Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Ach du himmel, here I am nursing the remnants of Russian germ-warfare up close and personal, resulting in a nasty head cold and bronchial flareup, the result of too little sleep and tout le tour mishegas that went on there last week, whilst listening to Astor Piazzolla's "Musiques de Films" album on the old hard drive, hard driven I am and hard riven the raver come to reign on my parade ground--yes, RUSSIAN FANS ARE ACE at making one feel, well, more than a tad at home, or at least, a certain jouissance d'esprit rare in my divigations hither and yon in hot pursuit of the ineffable (and the effable--and I'm effing here to tell the tale, darlings...)

So it was that Ernie, Jerry, Billy, Jason, Carole (Harrison, Jerry's wife) and I sallied forth to Saint Petersburg last Monday night via a more than halfway decent Lufthansa flight to find ourselves flung from the ramparts of New York spring back into ye icy douche of winter, the Russian bear still hibernating apparently...truth to tell this arrival day is more or less a complete blank to me at this precise point of recall except that I got to take the band that evening to The Idiot (superb vegetarian resturant/den of iniquity, filled with literati and assorted Myshkins and munchkins on the shores of a very grand and iced over canal, see group photo here) where it seems I was (one hopes, fondly) remembered by the proprietors as it has become one of my mainstay port 'o calls over 5 or so trips there...
Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters: Ernie Brooks, Billy Ficca, Gary, Carole and Jerry Harrison, Jason Candler, Natasha Pliousnine, St. Petersburg, Russia 4/11/06

photo by Alexei Pliousnine | Click to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

first time was the Stereoleto Festival during the celebrated Saint Petersburg White Nights in 2002, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of this beautiful city (built on a swamp no less), then I was playing with Future Sound of London's mainman Gaz Cobain and sitarist Baluji Shrivastav in an outdoor all-night rave that commenced about 1am and ended several hours later as the sun blazed forth (never really got dark, sky remained a luminous mauve thunder head all night long) and, well, uh, my fingers were sore not just from playing mind you but from signing programs and various body parts to an endless line of well-wishers snaking off the side of the bandstand, my kind of peeps...

anyhow apres L'Idiot I dropped the group off at the Club Purga, a surrealist bagatelle wherein the wait-staff undergoes several costume changes per hour (the fluffy rabbit outfits were particularly fetching, on both sexes--not too far afield in fact from the kit worn by my rabbitess in the "Skin the Rabbit" video, now up and awaiting your perusal on my wesbite) and mad satiric skits, singalongs and other group participation knees-ups are the order de la nuit--but I was totally knackered and after a brief look-see went with my pal avant- guitarist/former SKIF director Alexei Pliousnine and his wife Natasha back to the Hotel Neptune early in order to get enough shut-eye in order to make an 8:30am promo taping for the tv; sure enough, I awoke to actual snowflakes (oy) skirling and whirling out my window and the car was at the hotel promptly and I was chauffeured over one of the several great Petersburg bridges to a tv studio the other side of the river, where I was interviewed and performed acoustic on a breakfast show (the sweet hostess/interlocutor, a noted Russian medieval music scholar and performer whose name I shamefully am blanking on came to our gig that night)--then it was off via the elegant subway (see photo on the escalator) to the wondrous Hermitage with the guys plus Carol (a lovely spirit and sport, who hence forth shall be designated as one of the boys), where a cute female tout tried to bamboozle us out of our excess rubles after promising to sneak us into the place at bargain rates AND deliver a guided tour as part of the deal (she spoke excellent English), only to hedge and hold out (or rather, hold her hand out) after giving us the standard preamble and on into a lengthy dissertation on the various heating systems in operation at the time of the last Czar before she shut down and demanded more coin, in a classic bait and switch maneuver that we were to see run (or attempted to be run) again and again over the course of this trip--times shore is tough, boys...
Gary on the Night Watch, Saint Petersburg Subway Station, 4/12/06

photo by Jason Candler | Click to enlarge (hosted by flickr)

and the gig went way well for us that night for sure, some old Russian friends such as director of photography (of my Russian Fireworks video) Nick Kuznetsov was there, as was Irina Roon, the great Russian painter, as was Henk Elenga, the Dutch expat graphic artist now transplanted to Saint Petersburg (ran into him when I performed at the SKIF Festival there a couple years ago) whom I had originally met when he was part of the Rotterdam Hard Werken posse back in 1989 in San Antonio Texas, where I played the AGI convention with Rick Vermeulen and Henk Tas...

Gary and Ernie Brooks on the Night Train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, 4/13/06

photo by Jason Candler | Click to enlarge (hosted by flickr)
and there were so many well-wishers after our gig we barely made it out the door, into our van, and onto the fabled Night Train to Moscow, which rolled out at 11:55pm...and what a night it was, Ernie and I had one sleeper compartment to ourselves (stocked with old issues of The Nation, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books), Billy and Jason another, Jerry and Carole the third...and we immediately repaired to the bar car where we plonked ourselves down on the velvet banquettes, with the trestles clacking and the Night Watch vistas flashing by out the window, and cracked open some smuggled-on-board caviar I had copped in front of the Hermitage that afternoon for a song, and ordered up some salad and several orders of smoked salmon on toast, and washed it all down with repeated shots of chilled vodka (see photo of me and Ernie contemplating the void here)--BIG FUN O YES--and the train kept a'rollin', all night long...and with a heave, and a ho (ho ho ho...)...well, naturally I couldn't sleep a wink (never have been able to--on planes, yes...trains, nyet...maybe once only, Munich to Bologna in the late 90's...but that's another story)...and at 7:30am, we arrived in Moscow, where the Goldenmask people (we were there ostensibly to play at this big Goldenmask Festival gig, supposedly the pre-eminent, most prestigious cultural festival in Russia) were there to meet us, they got porters to schlep all our guitars and suitcases and clobber into a van which transported us to an ancient Soviet mausoleum of a military hotel that stank so badly of cockroach spray as to induce blinding headaches, and after hours spent whingeing and bellyaching under protest we finally prevailed and switched hotels thanks to Sasha Cheparukhin, the (in)famous Russian new music impresario who had hooked the whole tour up in the first place...and this was a much more salubrious hang in every way, forget the actual name of the place but it translated as the Youngster's Hotel, and despite a few drawbacks such as the total incapacity of the staff to take phone messages or allow one to phone up to the rooms from the lobby we were merrily esconced in our Russian digs for the duration of the tour...but I will leave the blow-by-blow account of our Moscow gigs till next time,

as hello I must be going...




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