Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Soviet Correspondence

It was a cold winter’s day in Moscow in 1999. I still remember being wrapped up in a warm pullover with a cup of cocoa on my desk, as I surfed the internet on my brand new computer that my dad had just brought to me as a Christmas present.

I started searching the web very actively, looking at various “White Pages” for musicians, both well-known and completely unknown ones.

Some of those names rang a few bells here and there but one particular listing caught my eye almost instantly. I will let you, my readers, figure out who the legend was, but he is an amazing musician - truly. I was convinced that it was either a typo or perhaps a different musician with the same name…

As I kept on staring at the listing, I remembered my childhood when my father used to play X's records at home back to back. It was at the time when foreign music, especially Jazz was forbidden in the Soviet countries, and buying a Jazz record was close to committing a serious crime.

One day Dad showed me a newspaper article in one of the soviet papers when I was a little girl: “A certain well-known Georgian architect/painter is buying numerous Jazz records throughout the Soviet Union as well as high-end sound equipment (i.e. expensive speakers, valve amplifiers, etc.) - beware of the gentleman and anyone else who is hugely involved in promoting American music in the USSR, which, we believe, corrupts our nation as a whole - they are DANGEROUS." It was about my father, a rare music lover.

Carried away by those memories, I accidentally double-clicked the link on the webpage and ended up sending an empty email to "him". But thinking (and secretly hoping) that he would ignore the blank note from an unknown address, I decided not to worry about it too much; there was no way he would even consider replying to a completely unknown .ru email address, clearly located somewhere in distant Russia.

I somehow managed to quickly get over the accident and carried on surfing the internet for hours on end…

The accident seemed so passé by the end of the day, but something was prompting me deep inside to check my email “just in case.” I couldn't sleep, it was almost 2 am and let's not forget - I had to be up within a few hours to make it in time for an early lesson at school the following morning.

Yet, that gut feeling, or intuition, coming from nowhere eventually took over and I quietly got up on my tiptoes and walked over to my new electronic friend to check the incoming mail.

To my amazement, there was one unread message in my mailbox – a quick note from "X" in response to my “blank letter”. He politely apologized for his “low-tech” email and asked me to kindly resend the letter once more as he could not decode the characters the first time. Needless to say, I could hardly believe my eyes...

I was so excited and ecstatic: wearing nothing but my dad’s XL-size bathrobe and slippers, I immediately ran over to my parents, who, meanwhile, were enjoying some late night tea with my uncle and aunt in the kitchen.

Obviously they were furious to find their daughter so wide awake at first, but when I told them in great detail about the online accident, my dad, especially, was completely thrilled that his daughter had gotten through to one of his all-time favorite musicians, someone he’d admired for such a long time and regarded as a real out-of-this-world genius all of his life.

Clearly, going to sleep straight away so that I could more or less get up at 7 am as usual was well out of question by then – I absolutely HAD to reply to X's note - it was now or never.

Immediately after writing a full-blown letter, I anxiously awaited his response every day but nothing came through for what seemed like forever...

After weeks of waiting for the letter from X, I had almost given up my fantasy about hearing from him again, when to my great surprise, the great musician DID write back to his young fan.

I still remember how warmly and enthusiastically he congratulated me on "all the impressive accomplishments at such an early age" and also pointed out that my family sounded so extremely supportive, which can be such a vital point (I definitely agree!) X told me about his life at the moment and how he had slowed down in recent years but still continued to make music on regular basis. To my astonishment, X also asked me to send my music straight to his home address that he willingly provides in the same email. I could NOT believe it!

As soon as I got the email and read it to my folks, a quick concern crossed my mind... (And being a worrier by nature, it wasn't surprising at all!!!)

“What if he’s expecting something more from my singing than it really is and gets disappointed when he hears the cassette? He doesn’t know that I didn’t make any of these recordings in a professional studio – and that’s something he must be so used to by now…”

Nevertheless, I immediately puts a package together for X – five of the songs that I had recorded on my sound system along with several pictures taken with Mom and Dad.

In my hand-written letter, which I quietly drafted during a school class, I thanked him for taking the time to write to me and also for giving me the opportunity to send my tape directly to my musical inspiration. I think I even apologized for the quality of the demo tape and told X about the songs that I had recorded on my sound system, a couple of which had been his projects originally!!!

The next day my dad sent the parcel to the US via DHL (quite a rarity at the time!) and from then on, I started checking my mail every single evening after school (do you remember dial-up and not being able to "connect" some of the time??? Nightmare!), hoping and praying that one of these days I'd get a letter from him once more – and this time with his opinion about MY singing…

Several more weeks went and the long-awaited letter finally reached the Soviet destination - I anxiously opened the email. I was blown away, and in fact, I have kept that letter to this date... He described his young fan as “extremely musical with a wonderful voice and ‘great ears’ to be able to sing exactly along with the original singers”. As for the pictures, “my wife, and I loved your photos… very stylish! And your parents look terrific, you must be so proud of them! Maybe someday we will all be able to meet in person. But in the meantime, keep singing!!” I was speechless!!!

To my great joy and pride, we actively start to communicate via email on regular basis and engaged into a series of dialogues about music, art and the different lives in ex-Soviet Union and modern America. It was so fascinating and so unlike anything else I had ever encountered!

I actually had the guts to send my songs to this great legend on regular basis for his advice and guidance, always getting his feedback in return, thus developing a musical and also a human bond with this great man without us ever meeting each other face to face - even to this very day, almost 10 years later, we still haven't met.

Bearing in mind that all of this happened at the time when the internet was a brand new communication tool and spam, myspace, chatting were not yet known to the mass audience, it really was a very special discovery and a connection that I still value and cherish so close to my heart. Every time his new album hits the stores, I literally run to get my hands on a copy - not a digital one but an actual "tangible" CD... Can't beat a physical CD with liner notes, credits, etc. if you're a real fan - that's impossible!!!

It's so amazing when those you truly admire and look up to don't disappoint nor demystify your perception of their personality behind the great talent - I strongly believe that true talent isn't always accompanied by huge egos and other unpleasanteries.

Oh, and by the way, I wonder if any of you have guessed who this great man is? He is among my friends on myspace.... Quite a drag to try and figure it out, I am sure!

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