The Big Issue Interviews Joanna Stingray

The Big Issue, a British free newspaper founded to help the unsheltered population, interviewed Joanna Stingray for a feature dedicated to Viktor Tsoi’s legacy and his song “Peremen,” (“Change”). The song was played loudly across Belarus during recent protests against a rigged election.

Below are excerpts from the extended interview with journalist Malcolm Jack.

What’s your personal take on the song Peremen – is it a favourite of yours? What does it mean to you and how much do you know about what it meant to Viktor?
I loved it from the beginning with its driving sound and strong, urgent vocals. When this song and Viktor’s appearance at the end of the film Assa came out , it changed everything for Viktor and Kino. They were famous at the time of the film release but after they were catapulted to an unbelievable status. This all happened at the height of glasnost and the audience embraced Viktor’s song as their sign to fight for the changes they all wanted. I had interviewed Viktor a couple of times up until that point and when I asked him what his lyrics were about, he said they were about each person’s inner struggle. He said all people have a kind of cage inside them that keeps them from doing things or understanding themselves. He did not write about politics, it was about an inner search and inner understanding of oneself. It was about the freedom of spirit.

What do you make of the fact that “Peremen” is played and sung as a political protest song after all these years, and what do you think Viktor would have made of that were he still alive today? Would he have been proud to see it adopted by young protestors in Belarus do you think?
I love that “Peremen” as well as other Kino songs are played around the world. It keeps Viktor alive and he continues to effect people, even ones that were born after his death or don’t speak his language. It is awesome that “Peremen” has taken on a life of its own, people feel this song in their souls. I believe Viktor would be amused by the path his song has taken. He told me he wanted his lyrics to help people break out and do something they want to do and not be trapped in that psychological cage. In that regard, if “Peremen” energizes people in Belarus or anywhere else to go and stand up and fight for things they want, he would be proud.

Like Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” “Peremen” is a rock song about change which resonated powerfully in the Soviet states around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Do you think “Peremen” is much overlooked and unappreciated as an anthem for those times – at least from the western perspective? For some former Soviet citizens, might it be just as powerful and evocative symbol of that great time of transformation as “Wind of Change” is popularly considered to be? Is it the song that really helped to ‘bring down the Iron Curtain’?
I think “Peremen” was embraced on a mass scale by Soviets when it was seen at the end of the Assa film. The public took it as their anthem to the changes taking place at that time of perestroika. For most Soviets, “Peremen” was much more important than the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” because it was written by their hero, not somebody from the West. But “Peremen” was certainly overlooked by the world outside of Russia which promoted “Wind of Change” as the song of the time. I think it is important to remember that Klaus Meine thoughtfully wrote “Winds of Change” to be an anthem of the glasnost he had just experienced on his visit to Moscow. Viktor wrote his song about a searching, with almost a spiritual undertone to it. He wrote it for himself, an expression of what he was feeling. I am quite certain, that making it an anthem or hoping it was a hit, did not cross his mind.
In terms of bringing down the Iron Curtain, “Peremen” did play a role. It has been documented that the Red Wave album I released in June of 1986 pushed the Soviets to very quickly bring the underground bands and their music out of the shadows and helped nudge glasnost forward. A year or so later, when “Peremen” came out, it was the impetus that strengthened the fight to leave the old ways behind. Even Gorbachev quoted lyrics from “Peremen” in at least one of his speeches at that time. When I visited the incredible Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg last year, I was amazed to see lyrics from “Peremen” on the wall at the start of the exhibit and then photos at the end of Viktor and a headset to hear the song. It was written in history that Viktor and his song had a big part in the end of the Soviet Union.