To Russia, with Love
If you don’t speak Russian, you probably don’t recognize the above words. It means, “Greetings, compatriots.” Today is Thursday, April 27, 2017, and I have returned from my mission/gig in Russia and am safely over the jetlag. Many thanks to Chuck and Daryl at The East Nashvillian for extending my deadline so that I could deliver this debriefing to you.
I, like many of you, am fed up with the media. It seems I can’t get a straight answer these days. Somebody give me some truth! What’s the deal? What’s the skinny? Give me the straight dope! Hacking, tampering, leaking, harboring, just what the hell is going on in Russia anyway?
I decided to find out. I literally took a page from my man Chuck Barris’ book and jetted to Moscow and St. Petersburg, deep cover style. I was attached as bass player to the backbone, the nerve center of a great rhythm and blues band whose birth reaches back to the early years of Saturday Night Live. My backstory was tight.
From Nashville to New York to Helsinki I jetted. I maintained my cover from airport to airport, country to country, just an affable bassist with a passport, nothing to see here. My eyes were groggy, but my mind was sharp. I was ready. One Aeroflot flight from Helsinki later and our entourage landed in Moscow. Immigration went smoothly and before I knew it, we were checked in at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Moscow. Once in my room, I set up my wireless communications network, showered and promptly passed out. Three hours later, I needed to eat. I made my way downstairs and was greeted by Big Sasha, the concert promoter. He beckoned me to the bar and handed me a beer. “Local,” he said. In order to maintain cover, I drank it and then another. I noticed five guys in suits and crew cuts keeping a close eye on us. They looked like military. Sasha said, “Security.” They were all packing holstered handguns.
The next day was gig day. That morning, our lovely interpreter, Svetlana, a graduate student in international politics and the daughter of diplomats, offered a tour of the Russian Art Museum. I declined in order to brush up on the set for that night. Lunch was in the hotel banquet room. Svetlana and I had a nice conversation that briefly touched on the Soviet era, which she referred to as the time when everyone was scared.
Lunch was delicious. I must tell you, when in Moscow, try the borscht.
Accompanied by our armed security team, we shuttled to the gig. Backstage, Sasha greeted us with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, cold cuts, fruit, candy, pastry, an espresso machine, fine Russian vodka, Coca Cola, Orangina, San Pellegrino, good old American Budweiser, and a friendly staff asking us if we needed anything. Their hospitality was over the top and truly touching.
The gig was great. A big crowd danced and sang along and cheered for an encore. The next day we flew to St. Petersburg and were wined and dined again by Sasha and his staff. The gig was more of the same. They danced and sang and clapped all night. Later, we went out to a bar. Stylish urban young professionals were drinking artisanal cocktails, flirting, and dancing to Beyoncé and Pharell. It was like Manhattan with a Cyrillic alphabet.
I’ve been home for three days now, safely in my Inglewood chateau and reflecting on the experience. As a kid of the cold war, I was curious about Russia and what the people would be like. With the controversy surrounding Putin and Trump, I wondered what I might encounter.
I found friendly, intelligent, motivated, proud, fun-loving, serious people involved in a capitalist economy. I had two conversations that touched on politics. One was about two sentences long with a woman about my age at the gig in Moscow. “That’s some president we’ve got,” she said. “Us too,” I said. We both shrugged our shoulders and rolled our eyes and continued to talk about music. I might as well have been hanging out in East Nashville doing the same eye roll and shoulder shrug. I got the sense that, like me, she was waiting on cooler heads and the pendulum to swing in a better direction. Sly Stone said it best, just everyday people wherever you go.