Paying tribute to Petersburg rock

Paying tribute to Petersburg rock

Musician and author Vladimir Rekshan reveals the story behind his exhibition on Leningrad rock music.

Published: February 6, 2013 (Issue # 1745)


Vladimir Rekshan of the band Saint Petersburg hopes the exhibition will eventually become a permanent St. Petersburg rock music museum.

St. Petersburg has a reputation as the cradle of the Russian rock revolution, and an upcoming exhibition at the Pushkinskaya 10 art center is expected to showcase some of its legacy and artifacts.

Called “Realities of Russian Rock. Continuation,” the exhibition will also embody a proposal for a future museum of St. Petersburg rock, according to organizer Vladimir Rekshan.

Rekshan, 62, is himself part of this history, having founded the rock band Saint Petersburg in 1969. The group was reputedly the city’s first band to sing in Russian (the rest tended to sing in English) and arguably the city’s most popular band in the early 1970s.

“When speaking about this exhibition, I usually start with a hypothetical question that I then answer myself: ‘Where have all the cups and plates that mankind produced throughout the last 5,000 years gone?’” Rekshan said.

“They were broken, they were taken to a dump, to a cultural layer, and then we find smithereens, some Greek and Scythian cups and exhibit them in a museum. This is an objective process, natural and inexorable. What was simply [life] yesterday becomes part of history after a while.

“Big and very important cultural events took place in Leningrad before our eyes, connected with the development of the once new music genre of rock music. Many real heroes emerged in the process, but it has partly become history since then. Many people have passed away. There’s still a generation that remembers the 1970s, but there will remain nothing of it after a while.”

According to Rekshan, the exhibition is a kind of smaller follow-up to a giant exhibition called “Realities of Russian Rock” held at LenExpo exhibition complex in March 1991.

“It was 3,500 square meters; it was an attractive and very successful event, with exhibits collected by the Rock Club, musicians and designers,” he said.

“But then the country collapsed and many things collapsed with it. Some of the exhibits were taken by the musicians, but a large portion was simply lost. For instance, some were given to libraries, but the libraries closed and bars emerged in place of them. As a person who studied history at the [Leningrad] University, I understand that the city deserves to keep what is about to disappear. But there is no place where fans of this culture in the city can come and see things.”

The Leningrad Rock Club, which was the center of the rock explosion of the 1980s and the place where bands such as Akvarium, Kino, Zoopark and Rekshan’s own Saint Petersburg performed and hung out, folded in the 1990s, but people from across Russia continued to go there and leave graffiti in the courtyard on 13 Ulitsa Rubinshteina until it was closed for renovation by the building’s new owners.

“My car was once blocked in nearby, and I wandered around there for an hour and witnessed how people would come and look at the graffiti such as ‘Tsoi, You’re Alive’ [for Kino’s late frontman Viktor Tsoi], ‘Alisa,’ ‘BG’ [for Boris Grebenshchikov], even my name was there; people kept coming,” Rekshan said.

“It doesn’t even need to be explained. If there was a Café de Flore in Saint-Germain where existentialists and all kinds of the New Left gathered, it will be there forever; only coffee will cost twice as much there. If Hemingway lived on Place de la Contrescarpe, then there will be a plaque on the building. With us, it’s mostly words, but little personal effort to do something useful.

“Our society is completely divided, there’s an intellectual and emotional civil war going on, even if they’re not firing machine guns yet. But there are elements that could be outside the contradictions. There must be many people even within the authorities from the generation that was simply obliged to listen to Tsoi, [Yury] Shevchuk and all the others.”

According to Rekshan, the exhibition will be subtitled “Exhibits of a Future Museum.”

“I would like to pose the question to everyone, ‘Do we need such a thing?’” he said.

“I am addressing the participants of those events, those who like music, the media, the authorities — do we need this or not? If we do, OK, let’s think what can be done about it.

“The room is not large enough and my resources are not so great that I can present a full-fledged museum to the public. My role was to inspire people to do this.”

Last year, Rekshan and Saint Petersburg performed to a group of Finnish tourists who had read “Pietari on Rock,” an account of Leningrad rock by Finnish author Tomi Huttunen.

“They read the book, got interested and wanted to visit those places,” he said.

“They came, but there was nothing to visit. Nowhere where it had all happened remained, there is no museum, no club, nothing at all. We somehow manage to damage ourselves. We create historical events, then forget about them and after a while somebody will have to collect the crumbs. This is wrong.”

At the exhibition, Rekshan will present a number of objects such as posters, paintings and concert tickets that he kept, although he admits that much was lost.

A number of items will come from collector Sergei Chubrayev, who has accumulated a large collection of objects related to the late musician Sergei Kuryokhin of the band Pop Mekhanika.

“He collected as much as possible, he bought some foreign posters, T-shirts, tickets, he owns Kuryokhin’s vinyl player, not to mention all the recordings, elements of costumes, drafts of Pop Mekhanika’s performances; he already has a full-fledged museum of his own,” Rekshan said.

Graphic artist Sergei Lemekhov, who played bass with the first lineup of Saint Petersburg and who was one of the designers of the 1991 exhibition, will present a series of drawings humorously chronicling the history of Russian rock that he has made especially for the exhibition at Rekshan’s request, starting from the emergence of self-produced flexible records made on used X-ray film in the 1950s.

“The final drawing I asked him to do is that of the notorious meeting between Shevchuk and Putin, when Putin asks, ‘Who are you?’ and he replies, ‘I am Yura, a musician,’” Rekshan said.

“The exhibits will be arranged around this graphic history.”

A number of exhibits will show how music was distributed before the advent of CDs and mp3s.

“It’s an information society now; you press a key on your computer and listen to any music you like,” Rekshan said.

“But that’s not how the country lived. In the 1960s, tape recorders appeared; there was a Nota recorder, and people copied vinyl records on reel-to-reel tapes that they decorated with photographs of The Beatles or Pink Floyd. I have this beaten Nota recorder, and I selected some tapes from ones that several people brought to me. That’s how things were.

“Then there were vinyl records that have also died out. During a brief period at the height of perestroika, everything started being released on vinyl. But after a few years, the vinyl market died and the pressing plant ground to a halt. I’ll display the so-called “Multicolored Square” made up of the Leningrad Rock Club’s records.”

Several original 16-track tapes preserved by Rekshan that were used by legendary local producer Andrei Tropillo to record the underground rock bands will also be on display, as well as a pair of locally produced Soviet-era guitars.

Rekshan said that meetings with key figures of Leningrad rock such as poet, music writer and co-founder of Akvarium Georgy “George” Gunitsky and the Leningrad Rock Club’s president Nikolai Mikhailov will also be held as part of the exhibition.

More recent exhibits will include an Order of Lenin presented to Rekshan by Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

“I recorded an album called ‘Revolution,’ featuring songs connected with the [Russian] Revolution and the Civil War, to which I added some musical quotes from international rock music classics,” he said.

“As the result of some complicated combinations, I was given this award, which is a purely intra-party one and isn’t worth anything, but it says ‘For an active position in life and promotion of national rock music.’ And a signature: Zyuganov.

“It’s kind of a joke, because even if I am a person of left-wing convictions, I am not a member of any party. But as I see it, just like the Pope apologized for burning Giordano Bruno to death, the leader of the KPRF [the Communist Party of the Russian Federation] apologized for the harassment [of rock musicians] by the party during the Soviet era.”

A lecture titled “Personality Cults in Leningrad Rock” will be given during the exhibition by the philosopher, theologian and Beatles fan Oleg Ulanov. Small, chamber concerts are also planned.

Rekshan, who combines music with writing, also wrote Russia’s first rock memoirs, called “Kaif” (Kicks). They were originally published in the literary magazine Neva in 1988, but have since then been published several times as a separate book, with Rekshan adding new chapters. He said different editions of the book will also be on display.

He also urged visitors who own objects that could be used as potential museum exhibits to leave information in a book that will be available at the exhibition.

“For instance, ‘I am Petrov, I own an old guitar that used to belong to I don’t know whom,’ or ‘I have a poster from such-and-such a year,” he said.

“It’s an element of civil society. We have a kind of Tsarist consciousness: ‘Somebody high up should…’ Nobody should do anything. People should organize themselves and solve the problems that they can, even if it’s not politics, although there’s an element of politics in it.”

“Realities of Russian Rock. Continuation” will open at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16 and run through March 17 at the Navicula Artis Gallery, Puskinskaya 10 Art Center, 10 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa (entrance through 53 Ligovsky Prospekt). Tel: 951 7894.

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