Root Beer Rag Billy Joel was in the midst of his 1986‑1987 "Bridge Tour." His tremendously successful tour completed its 100th and final North American performance at The Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey on May 9, Billy's 38th birthday. From there it was on to Japan, Australia and Great Britain from late May through mid‑July for more hugely popular concerts. Then, from London, all the equipment was loaded up, everyone took a deep breath and plunged into the Soviet Union.
After a month of vacation and recovery from a year on the road, Billy and the band went to Australia and New Zealand for an "encore" tour. Despite the fact that Billy had been there only four months before, the demand for tickets was overwhelming and all 21 shows were sold out. In addition, the concert film "Billy Joel: Live from Leningrad" had its premiere on Home Box Office in October. This critically‑acclaimed film was Billy's second successful HBO special.
At the end of 1987, The Bridge Tour finally drew to a close and almost everyone involved went on richly deserved vacations.
More recently, a lawsuit charging Billy with defamation and slander was dismissed by a court in Nevada. The suit had arisen as a result of comments Billy made during a Playboy interview in 1982 in which he was questioned about a songwriter who claimed Billy's hit "My Life" was his. In a clear vindication for Billy, the judge stated that "The words Billy Joel uses simply illustrate his anger over the perils that face a modern songwriter. His sought‑after opinions as a leading songwriter should not be chilled by litigation…”
On Wednesday, June 15 at 9:30 p.m., "A Matter of Trust: Billy Joel in the USSR" is scheduled to air on ABC. This documentary-style music special, directed by highly‑acclaimed director Martin Bell, will be Billy's first network television special. Finally, at a celebration the week before the ABC special Billy will have his infamous Yamaha electric piano, which he overturned in his legendary "tantrum" during the Moscow concert on July 27th, displayed at the New York Hard Rock Cafe.
At the party, the first week of June, the piano will be hung from the ceiling of The Hard Rock's main dining room.
MAY DAY 1987
On May 1‑May Day‑the international labor celebration, a press conference was held at The New York Public Library at 42nd Street to announce the tour. Journalists from around the world packed the room.
Billy's manager, Frank Weber, opened the event. ''As Billy Joel's management company, we are proud and excited to be able to make this long‑standing desire a reality." he said.
Weber introduced Rick London, who announced the schedule. “There will be six concert performances: July 26, 27 and 29 in Moscow, at the Olympic Sports Complex, and August 2, 3 and 5 in Leningrad, at the Lenin Sports and Concert Complex,” London said. “These shows will play to an audience of more than 100.000 people ... Billy will bring a fully-staged rock show to the Soviet Union, This will be the same show that he's doing on his current tour, with some special additions for the Soviet audiences.”
Alexander Potemkin, Cultural Attache at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, spoke next. “I just met Billy Joel and have heard some words which he told me in Russian." he said. “It was very encouraging. I believe that when he is in the Soviet Union‑using a term from arms control‑[for his] 'on‑site inspection' of the Soviet Union, he will find that the Soviet audience is very receptive and will definitely understand his music with their ears and with their souls and with their hearts.”
Then, Ambassador Stephen Rhinesmith, Coordinator of the President's US‑Soviet Exchange Initiative, addressed the reporters. "On behalf of the United States Government, President Reagan and the United States Information Agency,” he began, “we are extremely pleased to have Billy Joel going to the Soviet Union… I have spent quite a bit of time with Billy Joel in the last couple of days and I want you to know that this tour is a personal commitment on his part‑it's a personal commitment to the US‑Soviet relationship; it's a personal commitment to the young people of the Soviet Union; it's a personal commitment to try to do something to bridge one of the largest gaps we have in the world…”
Billy answered questions and reporters left to file stories that hit the world's newspapers the following day. For those who had been planning the trip, the press conference was a major milestone. With it also came a dose of terror, there was no turning back.
Been away so long I hardly knew the place, Gee, it's good to be back home... I'm back in the U, back in the U, Back in the USSR.
‑John Lennon and Pail McCartney
It was about 4:00 P.M. as the busses lumbered away from Sheremetevo airport towards the center of Moscow. Most of the passengers were still on London time. Back in the U.K., pubs were serving the mid‑day lunch crowd. Some passengers were on East Coast time. In Manhattan, millions of alarms were being cursed. Everyone was exhausted. Nonetheless, faces pressed against the windows, devouring first impressions of a scene both patently familiar and conspicuously different in ways that were uneasily hard to define.
The busses moved down wide avenues lined with blocks of apartments. Children careened around their parents as families strolled along tree‑lined sidewalks. Every few hundred yards, lines of would‑be ice cream eaters formed up in front of pushcarts attended by stocky women in white smocks. To American eyes, the small number of stores along the avenues seemed a strange mismatch for the densely packed apartment blocks whose residents they served. And the storefronts were austere. No big posters announcing "prices slashed‑everything must go!" No fetching window displays or flashing neon signs.
For the Americans on the bus, a lifetime of conditioning was at work. It was hard to see only pedestrians, cars and trucks, shops, and ice cream vendors, for these were Russian pedestrians, Russian vehicles, Russian shops, and this was life behind the Iron Curtain. The Americans were over there, in the evil empire, and they had come to play rock and roll.
The signing of the Soviet‑American cultural accord during the Geneva summit of 1985 had opened a new era in cultural relations between the two countries. After a half‑dozen fallow years following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, Soviet cultural planners and American impresarios once again started to lay the groundwork for ambitious cultural exchange projects. Concert tours, movie co-productions, record deals, art exchanges, and a host of other programs were proposed by both Soviets and Americans. Gorbachev's glasnost (policy of greater openness) encouraged artistic expression and cultural exchange in areas that had previously been taboo or strictly controlled. The most visible and glamorous of these areas was that of rock music.
English and European bands had certainly toured the Soviet Union before Gorbachev came to power. But for Soviets, America and American culture hold a unique place. Stemming perhaps from American‑Soviet cooperation in the battle against the Nazis, and reinforced by respect for America's status as "the other" superpower, Soviets frequently speak of the special kinship that they feel with Americans. One aspect of this kinship is a fascination for American culture. Almost all Soviet schoolchildren read works from some of our great 19th and 20th century writers: Twain, Melville, Cooper, Faulkner, Dreiser, Steinbeck, Jack London. Curiosity about contemporary American pop culture is another facet of the same interest. But keeping in touch with America is another story. American pop records and tapes are unavailable in Soviet stores, music videos are unknown, American movies that occasionally turn up in the theaters are usually out‑of‑date, and magazines and newspapers from the U.S. are banned from newsstands (there are unconfirmed reports that selected American magazines and newspapers will soon be sold in hotels for foreigners). Nonetheless, Soviet rock fans display a fervent knowledge of American pop and rock music. All over the Soviet Union, people with similar interests have learned to share resources and information in a way that would put a beehive to shame.
Be that as it may, a coterie of fans is a far cry from the massive popularity that major rock stars enjoy throughout the English‑speaking world. Even if a select group of fans could recite the lyrics to Billy's songs, his music was largely unknown in the USSR, even to lovers of American popular culture. No American rock star had ever included the USSR in a fully-staged tour, and when Billy and his family flew into Moscow on a sunny July afternoon, no one knew what to expect; not the musicians, not the Soviet officials who agreed to the tour, not the Soviet rock fans whose curiosity drew them to the arenas. When Billy left the Soviet Union, almost three weeks later, his name had become virtually a household word across the vast expanse of the USSR.
The Bridge Tour Continues
INTERVIEW WITH BILLY JOEL
In the late Autumn of 1987, several months after Billy Joel's return from the Soviet Union, Root Beer Rag correspondent David Sheff travelled to Honolulu to speak with Billy about his impressions of the Soviet tour. Following is the text of the interview. (In order to allow time for his impressions to jell, Billy had withheld public comment on the tour until this interview. The result, as Sheff later remarked, was a virtual explosion of feelings and impressions).
RR: Why did you want to visit the USSR? JOEL: I've always been fascinated with the country. Some of the earliest music I remember hearing was Russian music. It had a tremendous influence on me. 'Peter and the Wolf' by Prokofiev was probably the first classical piece I ever heard. The 'Nutcracker' by Tchaikovsky was the first ballet I ever saw. In my piano classes, I had to play pieces by Mussorgsky, Rimsky‑ Korsakov, and others. Musically, Russia was magic. Beyond that, I was always intrigued by the country. I come from along line of social democrats. I tend towards a socialistic point of view. Russia is the big one. I always wanted to see for myself what was going on.
RR: Okay. So you wanted to see the country. But why did you want to perform there? JOEL: First, in 1978, Columbia Records and the Ministry of Culture of Cuba put on a rock concert at the Karl Marx Theatre -THE HAVANA JAM. Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills, Weather Report and several other American bands and I performed. Everybody went onstage and made these speeches in Spanish: "Viva la revolucion!" and all that. The audience was polite but bored. They'd heard that all their life. I wasn't going to do that. I got up and all I said was, "No hablo espanol" and then the band broke into "Big Shot." The kids stormed the stage. They dove right past the security guards standing there with automatic weapons. It was extraordinary. I remember thinking, Something happened here.
RR: Which you interpreted how? JOEL: Kids, wherever they live, whatever their government is supposed to be about, want to have a good time. That unites us all. Music is the way to get through. Because of that, I became more and more interested in bringing the music wherever I could. The more I thought about Russia, the more I wanted to play for these kids. I wanted to see for myself what I saw in Cuba. So I kept mentioning it. When it was time for "The Bridge" tour, I said, "Listen, we're going around the world. Maybe this is the time to go to Russia." Of course that was easier said than done. Nobody went to Russia. It wasn't very likely to happen.
RR: What changed? JOEL: After we had begun making the first inquiries, Gorbachev's administration seemed to be having an impact. That was the biggest change. Gorbachev's glasnost seemed for real. Glasnost meant that the door opened a crack. My theory was, Once the Pandora's box of rock and roll opened even a little bit, there would be no way to shut it. It happened in America in the mid‑ to late‑fifties in spite of the moves to suppress it. They said that rock and roll was too sexual, too black, or both. But no one could stop it. I felt the same thing would happen in Russia. They always suspected that it was that loud and that outrageous and that much fun.
RR: They have their own rock music, though. JOEL: Yeah, but the outside influences are what shake things up‑like the English invasion here.
RR: So there was a political motivation behind your desire to go. Why, in press conferences and interviews, did you keep saying the trip wasn't political? JOEL: Everything you do is political. It has an impact one way or the other. But the point I kept making was that I didn't want to go over there presenting a political view. I didn't want to get sucked into having to present some kind of cold war polemic.
PR: Still, at the press conference announcing the tour, the first question was about politics. The reporter said, "The situation with the Soviet Jews has not improved" and he asked, "Are you going to raise this issue over there? Are you at all concerned that your trip will be used by the Soviets to whitewash the human rights situation?" Were you concerned about that? JOEL: I'd thought about it a lot. I said, "My not going there isn't going to help the situation. I want to get more communication going between us. I know that people over there like pop music, they like rock and roll. I think this kind of communication can only help things." The point is, I'm a musician. Music is my language. I don't speak Japanese, French, German, Scandinavian or Russian. I don't even speak English that is understood in half of the United States because I'm from New York. But people can relate to the language I do speak: rock and roll. People everywhere understand that language.
PR: The door opened, but still, this had never been done. What kind of resistance did you run into? JOEL: Well, I made the commitment that if I went, I would only do it if I could do the shows just like the shows I do here. I didn't see a point in bringing an American rock and roll show to Russia if it was going to be sanitized. There was no precedent. We had to start from scratch so everything was an uphill battle.
RR: Were you concerned about being censored? Did they preview what you would say or perform? JOEL: They asked to see the lyrics to the songs, but they never mentioned anything about it. They never said not to mention politics. They came to a show in the States and they must have decided it was okay, but I could have played anything and said anything I wanted.
PR: Were they concerned about your antics on stage‑maybe too much for that audience? JOEL: Not at all. They have some pretty wild bands there. They're used to some pretty outrageous behavior. They have a phenomenal music underground. They circulate Western music through this elaborate taping system. Everything is on bootleg cassettes. Some of the kids are really into Western rock and roll. There was one great scene‑I wish I had a camera to have captured it. I saw a soldier, obviously bored, standing guard. His shirt was unbuttoned, he was smoking a cigarette, looking disgusted. Next to him on this brick wall was spray‑painted, "LED ZEPPLING"‑with the "G". I thought, This is the story of this place.
PR: Did you meet any Russian rock musicians? JOEL: Yeah, I met Boris Grebenschikov in Leningrad, the lead singer of a band called Aquarium. He's a charismatic guy. I went over to his house. He lives in an eight‑flight, cold‑water walk‑up with a couple of other families. It looks like a hippie crash pad. This guy's got nothing. He's not an approved artist, which means that the Party doesn't sanction him. This was in sharp contrast to another guy I met in Moscow, Stas Namin, an approved artist. The difference is that this guy is connected and he doesn't act like a real artist. He doesn't act like he's ever suffered. This guy was real pushy, always wanted to be where the cameras were. His music is very safe pop. The catch‑22 there is that you have to be approved to get on the record label, but once you're approved, what you're doing doesn't mean shit anymore for the kids that really want to hear something. Boris Grebenschikov, on the other hand, isn't approved and he was great. We hit it off right away.
RR: What did you talk about? JOEL: We started talking about writing. It's something we had in common: You bang your head against the wall when you have nothing and when you write something, there's nothing like that feeling in the world. You have this euphoria and it only lasts for so long and you've got to write the next thing. It's almost like a drug, an addiction. It's a curse in a way. We were drinking cognac and toasting and talking and we found we had a lot in common.
RR: And because he wasn't approved, Grebenschikov couldn't make records? JOEL: Right. So he and his friends made the records themselves. They made their own labels and put them out. He said, "They'll give me a record deal but they won't let me do the good stuff‑the real stuff. They tell me, 'If you keep doing the bad stuff'‑which means the stuff that the Party finds objectionable‑‑we're going to stop you from making records."
He said, "How can they stop me? What worse can they do to me than is being done already?" This guy doesn't care anymore, which makes him dangerous. He's got a big following.
PR: But there was no concern over the politics in your songs? JOEL: It never came up, though I think they were worried about "Goodnight Saigon." They thought it might be glorifying the American soldier in Vietnam. As a matter of fact, I got a translation of a review which said it was a song about "the needless deaths of his young friends who should never have gone there in the first place." I got pissed off when I read that. I made a comment about it during the last night in Moscow. I said, "This song is about my friends who went to fight in Vietnam." Some of the audience started whistling, which in the Soviet Union is like a boo. They thought, "Okay. He's going to lay some American propaganda on us now about Vietnam." I said, "They left as boys and they came back as old men. But they were the lucky ones, because some of them didn't come back at all." There weren't so many whistles anymore. They understand war. They understood "Allentown," too. I introduced it by saying, "This is a song about young people living in the northeast of America. Their lives are miserable because the steel factories are closing but they stay in the cities because they're told that things are going to get better. Does this sound familiar?" They went nuts. Anyway, there was no attempt to censor me. The only thing they were concerned about was the volume of the concert. They wanted to limit the volume to eighty‑five decibels. That's like me and you yelling at each other. We told them, "We've got to be able to go to one hundred and twenty decibels." They said, "One hundred twenty decibels is an atom bomb going off!" We said, "Yes, something like that. Better music than a real bomb, though, isn't it?" They gave in. We played at full volume.
RR: Then how was it different than playing in the West? JOEL: Well, from the beginning I had been concerned about the distribution of the tickets. In Cuba, I found out that the people who get the tickets are all the party big shots and their kids. I didn't want that to happen on this trip. There's only so much you can do. We negotiated with them so that they agreed to distribute tickets through unions, at the halls and at kiosks‑these little ticket booths around the city. Also, we played the biggest places possible. I knew that if the venues were big enough they'd run out of bureaucrats. That happened, but still, when we got to the first show, it was obvious that the best seats were taken by Party members and people who were connected. Now, if I don't have a loud audience, I'm only going to be able to go so far before I run out of steam. I need a little give‑back. I need some exchange of energy. "You like that?" "Okay, wait till you hear this." You kick into overdrive and on and on and on until you've reached, this pinnacle. And everybody's satiated and everybody goes home and says, "Ah, I feel much better now." It's very much like sex. So here they were. All I could see was all of the people who didn't give two shits about rock and roll. It was like playing to an oil painting. They were making the most horrendous faces because the volume level was excruciatingly painful to them. They're sitting there with their fingers in their ears. Some were resting their chins in their hands, looking at me very disgustedly, their faces saying, "I don't like you."
RR: What happened? JOEL: While this is going on, girls are coming up and handing me flowers between songs. Halfway through the concert, I tell one of them, "You can stay at the stage. You don't have to go back and sit down." As soon as I say that, half the hall floods the stage. Also, there was a lot of spirit coming from the back of the hall. I turn to the people who can't see well because they are behind me and say, "I'm sorry I have my back to you." They roar because I'm talking to them. "When I'm playing the piano I really can't face you, but if you feel bad about those seats, think about the people up there in 'Kamchatka'." I pointed to the furthest seats way out in the arena. Kamchatka is a remote region in the far East of the Soviet Union. The audience in 'Kamchatka' begin screaming.
I also start making some comments to the people in the front seats. I say to this man who obviously would rather be home, "What are you doing here?" I tell the audience, "He was told to come." There is more laughter. They have never heard this kind of thing before. So now the people from the back are coming up to the front and the people in the good seats can see less and less. Rock audiences spend half their time on their feet, but these people won't stand up. I start playing low on the stage so that the people in the big shot seats have to stand up to see what is going on. Soon, they start to leave. It is too loud and they can't see. They have had enough of American rock and roll. Outside, thousands of kids who haven't been able to get tickets are hanging around. When the big shots leave, I tell them to give their tickets away to the real fans outside.
RR: And did they? JOEL: Yeah. So we had an exchange of the audience halfway through. The second half of the show was all fans. From then on the place was a real rock and roll show. We could have been in Detroit.
RR: In the middle of that, were you thinking, I was wrong? The Russians are different. They just don't like rock and roll. JOEL: No. I mean, I know, deep down, what rock and roll is supposed to do. If I've done a good show, I know how the audience is supposed to respond. I never believed that the Russians were any different than we were. I mean, they make love and they make kids, they get hungry, they get sad, they get happy, they get sick, they get in trouble, just like we do. They don't want to go and fight wars. They're the same as we are. They put up with a hell of a lot more bullshit than we do, but they are just like us.
RR: Were things easier the next night? JOEL: Same thing. At the end of the first show, they were ready to cancel the rest of the shows because they were concerned that all the people rushing the stage was dangerous, so I had to promise not to tell them to come up. Instead, I went toward the back of the arena where the real fans were. I knew that if I did that, they would follow me back toward the front. I didn't say a word. Soon, the stuffy audience was gone and the kids interested in rock‑and-roll were in the front dancing. There wasn't much they could do after that.
RR: During the second show you turned a piano over. What happened? JOEL: We were filming some of the shows for a TV special and documentary. I really don't like filming during the concert because all the lights are different and it throws you off. There are no blackouts after each song. The audience is lit a lot, which takes away from their enjoyment of the show. These people are used to being watched all the time, but I wanted them to get the real experience of an American rock and roll show. Because of the filming, there were cameras on them. That's really not what should happen to the audience. The audience should be there to look, to be in the dark to do their nasty little things‑their dirty air guitar playing, whatever. I know when I'm at a concert and I get carried away, I must look like an idiot. I don't want anybody looking at me.
RR: Then why did you film the shows? JOEL: I would love to have gotten underwritten so I wouldn't have had to make a movie, but all these sponsors were too chicken to underwrite this thing. They didn't want their names associated with Russia. The movie was a way to break even. I wasn't trying to make a profit, but the tour wouldn't have been possible without making the movie. And it was understood that the first night was supposed to be filmed. The second night, though, there wasn't supposed to be any filming going on. In the middle of the show, boom, there were the lights again. They were filming the audience.
My theory is that the only person who is really going to look after an audience at a show is the artist. The promoter just wants the bodies in there. The management is concerned about selling the tickets. The security people just want people to control themselves. The film people just want faces. I felt that the audience was getting pushed around a lot and I had told them that this was going to be a show just like a New York City audience would see at Madison Square Garden. I gave them my word. They weren't seeing the same show. They were being lit‑brightly lit‑so bright that they couldn't see. These lights are as bright as neurosurgeon lights. The people in the back, who were far enough away so they could hardly see anyway were being blinded. I know because I ran out in the middle of the show with a wireless microphone and I couldn't even see the stage. So I went to the side of the stage and told somebody to tell the film people to stop lighting the audience. I said it a number of times, but they didn't stop. Finally, by the end of the show, I was furious and I just took the electric piano and flipped it over. Now, the funny thing is, I must have flipped that piano twenty different times. It's sort of like in the old tradition of The Who. I just get carried away and, the hell with it, I smash it. But, yeah, this time I was mad. I took a mike stand and whacked it over the piano, cracked the thing in half. Then I flipped the piano and the thing made this crunching, screeching feedback, speaker‑blowing noise, and then all of a sudden they got the message. They stopped lighting the audience.
RR: The papers said you were upset about the security. JOEL: Yeah, they said that, but security had nothing to do with it. To clear things up, the promoters asked me to give an explanation after the show. I gave a press conference and I said, "I wasn't yelling at the security people. I was yelling at my own people. I expected to run into a certain amount of difficulty with people over here. I didn't expect it from my own people. They were sabotaging my show because they were getting carried away with making movies, but we're here to do a concert." It came out in the press that I later apologized for my behavior. I didn't apologize. I thought I was completely within my rights as a performer to protect my art, which was being sabotaged. So anyway, we refer to the second night as Tantrum Night. The funny thing was, the next day, I saw some kids in the street and they said, "Are you going to destroy another piano?" They really liked it. "Is he going to lose control?" So they saw a real rock show in spite of everything. Because by the end of a show, I do lose control. I'm completely caught up in this thing that's going on. It's the only way to perform. You have to totally let it take you over. Unless you're completely frenzied, you're not going to give a good performance.
RR: Was the third night smoother? JOEL: By now the security people had another plan to counter my moves to get the fans up in front of the stage. The sections on the side of the stage‑the paths to the cheap seats behind the stage that I used the night before‑were filled with chairs. Of course, the first fifteen rows are the big shots again. This time I just went to the back of the arena climbing over the rows of chairs. By the time I had climbed over the chairs, the crowd was on its feet and was following me to the front. The third night in Moscow was probably the best show there. We had ironed out all the kinks. Plus, by the third night, not that many shots came. The audience was filled more with devotees of rock and roll.
RR: Then you went off for three shows in Leningrad. Was it similar there? JOEL: The audiences were wilder. They rushed the stage immediately. I did something I had never done before anywhere. I laid down into the crowd. They held me up and began passing me back. I'm singing into the wireless mike being passed further and further back into the audience.
RR: Were you scared? JOEL: It scared the hell out of me. The security guards are going, 'Oh, my God, What's going to happen'? But once it began, I felt very calm, like I trusted them. I got all the way to the back and they put me down and I ran up this ramp in back of the soundboard and then ran up one aisle and down another, running all over the room. The Leningrad shows were great from beginning to end. It was all pretty extraordinary. I would recommend it to any performing artist, anybody who writes. You rediscover your own material. I don't think we've ever done better shows than after that breakthrough we made in Moscow. I think the third night in Moscow and the first two nights in Leningrad were probably the best concerts, the most fulfilling concerts, I've ever done.
RR: What do you mean "rediscover your own material"? JOEL: You completely re‑evaluate every lyric you've written. They take on a different meaning. Even a song like "My Life" has a different meaning. I say, "I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone." Think about it. They're not just yelling at their parents. They're yelling at Big Brother. Also, I'll never feel as needed as an artist. You never really appreciate your own material as much as playing for an audience that needs it so badly. And you start remembering why you write it in the first place. A performer starts to become detached from his own material after he performs it a number of times. There are a certain amount of cobwebs between the performing of it and the initial inspiration behind a song. And playing in Russia tore away all the cobwebs. It was rediscovering the enthusiasm that made me put the thing down on paper to begin with.
RR: After the last Leningrad show, how did you feel? JOEL: We were so exhausted that there wasn't any euphoria at that point. It had become a long hard slog. Everything had been difficult to do. My workload was a hundred times more than what I usually do. When I'm on the road, everything is oriented toward the show. Get to the airport, go to the hotel, rest for the show, go to the gig for sound check, do the show, go back to the hotel and leave the next day. But here we were doing a concert film, recording the concerts for a record, doing a documentary, plus there was a lot of official business‑a toast here, a speech there, press interviews, tv interviews, band meetings, management discussions.
In addition, our normal channels of communication were completely kaput. I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. And this is at the end of a tour that had lasted a year! What I really wanted to do was just sightsee with my family, but the documentary filmmaker didn't want to make a travelogue. Next time, I'll really see the Soviet Union. So by the end, we were all just beat. It was total, utter exhaustion on everybody's part. I was very proud of everyone. So we were glad to be going home. But it wasn't 'Oh, boy, I can't wait to get out from behind the Iron Curtain,' because I had never had the feeling that I was in prison there. We were exhausted and ready to go, but it was still difficult to leave. The people we were leaving were very sorry to see us go. It's one thing to say goodbye to somebody in another country‑what you're implying by goodbye is 'Goodbye, I'll see you again'‑but here, goodbye felt like goodbye. When we left, they were all crying. It really was difficult to leave.
RR: And in retrospect? JOEL: First I had too many conflicting emotions to put it all together. I got back and thought I was just going to lay down and die for a while and become a couch potato. But going from a hundred miles an hour to zero couldn't be done. I just couldn't put the brakes on. It took me three or four weeks to finally be able to slow down. Now all I can say is that you're not quite the same once you've been there. It has had an impact on every other part of my life. Lately, I've been thinking more and more about the people I met. I cannot stereotype the Russians. I can't wrap it all up very neatly. They're as different from each other as we're different from each other. There wasn't one particular thread that made a person more of a Russian and a person more of an American. I looked for it and I couldn't find it. And I find myself missing those people.
MEMORIES FROM THE SOVIET TOUR
RICK LONDON INTERVIEW
Rick London has been with Billy Joel for 10 years. Once the decision was made to go to the USSR, London was the one responsible for making it happen. Root Beer Rag asked him to reflect on what he says was the most difficult -and incredible‑ experience of his life.
RR: Where did the notion of touring Russia come from?
LONDON: Billy had played in Cuba, which he found fascinating. I think that really sparked the interest in bringing his music wherever he could, even though it wasn't fashionable or it would be harder than usual. I mean, I wasn't thrilled about going to Cuba, when I first heard about it. China had just invaded Vietnam and the Russians were pissed. Here we are flying into Cuba. And he's perfectly calm, cool and collected about it.
It didn't hit me until we opened. Billy got on stage. He opened up with "Big Shot" and the kids went nuts. It had a huge impact on me.
Here's another story that will give you some insight into Billy's attitude about rock and roll and why he wanted to go to Russia. We were scheduled to play Harrisburg, PA and, two days before the show, the Three Mile Island incident happened. Billy said, "I'm not canceling the show. If people want to come see me, I'm going to go down there and play." I'm envisioning myself settling the box office wearing one of those white suits with a glass face plate. As it turned out, the arena was turned into an evacuation center so the gig was canceled, but not because Billy wouldn't have played. So that to me sums up the kind of guy Billy is. The point is that even though nobody had gone to Russia, a tour like this had never been done, the idea of playing for the Russian people was what motivated him.
RR: And for you?
LONDON: Well, I spent six months trying to talk Billy out of going. I said, "You're out of your mind." I wasn't familiar with it. I just knew that nobody went there. I wanted to be sure Billy was 100 percent committed. Once we started this thing, there would be no way to stop it. It's such a big machine‑hundreds of people were involved. Plus, it would be the end of a year‑long tour. We would be coming off of a hundred performances in the United States alone. And then Russia? We could plan and plan and plan and there could be an incident between Reagan and Gorbachev that could prevent us from going. A million things could happen. I wanted to be sure he wanted it. Two days before my first trip to the Soviet Union to begin the project, I flew down to see Billy in Florida where he was performing. That was my last, "You're sure you want to do this?" He was as confident about doing that as he was about playing Harrisburg the day after Three Mile Island or Cuba after the invasion of Vietnam.
For me, everybody was saying, "Man, you should be so excited about this," but I was saying, "Yeah, right." I didn't know what to expect. Not a clue.
RR: Besides the overwhelming challenge of organizing the tour, how did it hit you personally?
LONDON: My whole family came from there. Everybody there looks like my family. But when I was growing up, between the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy and Khrushchev and so many other incidents and people, I had always heard that Russians were barbarians, just horrible, horrible people. So I was apprehensive but curious.
RR: How did you proceed?
LONDON: Billy was committed to the tour, but we found out that it would cost a fortune. I had been looking for a sponsor to help take off some of the financial burden but nobody would touch it. Everybody was afraid of an incident or being labeled a Commie or something. Billy didn't care about making money, but he couldn't lose millions, so we decided to make two films. Eventually HBO became interested, and later on, ABC.
RR: How was it dealing with the Soviets compared to Westerners?
LONDON: When you do business with a promoter in the United States, you have a contract and a rider. Our rider is something like thirty‑five pages long. Everything is spelled out. In this contract, nothing was spelled out except the venues and the dates that we were playing. And even that wasn't easy to agree on. They wanted Billy to do three shows in a row in Moscow and then have two days off and then go to Leningrad for three shows in a row. I told them he can't do three shows in a row. He'd burn out his throat. They came back and said, "Tell him to do just one hour shows, not two‑and‑a‑half hour shows." I said, "His show is two‑and‑a‑half hours." They finally agreed. The point is that there were major negotiations for everything. Finally, we signed this agreement. In standard contracts, there are pages of ins and outs about what to do if any dispute arises. This contract has only one paragraph outlining what will occur if disputes arise. It says, "Disputes will be settled by friendly negotiations." I said, "What if we have a major disagreement? What are we going to do?" They said, "We will sit down. We will work things out."
RR: Were you wary?
LONDON: It was just different. Everything was a matter of trust. I learned a lot from the experience. Because that's exactly how it worked out. Problems did arise and we did work them out. We didn't use lawyers. We talked. I knew that we were going to have to convince the Soviets to do things our way, even when they didn't want to because of their concern about setting precedents for others who would follow us. But I knew we could work together. As it turned out, they gave in sometimes, sometimes they didn't.
PR: What kinds of problems arose?
LONDON: Everything had to be worked out. They didn't want any chairs on the floors of the arenas, for instance. At a normal show in places like these, there would be ten thousand chairs on the floor. They agreed to let us have fourteen hundred chairs. We needed more. I got them by lobbying, pushing the point that Billy needs the intimate contact with the audience. As it turned out, we ended up bringing in chairs, which had never been done before. And they found another thousand. The chairs they found were plaid beach chairs. The point is that we didn't get everything we wanted but we got what we needed. We never stopped trying. It was like pushing a big stone uphill the entire time.
RR: But worth it.
LONDON: Absolutely. My hair thinned and got gray over the year it took to pull the trip together. I had told my wife I wasn't going on the road and then I made five trips to the Soviet Union, four of which were at least ten days. But something kept me going. Once we began, it struck me. I had just turned thirty‑five and had a son. I thought, "What is he going to do when he's my age if we haven't solved some of the biggest problems we're facing. Nobody gets along. We're polluting the environment." I thought about the likelihood of nuclear war if things don't change. I am, in general, so depressed about the state of the world. Going to the Soviet Union gave me hope. The most enlightening thing that I got out of the trip was to see, first hand, that the people in the Soviet Union are peace‑loving. It gave me hope because I was living in fear from lack of knowledge. I was driving home with someone and told him that 20 million Russians were killed in World War II and he didn't believe me. Why is that? They know all about our history. We don't know anything about them. We're arrogant. So part of what Billy did was open the view up a little. Without dialogue, it's all hopeless. It doesn't matter what kind of relationship ‑husband‑wife, parent‑child, people in a community, countries. If there isn't a dialogue, it's hopeless. That's what this was all about to me. I realized that by bringing Billy's music to the Russian people, we were doing something. We didn't have to go over there for any kind of cause except to share and communicate. I think we accomplished that.
NEGOCIATING WITH THE RUSSIANS:
A MATTER OF TRUST
By Jim Hickman
Jim Hickman, who helped produce the Soviet tour, has had long experience arranging cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union. He reports here on what it was like to work with Soviet negotiators and tour organizers.
Negotiating with Goskonsert, the Soviet State Concert Agency, is much like dealing with concert promoters anywhere else in the world: a lot depends on the personal chemistry that develops between the negotiators. The Goskonsert team was headed by Valery Kiselev and Ella Tikhomirova. Both were personable, laughed easily, and struck a hard bargain. They won our respect, and I believe that we won theirs.
The first hurdle we faced in negotiating with the Soviets was to come to terms on a contract. When Billy Joel's manager agrees to a concert appearance by Billy and his band, the contract normally requires 35‑40 pages that detail every aspect of the relationship with a concert promoter. We gave the Soviets Billy's standard contract at the start of our talks, and they responded by showing us their own standard contract. It consisted of 2 pages. Having had no experience with a fully‑staged American rock show, and thus no idea of all that could go wrong with it, the Soviets were puzzled by our desire for an agreement that spelled out every last detail.
As negotiations for the tour progressed, it became clear that the Soviets' commitment to a successful tour was as strong as ours. However, in the course of breaking new ground within their society, the Soviets proceeded with caution. Agreements with the State Concert Agency, the State Television Network, the State Tourist Agency, and the stadiums were all necessary to complete arrangements for the tour. Each required a separate negotiation, and each required someone to accept responsibility for new initiatives in a country where initiative has often been punished rather than rewarded.
Some of the problems we faced in the negotiations are worth mentioning here. First was the question of sound decibel level. The Soviets explained that a city ordinance prohibited noise above a level of 80 decibels. However, Billy's lowest level at sound check is 85 decibels, and his concerts tend to fall in the 105‑120 decibel range. Billy likes to play loud and was not prepared to compromise on sound level. Initially, the Soviets gave in, but after the first concert, one of the Soviet organizers asked that the sound be turned down a little for subsequent evenings. Live Sound Engineer, Brian Ruggles, was able to appease the Soviets without compromising the show.
Another problem concerned ticket sales. Billy's contract requires that all tickets sold for a show be distributed through a box office. Large blocks of tickets may not be purchased by any single individual or organization to discourage scalping and ensure attendance by a broad cross‑section of fans. We asked the Soviets to promise that a similar policy be enforced for the Moscow and Leningrad concerts. They refused, claiming that their system is simply organized differently. We were suspicious. We'd heard about the black market for hard‑to‑get tickets. And we'd heard the stories of Party bigwigs and apparatchiks who scooped up tickets to events in which they had not the slightest interest but wished merely to boast about having attended. However, as the months of discussions progressed, we began to understand that the Soviets' insistence on disposing of the tickets in large blocks was not a tacit invitation to scalpers and bureaucrats. Rather, the tickets went to factories, schools, or institutes, which in turn raffled them to workers, students, and employees. Some tickets were made available to war veterans, and some were sold at public access ticket booths. Billy's organization was able to give away 300 tickets per concert to members of local rock clubs, musicians, and fans who just wanted to see the show.
A third issue of contention in the negotiations concerned Billy's proximity to his audience during the concerts. Billy needs fans jumping, screaming, and dancing in front of the stage where he can touch and be touched. The Soviets had little experience with the unbridled enthusiasm of rock fans, and were wary of allowing them too close to Billy. In fact, at a previous concert featuring UB4O, even fans dancing at their seats were physically restrained. To make matters worse, we insisted on putting hundreds of chairs on the floor of the arenas where Billy and the band performed to create the kind of intimate atmosphere Billy needs to really wail.
Both our demand to allow dancing in front of the stage and our demand for chairs on the floor touched a sensitive nerve for the Soviets. The hall managers said they didn't have any extra chairs. We said we would bring them with us. They said that there were fire regulations restricting seating of this kind. We said every hall around the world had similar restrictions and that we would adapt to the local ordinances. We also explained that our security design was very effective, allowing Billy the access he needed while keeping crowds under control. Discussion about these two points continued until showtime. We arrived from England with 400 chairs to find that the Moscow Olympic stadium had already secured 1700 chairs and placed them on the floor. We negotiated for three days to add our chairs to the floor. Their main concern was that all tickets had been sold and new tickets could not be printed for the additional chairs. We produced VIP passes that we'd brought and settled on giving half of them to the hall while we used the remaining half to give to our own special guests.
Tickets became a sort of currency for us. When problems came up or we needed favors, we gave away tickets and doors opened. The best example was the attempt to import hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and watermelon for our picnic. Over a period of 2 days, several packets of tickets went to Soviet customs to encourage the officials to work more diligently to clear the food. In all, food for 300 cost us 75 tickets.
Perhaps the gravest moment on the tour for those of us who had been involved as organizers occurred near the end of the first concert in Moscow. The events that transpired are a classic example of confrontation, misunderstanding, and reconciliation between the Soviet and American teams. It all started when Billy finished his regular set after more than two hours of non‑stop performance and left the stage briefly before returning for the first of three encores. The hall manager thought the concert was over and turned on the lights. Several of us who were standing next to a Soviet concert official yelled at him to have the lights turned off again. He didn't speak English and we didn't speak Russian so we formed into sides arguing about whether or not the show would continue. Meanwhile Billy returned to the stage and began to sing. Some of the lights went off and people who were leaving the bleachers turned around to return to their seats, creating a serious and potentially dangerous problem. We were still arguing with the Soviets at the side of the stage, and becoming more excited and obstinate with one another. The Soviets threatened to disconnect the power. Finally, in a fit of anger, the concert official made a slash across his throat and mimed a piece of paper being torn up. The message was clear: the tour was being canceled. Frank Weber, never at a loss for the ironic, chortled "at least we'll get a great movie out of it that we'll call 'One Night Stand." A somber looking interpreter told us to be at the Goskonsert office at 9:00 the following morning.
At 9:00, seven Americans crowded around the negotiating table where so many hours had been spent over the previous nine months to create the tour. A nervous silence hung over the room. The Deputy Director of Goskonsert made the following opening remarks: "We are partners with you in this venture. We are committed to the complete and successful realization of the Billy Joel tour as has been designed and agreed to over the past year. We've worked out difficulties together, but now we face some serious problems."
The Deputy Director went on to explain that several deaths had recently occurred at sporting events when crowds in the upper balconies began to jam into the aisles ‑as they had at Billy's concert the night before‑ forcing several people over the railings. The officials had seen the beginning of such a catastrophe the previous night. In addition, the large number of people pressing against the stage presented a dangerous situation. Due to the excitement of opening night and the lack of adequate translation at the end of the show, tempers had flared and misunderstandings occurred. Now, with more experience, a new design could be developed for better crowd control, and false endings could be avoided.
Looking back on our experience with the Soviets, I think there's a pretty clear answer to the question that I hear so often: "When the Soviets sign a contract, do they keep their word?" Based on the Billy Joel tour, the answer is "yes, to the letter."
THE SHOW STAGING
Jim Miner, Billy Joel's tour manager, was wary of the decision to play in the Soviet Union. On his first visit to begin preparing for the tour, he says, it really hit. He had fallen asleep on the long flight and was awakened by an ominous announcement over the jet's PA system: “You have just entered Soviet airspace.'
The words shook him to the core. He recalls, "I thought, For my whole life, Russia has been the enemy. What am I doing here'?"
Miner, production coordinator Steve Cohen, and production manager Bob Thrasher worked with Rick London to make the tour happen. Well before his first trip to the USSR, Miner realized it would be far more difficult than the usual tour. There were fifty people in the touring party‑the band, crew, families of band members, management‑and another fifty people involved in the filmmaking. In addition, PR man Michael Jensen arranged for thirty press representatives to follow the tour. That meant an entourage of more than one hundred sixty people. As Miner says, "Organizing for that many people to go anywhere is a nightmare. Bringing them to Russia seemed just about impossible."
The staging of the show in the Soviet Union was fraught with one difficulty after another. From arranging visas and hotels to bringing in lights and a stage, each step involved complex negotiations and, in some cases, virtual sleight of hand. 300,000 pounds of equipment had to be taken in. A 16‑ton stage, 80,000 watts of sophisticated lights, and speakers with 70,000 watts of power were driven from London through Eastern Europe in a caravan of six giant trucks.
At the venues in Moscow and Leningrad, the crew worked long hours and surmounted obstacle after obstacle. The halls were bigger than most in the West and the crew had to communicate without their walkie‑talkies, which were held by Soviet customs because they used the same frequencies as those used by local police. No one had ever before seen a production so big.
Besides the core crew in Billy's entourage, laborers were supplied by the Soviet venues. Few spoke English. Simply unloading the equipment was a challenge. Brian Ruggles, Billy's long time friend and sound man, recalls, "It was crazy trying to communicate with them. We didn’t have translators most of the time. Still," he says, "you would get the point across. We used sign language. We pointed. We showed them and they watched. Sometimes we just shrugged our shoulders and all broke out laughing. Somehow we managed to get it done."
The local crew included Soviet soldiers in uniform. Watching them work, Hoss (Mike) Keefer, who works with Ruggles, was struck by the irony. "They're usually carrying around bazookas," he says. "Here they were carrying around amplifiers."
In spite of the problems, Bob Thrasher found working in the Soviet Union remarkable. He cites this as an example: a part essential to one of Billy's pianos had broken in transit. A special washer and nut were necessary to fix it ‑parts difficult to get in the States, never mind in Moscow. "We gave them the bolt and explained what we needed," Bob says. "A half hour later, they had taken a piece of raw metal and actually machined the special part exactly to spec." Later, an extension leg for another piano needed to be repaired. Machinists in the in‑house shop made one better than the original. Thrasher was impressed. "It would never have been done so quickly and efficiently anywhere else."
While the crew labored to prepare the hall, Jim Miner wrestled with more arrangements. Wrestled is putting it mildly. "You anticipate difficulties in certain countries‑Italy and France, for instance‑but it's still dealing with places similar to the United States," he says. "You make a reservation and you are pretty safe to assume you'll have seats on the plane or rooms in the hotel. In Russia, that's not the case. You're completely at the mercy of their bureaucracies. I made dozens of lists, sent dozens of wires and you still never really knew if you would have a reservation. It took a four‑hour meeting to book one hotel. When I got to Leningrad, it took seven hours to check everyone into the hotel."
At the venue in Leningrad, the crew arrived to yet another unexpected dilemma. In Moscow, the band played in front of a 120‑foot black drape. In Leningrad, someone noticed that the drape behind the stage was blue. Ordinarily this might have been considered less than a crisis, but the filmmakers needed continuity between both shows. Lighting designer Steve Cohen decided they would have to construct a black drape by piecing together drapes from small theatres around Leningrad. The Soviets found enough drapery, but there was no way to hang it. Cohen suggested that they find eight‑meter lengths of pipe, from which they would drape the pieces from the ceiling. He recalls, "They couldn't understand the concept, so I drew them a diagram. I told them that all they had to do was provide us with the pipe. They shrugged and said, 'We'll have it tomorrow."
When he arrived at the building the next morning, there were sawhorses lined up in the parking lot. Across them was a piece of steel pipe 120 feet long. The Russian stagehands had worked all night to weld the pipes together. "They stood there proud as anything that they had gotten it together for us," says Cohen. As it turned out, the huge pipe wouldn't work; it had to be cut up again. The point, though, is that the cooperation, the attempt to please, in spite of communication problems, was phenomenal.
The experience was instructive for all involved. Jim Miner, who says he was transformed by the trip, remembers one young worker who wore a John Deere t‑shirt. When Miner asked him where he got it, the boy said, "I went to his show. John Deere is a great American singer." Miner says he changed his views from what he describes as "an anti‑Soviet young Republican who was a Ronald Reagan fanatic" to someone who feels totally the opposite. It was people like the boy in the John Deere t‑shirt who affected him the most. "They're just people," he said. "If you think about it, it's obvious. But we're taught not to think like that."
By the time the entourage settled in for the concerts in Leningrad, the American and Soviet crews were doing more than working well together. Brian Ruggles tells how some time was passed: "The next thing, we brought out the ping pong table we had trucked from London. The building manager was ready to play for the Soviets. One of the Russian stagehands said, 'We want to play your best player.' Russell Lynne, on my sound crew, is real good.
"The two of them were going at it. I mean, they were sweating. The Russians vs. the Americans. It was this big competition. The guy had Russell two or three games to one, but then Russell really got pissed off and said, 'Okay, I got to get this guy.' It was like, 'This is for the Americans.' And, boy, they were killer ping pong players. Things really loosened up."
Finally, for all of those involved in making the shows happen, the performances themselves were what made it all worthwhile. Wayne Williams, the crew member in charge of Billy's pianos, says, "It was amazing to see the audience. They were just dumbstruck. They'd never seen anything like it."
Steve Cohen takes it a step further: "I had fourteen spotlight operators communicating with me by headsets. They were suspended directly above the stage, so they had a birdseye view of what the kids up front were doing. At the tail end of the encores, when all the kids were pressing up to the front of the stage, all I could hear‑from all fourteen of them at once‑was, 'Oh my God, Oh my God, I don't believe it.' Some of them were in tears because they saw the looks on the kids' faces‑the kids crying and screaming like this was something beyond anything they had ever experienced."
THE TOUR FILMING
“WHOS’ COVERING WHOM?” might have been an appropriate subtitle for the tour. The 60‑odd members of the American and international press and dozens of Soviet journalists and photographers represented only one layer of the massive attempt to document Billy and the bands historic visit. Producer Robert Dalrymple and directors Wayne Isham and Martin Bell were commissioned to document virtually every aspect of the tour. The filmmakers cameras peered at the press while the press wrote about the filming, and everyone focused on Billy and the band.
Early in the tour planning, it was decided to make not one but two films. One would be a concert film, shot primarily at the performances. The other would be a documentary whose aim was to capture more informal aspects of the interchange between Billy and his family, the band, and the Soviets they all met.
At times, the filming was overwhelming. Everyone, particularly Billy, was worn ragged. However, the travails were worthwhile, The resulting films “Billy Joel from Leningrad USSR”, and “A Matter of Trust”, leave a strong impression.
As one of the producers of both films, Robert Dalrymple says, “The idea was to capture not only what happened but how it affected people. It was a way to communicate to people who couldn't come along what an extraordinary experience it was.”
Once Billy decided to go, choosing the directors was the next big step. For the documentary, the choice was Martin Bell. Bell had misgivings. “Rock and roll films are so predictable”, he says. “It seemed a daunting task.” However, he ultimately decided to do the project because “this was not just a rock and roll tour. This was the Soviet Union. It was the chance to capture Billy’s reactions to the Soviets and their reaction to him and the first real full‑scale Western rock and roll show to hit their country. It held fascinating possibilities.” The documentary filmmaker had a tough challenge. “Billy wanted to be observed without too much interference in what he was going through,” says Bell. “We had to keep as low a profile as possible."
To direct the concert film for HBO, the choice was Wayne Isham, an experienced rock and roll concert film director from Los Angeles. Before filming could begin in the Soviet Union, eight‑and-a-half tons of film equipment had to be flown in. A single piece of equipment called a Louma crane, never before seen in the Soviet Union, had to come from London in twenty‑seven boxes. Film crews included seventy‑five people from Los Angeles and London.
The mammoth task of filming the concerts and Billy's and the band’s interactions with the Soviets went relatively smoothly. Martin Bell explains that the problems that arose stemmed not from lack of cooperation, but from the fact that the Soviets weren't used to the kinds of requests the filmmakers made. “On the contrary,” Bell says. “They bent over backwards to allow us to do everything we wanted to do. At times, they thought we were crazy‑why would we want to get access to a steel factory if we're making film about rock and roll? But they did it."
Dalrymple sums up, “Billy was the perfect artist for this undertaking. I often compare it to Vladimir Horowitz's historic homecoming. This was also a first: Billy was breaking a different sort of barrier. He was bringing live Western pop culture into the USSR on a scale never before attempted. It not only changed him, but it changed the Soviet people who experienced it. And we got that in these films. We all feel like we were recording history.
AS THE WORLD WATCHES
The staggering task of keeping close to a hundred journalists happy while turning down most of their requests for one‑on‑one interviews with Billy Joel fell to Michael Jensen and Jeff Helsing, the publicists for the tour. They describe here what so much press coverage meant for the tour:
At Billy Joel's opening night concert in Moscow, the crush of people was staggering. There were hundreds of them, elbowing their neighbors, pushing forward trying to get at Billy, straining to see him and hear his words. This crazy scene occurred backstage an hour before the concert began. The hundreds of people pushing toward Billy were press people from all over the world. These included four American television crews, two film crews that had accompanied the tour and a number of Soviet film crews. The world clearly had its eyes fixed on this American rock and roll idol who had brought his music to the Soviet Union. Yet, in the face of the overwhelming media crush, Billy retained his patience, humor and grace. And he always remained the most articulate and eloquent spokesman for the tour.
When hundreds of reporters attended Billy's New York press conference announcing the Soviet tour, we knew that the demands by the press would be overwhelming. In hindsight that seems almost an understatement. We were inundated with requests by news organizations, radio stations and television shows in the United States that wanted to send reporters or crews to the Soviet Union to cover the tour. Because of the prohibitive costs of a trip to the Soviet Union, some had to drop out. But thirty media personnel came from the United States to join the tour. They included reporters or broadcasters from NBC's Today Show, MTV, ABC, CBS Radio, Newsday and the Detroit Free Press among others. They were joining twenty‑six accredited American news organizations with bureaus in Moscow as well as sixty‑seven foreign news organizations. When we arrived in Moscow, it seemed that each and every reporter wanted to cover this unprecedented tour.
The foreign and American press requests were certainly daunting. But we were unprepared for the demands of the Soviet press. We quickly realized that, contrary to our American impressions, the press in the Soviet Union is not some monolithic entity. There is more to journalism than just Pravda and Izvestiya. The concerts were covered by such publications as TRUD, the Soviet trade union newspaper, and Sport, the major sports magazine (whose correspondent insisted that an interview with Billy to discuss his exercise regimen and favorite sports heroes would prove to have a major impact on all sportsmen in the Soviet Union). While most of the Soviet journalists were complete professionals, some were not above bribery, sneaking around areas that were off‑limits and pushing competitors out of the way. In short, they are much like some of their western counterparts.
"One young man inside the concert hall Sunday said he had flown nine hours from Siberia just to listen to a Western rock band. He bought a ticket from a scalper before the show. A group of teenage girls wearing American T‑shirts bribed their way into the hall."
"The Soviet people will long remember Billy Joel." ‑Leningradskaya Pravda
"He can do a lot -compose brilliant, memorable melodies, play the piano like a virtuoso... and give himself wholeheartedly to the audience." ‑Sovietskaya Kultura
"By the middle of the show, the 18,000 people in the audience were on their feet, dancing, clapping, singing along, crowding the aisles, and, well, doing the same kind of things Americans do at rock concerts." ‑Detroit Free Press
The press can create a story as well. The infamous overturning of the piano during the second Moscow concert is a case in point. Initially, it was only reported by one Associated Press correspondent; most of the other journalists present did not think the trashing of equipment by an American rock and roller was really news. However, the AP wire story gave the impression that Billy had overturned his baby grand piano. So editors back in the United States were wiring their reporters in the Soviet Union demanding to know why they missed something that AP was covering. That set off a mad scramble to get the news of the "tantrum" out to the world. The Associated Press corrected its story but by that time Billy and his little piano were screaming out in headlines throughout the country. Ironically, none of the Soviet journalists said a word about it; they all thought it was part of the show.
The press were drawn into an unprecedented series of events. They became participants in a concert tour that for the most part had a great, often liberating, effect on its audience and was an exciting connection between a small band of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Soviets. As a result, all those press people‑despite the many headaches they created‑gave many more people a view of what this tour was all about.
'I've never seen a Soviet audience act like this before. He is so energetic and the music is so good, you really want to get down on the floor and jump about." ‑Soviet student, quoted by Reuters
"The soldiers took off their hats, clapped their hands over their heads, and started dancing like fraternity brothers at a toga party." ‑Newsday
One Soviet journalist used the occasion of Billy's concerts to criticize the powers in the Soviet Union that oversee concerts and entertainment for their stifling of individualism and artistic expression. He held Billy Joel up as the epitome of what artistic creativity can achieve and how an exuberant concert performance can transform an audience. Another Soviet reporter was struck by how liberating these words were to Billy's audience: "I want you all to feel at home, and do what you like." Philip Taubman, The New York Times Moscow bureau chief, observed in a special "news analysis" piece on the changes occurring in the Soviet Union that "Billy Joel's joyous rock concert… pushed out new boundaries for spontaneous behavior in Soviet society."
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
Billy, his wife Christie Brinkley and their daughter Alexa were scheduled to arrive in the USSR 5 days before the first concert. With tour organizers and Alexa's nanny, they were hustled from the customs hall at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport to a small reception in the airport VIP lounge, and then to an Aeroflot flight to Tbilisi, capital of the Soviet Republic of Georgia. Situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the extreme southwest of the Soviet Union, Georgia has long enjoyed a reputation as an independent, hospitable, and culturally unique region of the USSR. Tbilisi had been chosen as the first Soviet stop on the tour with the idea of easing the Joel family into the USSR. However, Billy found, "There's no such thing as easing into the Soviet Union. It's a smack in the face as soon as you arrive."
When Billy, Christie and their small entourage piled onto the Soviet airline flight from Moscow, it was their first shock. Billy describes it: "The plane looked like an old Clipper from 1952. The paint was peeling and it smelled bad and the seats didn't really lock into position. The seatbelts looked like army issue and the people were jammed in like cattle."
Though the flight lacked Western ambience and amenities, it provided the Joels' first introduction to the Soviet people.
"People were smiling at us," Billy recalls. "We were obviously the only Americans. They were looking at Christie, looking at the baby. Some woman reached over and handed Alexa this little Russian dog toy. We said, 'No, no, we can't take this. It was brand new!' Obviously the woman bought it for somebody else but decided to give it to our baby. She insisted. That's when we got the first hint of how warm these people were. They give you everything though they don't have anything. Then some guy passed over a rolled up newspaper. Inside was a bottle of Georgian brandy, an expensive bottle of brandy, and alcohol is harder to come by now than ever before. They gave me things not because I was a pop star-they didn't know me from a hole in the wall. They just knew we were Americans. That struck me."
The Joel party arrived in Tbilisi, which has more in common with nearby Iran and Turkey than with the Soviet capital city. When he and his family checked into their hotel, Billy was taken aback. He wondered if the entire expedition was a mistake. "I'm a spoiled American and a pop star to boot," he says, "so I'm used to top of the line stuff. They gave us the best suite in the finest hotel, which had two bunkbeds and a couple of chairs. The beds had this big sag in the middle. There was no air conditioning and it was boiling hot. Everything inside and outside was a shock."
But, once again, what struck him were the individuals he encountered. He and Christie walked around town, stopping by the local farmer's market. "This old guy came up to me and hugged me," Billy remembers. "He goes, 'How goes it in America!' He didn't know I was a pop star, only that I was an American. We went to these shops, the people would come up to us and say, 'Viva America!' They made a point of expressing support for America everywhere we went."
Part of the plan was for Billy to meet a group of Georgian singers, an a cappella folk group. Joel's back-up singers, Peter Hewlett and George Simms, singer-saxophonist Mark Rivera and drummer Liberty DeVitto flew into Tbilisi for what was to be the first Georgian-American a cappella jam.
Hewlett's first hit of Tbilisi was similar to Billy's. "It was quite different from what we expected," he says. "I didn't expect it to be so desolate, so backwards. Out of the window when we were landing, I saw people on the runways cutting grass with sickles and heaving it up onto horse drawn wagons. For me, it was, like: Wow, this is the other superpower."
The Americans met the Georgian singers in an eerily beautiful, ancient monastery. After introductions, the singing began. "We were having a lot of fun," Joel remembers. "We did 'Georgia On My Mind,' which these guys knew-in fact they knew all the right harmonies." Billy says he was nervous. "We were not really a singing group. I'm used to having my whole band behind me. This time it was just me and my back-up singers. These Georgian guys have been singing since they were little kids. Still, I thought it would be an interesting way to show a difference in the cultures-their a cappella, our a cappella."
The singers immediately hit it off. They planned to meet again that night for a jam session at the Tbilisi Opera House. The film crew, which had also flown in, was going to document the evening. Just as Billy and his entourage were ready to leave the hotel for the jam, Billy was told that the entire opera house would be teaming with Tbilisians for the jam session. It was SRO. People had been told that there would be a concert by the American artist Billy Joel. "I panicked," says Billy. "I didn't have my band or any equipment. The whole purpose of the trip to Tbilisi was to rest." However, he was stuck.
As Joel recounts it, he and his singers worked out several arrangements with a phenomenal local bass player.
The plan was that the Georgian singers would do a couple of songs, then the Americans, then they would sing together. There was a grand piano and a less than leviathan PA system. Although the hall held only a few thousand people, Billy was more nervous than when he played forty-thousand seaters back home.
He continues: "The audience started to file in. They were dressed in their Sunday best, expecting to see a concert by some American performer. I started out by giving this little speech. I said, 'Listen, my apologies, but this was not supposed to be a concert. This was supposed to be a jam session just between musicians. We don't have anything prepared for a concert.' The audience started clapping-the message: 'Just shut up and play.' I went, 'No, no, you really don't understand. We really don't have any equipment.' More clapping. I said, 'Okay' and we started with 'Honesty' and went into a couple of Beatles' songs. Then the Georgian singers performed. Then [drummer] Liberty DeVitto jammed with some Russian musicians and I came back and did another song. The audience thought it was a great concert. Afterwards, a kid came up and said, 'This is the greatest concert we've ever seen in Tbiiisi.' My comment was, 'Kid, you've got to get to see more concerts."
Says singer George Simms, "I don't know who was more amazed by the experience, those singers or us. People were loving it. Billy started singing 'Rosalinda's Eyes,' going through it real soft, then all of a sudden he starts really singing it. After, the crowd went wild."
Before leaving Tbilisi, Billy, Christie and the others visited Thomas' (a jazzy bass player, renowned throughout the USSR) apartment in the center of town for a party. Outside, Billy thinks, impoverished. Dingy. No lights. Creaky stairs. But inside: Park Avenue. Stunning.
Thomas' mother had prepared a feast. An enormous table was laid out with Georgian dishes such as eggplant salad, hummus, spiced vegetables, and cold meats with herb sauces. Billy recalls, "The tops came off the vodka, the tops came off the brandy, and the music starts. They have a piano there and I play a little. Then this Russian kid starts playing phenomenal jazz piano. I mean, this kid could play like Oscar Peterson. The director of the Kirov Ballet was there. He played. Things started getting loose.
"During the party, the men are all standing in one room, drinking. The women are all in another room. Christie, being an all-American girl, is hanging out with the guys. The women keep trying to pull her into the kitchen, where a good wife should be. Of course, given how Christie looks, the guys didn't mind that she was hanging around.
"Then we all start to dance. Of course everybody wants to dance with Christie. She was the one blonde in Georgia. It was a blast. They love the jitterbug, Glenn Miller type of dancing. Some of the kids were doing flips down the stairs and somersaults in the middle of the livingroom. We partied till about 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, just dancing and singing. Finally, as we were leaving, the men gave me a Georgian dagger-every Georgian male once carried one. We're not talking Swiss army knife. We're talking scimitar."
Dagger in hand, Billy, family and the rest headed to Moscow to begin the scheduled concerts. Mark Rivera says that the experience in Tbilisi was extraordinary. "It was probably the part of the USSR that will stay with me all my life." He says, "It was just an amazing group of people. They were very receptive, very warm. The Georgians -they didn't want to be called Russians- were some of the nicest people I ever met in my life. It was like going to my Italian uncle's house. Like family."
BUILDING A MUSICAL BRIDGE
Nadya Khromchenko, a 19 year-old interpreter, is a third-year student of journalism at Moscow University. During the tour, she worked with the concert film crew. Nadya chose to speak English for this interview.
RR: How many years have you studied English?
Nadya: I've studied it for 10 years-6 of them serious.
RR: You also speak some other languages?
Nadya: I speak some French, Spanish and Serbo-Croatian.
RR: You come from a home that's full of classical music. How did you get interested in pop music?
Nadya: I was brought up with classical music, but my friends all like pop music, and so I listened to it also. I've never been crazy about pop music. I never intended to be an interpreter for a pop music tour. But when you came last March and I was asked to interpret for you, I listened to some tapes of Billy Joel and I liked his music very much. It wasn't the crazy pop music I expected it to be; not just people with yellow hair shouting nonsense words.
RR: What was your main task during the tour?
Nadya: I had to stay with the film crew -with Wayne Isham's crew. I think one of the reasons the tour turned out to be so interesting for both sides was that we worked together. It's this kind of work that can really unite people. I think we found a common language. There was really mutual understanding. Not, maybe, from the very beginning, because we weren't used to these kind of shows.
RR: What about these shows was different for you and your friends?
Nadya: It was the first real American rock show in this country. There have been groups here from Europe, but not from the United States.
RR: How is an American rock show different than one from Italy or Germany?
Nadya: First of all, it was the public that really shocked me, because the first night, when I saw these people rushing the stage, I couldn't believe I was in my country. I couldn't believe they were all my countrymen. I remember very well from the past-it was always very difficult to get tickets to concerts of this kind. The people who could get them were all high officials or bureaucrats who weren't interested in the show, but just wanted to be able to say, 'Yesterday, I went to such and such a show.' When concerts were shown on TV, I'd see fat men in white shirts and black ties sleeping in the front rows. So when I saw all these teenagers rushing the stage, it was unbelievable. It was very exciting. On the third night I saw policemen whistling Billy Joel's melodies. That was something. When there's a performance of a Soviet hard rock group, the audience is all hard rock fans. They get excited even before the show starts. But I usually find it to be a kind of artificial excitement. Fake. This time it was natural. Even me, I'm not so crazy about rock, but I was dancing. I couldn't control myself.
RR: What was it like for you working with the Americans?
Nadya: What I like about Americans is that when they work, they work 100 percent. And when they relax, they relax. For the majority of people coming here in Billy's entourage, it was their first visit to the Soviet Union. And they couldn't imagine that in this country we are the same human beings with the same feelings and sentiments. I think Americans and Russians are very similar because both nations are very sentimental. I was very moved when I lived in the Hotel Moscow in Leningrad where I stayed with the film crew. Across the street from the hotel was an old cemetery. Some of our great musicians are buried there. Almost on the last day, one of the truck drivers came up to me and said, 'Nadya, when are we going to visit the cemetery?'
'Why'?, I asked.
'Is it possible that we could leave Leningrad without seeing the grave of Tchaikovsky'? This is unbelievable. Imagine… a truck driver. This is one of my dearest memories from the tour. It was such a natural show of respect for our culture and for our country.
Negotiations and arrangements for the concerts were made with representatives of Goskonsert -the State Concert Agency of the Soviet Union. The two principal contacts at Goskonsert were Ella Tikhomirova and Valery Pavlovich Kiselev, whose remarks below are translated from Russian.
RR: Did you face any problems in arranging the tour?
GK: I'll tell you frankly: it was difficult, and it was complicated. And not only during the negotiations. If we hadn't found a degree of mutual understanding during the negotiations, the second step-the realization of the tour-would have been a lot more complicated than it was. But fortunately, during the negotiation stage, we were able to sketch out quite precisely what we were going to need to agree on; the rest was all technical details-but technical details that were far from simple.
PR: Is it fair to say that this was the largest tour that you've ever dealt with here?
GK: Absolutely true. It was our first experience with such a big rock star. We've had many tours by well-known artists, but it was the first time we've handled a famous artist in such large venues, and of course, it was pure rock. So, it's correct to say this was the first real rock star we've had in the Soviet Union -moreover, an American star- from the birthplace of rock and roll.
RR: What lessons did you learn from organizing the tour?
GK: There were two valuable lessons. First of all, it was valuable for us just to go through negotiations for a tour on the scale of Billy Joel's and for someone so well known. To be honest, we had other negotiations going on in parallel for other rock tours, and we were able to use the lessons we were learning from working with Billy Joel's organization. Second, was the concrete experience of organizing the show. We had some precedents, but nothing on this scale for someone of his popularity.
RR: Speaking personally about Billy, what did you expect?
GK: We didn't have any information about him. There weren't any sort of rumors that he was a prima donna or had any sort of special demands. Aside from knowing that his wife was a vegetarian, we didn't have any advance warning about anything. I'll tell you honestly, I didn't know anything about his music. I learned about him from the publicity material that you gave us. But of course seeing him in person is better than hearing him 100 times. I was satisfied by what I saw. It's all that I hoped for. I liked his dynamic, the manner that he created. He was very communicative, very sympathetic. Very curious. It was clear that he was sincerely interested in our life here, and if some sort of problem arose, he understood that it wasn't created artificially, but that it required that both sides try to understand one another and come to an agreement.
What I didn't like-I didn't like the fact that he danced on the piano. I just don't buy it. Maybe the stereotype of an American star permits that sort of thing, but here it doesn't. The next time I sign a contract, I'm going to write into it that dancing on the piano won't be allowed...
RR: So for the Soviets, this was a real opening, a real discovery.
GK: Absolutely. I won't say that rock fans-or fanatics-as they are called, didn't know about him, but for the general public, they learned about him here, at the concerts, and even more, as a result of television broadcasts.
RR: Are you satisfied with the results of the tour?
GK: Of course. Notwithstanding the fact that we approached this tour with some caution, we have to say that the concerts came off on a very high level, and we're now ready to invite more stars of this stature, and widen the geographical scope of their tours to include cities besides Moscow and Leningrad. But unfortunately, the big stars don't have much time for this.
Andrei Orlov worked as an interpreter and assistant to the tour organizers. Recently, Andrei invited several friends who had attended the concerts to drop over for a beer and a chat about their impressions of Billy Joel and his show. The discussion went on for several hours‑in Russian. Excerpts have been translated below. Besides Andrei, participants included Alexei, a journalist, Valery, a chemical engineer, and Larissa, a banjo player in a Russian bluegrass band.
"What impressed me about Billy Joel was that he really worked. Here, people tend to brag about how little they work, even if in fact they work hard. But Billy really earned his money‑and I know it was just kopecks (pennies) in any case. It was honest work. I saw how at the end of the concert, sweat was streaming down his face. That impressed me. I happened to get my ticket for free, but even if I'd paid the full six roubles, I would have gotten every kopeck's worth. He was working for me.
"He helped to break down the stereotypes so many people have of pop and pop stars‑that pop is music that makes idiots out of people, that pop stars are just businessmen who exploit kids. In the hands of such musicians, it's accurate to say that 'rock music is the opiate of the people.' But Billy was different. I was standing next to the stage after the concert, and he came down and stood about a meter from me. I could see that he was completely exhausted, that he didn't have an ounce of strength left because he'd given it all to his audience."
"He was in our country for the first time. He didn't know us, he didn't know whom he was dealing with, he didn't know the audience. For him, the public was out of the ordinary, even a bit exotic. It must have been strange for him. But nonetheless, he worked as hard for us as he does anywhere else in the world."
"Another thing‑I'm a journalist. I'm used to asking questions at press conferences, and I'm used to people shooting back with some kind of cutesy, clever response‑trying to show how smart they are. But Billy thought carefully before he answered. He respected the people who were asking questions. Those are two impressions of him‑not related directly to his music, but to his character."
"To describe what it was like listening to Billy, I make the analogy to someone who knows a good joke. This person might have told a joke 100 times, and for him, it's no longer funny. Still he laughs, because his companions are laughing, and he's glad that they've enjoyed the joke. For Billy, the music can't have been as interesting as it is for people who are hearing it for the first time, but he was happy because we enjoyed it so much."
"I saw a couple of guys who, by their outer appearance, seemed to be Komsomol leaders. At the end of the concert they were standing in the middle of the mass of people who were jumping up and down and dancing and screaming, and pretty soon, the Komsomols also started to dance. That was great. Most of the people who were there to keep order looked silly. They just stood there while everyone danced around them. You understand, these people weren't police, they weren't KGB. They were people who were there to shake their finger at the odd kid and say, 'You're getting out of control.' They were just kids, like everyone else. But on that evening, that's the job they had to do."
"There were people there who were, according to Soviet norms, 100 percent normal‑the very essence of normality. And what did Billy do? He took people who by Soviet standards are freaks, and he made them look normal. And the people who were the equivalent of the Soviet norm in this crowd they looked like idiots. A lot of them started to dance because they couldn't stand being the only one in a crowd who wasn't doing what everyone else did. I saw a group of security guys who all had their arms linked. One of them started to bounce up and down to the music, and like a wave, the whole group of them started to bounce up and down."
In fact, the atmosphere at the concert wasn't that different from what it's like at a Soviet rock concert in Leningrad these days. The difference was that if a Soviet band is playing, the police can come and tell everyone to sit down, or they can turn on the lights."
"What's hard to understand is how varied the audience was. Everyone came wanting to hear something different. One guy wanted to hear AC‑DC. Another wanted Bob Dylan. Another went to hear the Beatles. A fourth wanted the Rolling Stones. And a fifth bought his ticket because it was the thing to do. I saw some people leaving after the first song. Why? Because for them, the main thing was to get a ticket, to be given a privilege, not to use it."
"Another thing about the audience‑a lot of people, particularly musicians, were gaping at the equipment. When a microphone went flying off somewhere, they forgot about the music, and all they could think about was 'how much did that microphone cost'? Or when he tipped over his electric piano, all they could think about was 'we'll never have this kind of equipment, and here he is breaking it."
"It was a big deal deciding who should get free tickets. I know one rock band in town, and they asked me for ten tickets. I gave them the tickets, and that night, I looked in the seats where they were supposed to be sitting, and in those seats were a bunch of 10‑year old kids. The next day I phoned up the group and asked, 'Did you go to the concert'?
'No, we gave the tickets to the people on whom our careers depend' (who gave them to their children or grandchildren). So we gave tickets to artists and they ended up going to bureaucrats. On the other hand, we had to give 2 tickets to the Central Committee, and you can bet that no one from the Politburo was there. They probably gave them to some youngsters who were rock fans. No matter what you do, there's always going to be a certain number of rockers and a certain number of bureaucrats. Neither you nor I are going to change it.
MARY ELLEN MARK
Mary Ellen Mark has been highly acclaimed for the photographs she has taken of people all over the world. In this photo essay, Root Beer Rag wants to share some of the pictures of Soviet people she took while accompanying the tour.