Red Wave: An American in the Soviet Music Underground
By Joanna Stingray and Madison Stingray
November 2020. Paperback.
$24.95 | 9781733957922 (pb)
$???? | ??????????? (ebook)
The colorful story of America’s only musician to participate in the clandestine world of Leningrad punk and rock n’ roll
When Joanna Stingray’s New Wave music career stalled after a Studio 54 performance and record release, she traveled to Russia in 1983 with the name of one musician to meet if she could sneak off her state-sanctioned tour. That fateful, shadowy encounter with the now-legendary Boris Grebenschikov opened “the rabbit hole” for her tumble into Soviet underground culture and decades-long devotion to Russian rock, as well as her own spectacular rise to fame in that country. Called “the American tractor” by artists and musicians for whom she smuggled guitars, equipment, Americana, and art supplies into the USSR; and out to the West their music and art, Joanna Stingray is credited by Russians for helping pave the way to the cultural opening that collapsed state control. An apogeal event was the U.S. release of the double album produced by Stingray, “Red Wave: Four Underground Bands from the Soviet Union.” Months later, Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the suppressed music be released, launching the bands to notoriety.
Interviews with musicians and Stingray’s extensive collection of photographs fill out her inspiring and poetic memoir.
REVIEW QUOTES AND ENDORSEMENTS
Rock ‘n’ roll through the Iron Curtain
Joanna Fields was born in California brought up to mistrust Communism, so as soon as she could, in 1984 she went to the Soviet Union. She met underground rock musicians like Boris Grebenshchikov and his band Akvarium, banned from releasing music or playing official concerts and thought someone should get their music out to the West. Joanna has now written an account of her tape smuggling years as she shuttled across the Iron Curtain and released a groundbreaking double LP called Red Wave, featuring four underground bands and music that many in the West simply thought didn’t exist. Of course she needed a code name. She chose Stingray.
— BBC Newsday, listen to full clip here
“In the 1980s, Joanna Stingray brought us music that we weren’t supposed to hear – underground rock from behind the Iron Curtain. Along the way, she befriended Russia’s greatest rock legends, fell in love, made some music videos, and got banned from attending her own wedding. Join us as we take a deep dive into Joanna’s video diaries from Russia, as she pulled back the Iron Curtain with a little help from an album called Red Wave.”
— NBC Left Field, watch full clip here
“It’s hard to find a more drab and yet more romantic period in the history of the Soviet Union than in the 1980s. Life as people knew it was falling apart and yet there was also a growing hope that something new and exciting would rise in its place. That sense of cognitive and emotional dissonance was perfectly captured by the underground music of that time, produced by young non-conformist musicians in what was then the city of Leningrad. What was it like to live and make music in that period of hopeful despair? To discuss this, Oksana is joined by Joanna Stingray, American musician and avid chronicler of the Leningrad rock scene.”
— Russian Television, watch full clip here
The music on Red Wave – which ranges from the ska-tinged pop of Kino to the brooding, introspective songwriting of Grebenschikov – was recorded mostly in cramped living rooms transformed into home studios with borrowed two-track and eight-track equipment. The lyrics, sung in Russian (a translated lyric sheet is provided), are not overtly political. But veiled reference to politics shine through, as does a keen awareness of progressive Western rock.
Thanks to a resourceful Los Angeles Singer and songwriter who heard – and liked – their brand of Russian rock, the bands are now playing to a faraway audience. […] The album is the brainchild of Joanna Stingray a.k.a. Joanna Fields, 25, who has been exploring the Soviet Union’s unofficial and unheralded rock world since 1984.
“Joanna Stingray’s appearance in St. Petersburg in the early 1980s must have been God’s response to our unconscious prayers. Her naive bravery, curiosity and generosity created a kind of a lifeline for us rockers: she brought in things we needed to play our music, and took out not only our recordings but the very message of our existence. Had it not been for her and her Red Wave it would have taken Aquarium many more years to have official records on Melodiya and Kino to start touring Europe. This fearless maiden broke through the siege that looked hopelessly unbreakable. She threw a life-saver into our waters and she changed everything. No matter how many times we thank her — it’s never enough.”
—Boris Grebenschikov (Aquarium) 2018
“Joanna was like a tornado. Just imagine someone could drag Tsoi, Kuryokhin and Grebenshchikov into her vortex and as a tractor pull the Russian underground to the West. A breath of fresh air and bright hopes — it’s all Joanna!
—Yuri Kasparyan (Kino) 2019
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanna Stingray is an author and musician from Los Angeles, California, who lived for many years in Russia. In 1983, while touring in the Soviet Union, she met and befriended Boris Grebenschikov, a revered musical poet (who many Soviets called the ‘Russian Dylan’) and soon became the first American producer of underground Russian rock n’ roll when she released the double album “Red Wave — 4 Underground Bands from the USSR” — a compilation of music smuggled out of the USSR by Joanna in 1985. A frequent traveler in and out of Russia, Joanna was interrogated by the KGB and FBI (both thought she was a spy) and in 1987, she became an enemy of the State — her visa blocked to keep her from entering the Soviet Union to marry Leningrad guitarist Yuri Kasparyan. After months of intervention by the U.S. State Department, she returned to Russia, married Yuri and in the early ‘90s became a television host, a recording artist, and well known rock personality throughout Russia. She has published several books in Russia about her time in the music scene as well as much of her photo collection. Her video diaries and interviews of bands and their musicians is the only archive of this clandestine, bygone world.
“FREE TO ROCK,” the 2017 documentary exposé directed by Jim Brown and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, features interviews with Joanna Stingray, prominent American musicians who toured the Soviet Union, and several important Russian musicians. It reveals to the world the dismantling socio-political effect of “soft power,” and discovers how American rock n’ roll and the release of Red Wave during glasnost (“cultural opening”) contributed to the ending of the Cold War.