“It’s a great country for sure . . . I enjoy the people very much because they’re so open, so warm-hearted . . . very similar to our country. It was strange to see on the other side of the planet people who are very similar.”
Stas Namin, who is billed as one of the premier rock ‘n’ roll attractions in the Soviet Union, was offering his first impressions of the United States. Namin and the band that bears his name are here in connection with the “Peace Child” musical that will be staged tonight at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
While the group is playing instrumental music in the production, which has been described as a “Soviet-American peace musical,” the band will also perform its own electric hard-rock/Russian folk music Wednesday night at the At My Place club in Santa Monica.
Because Namin has been called a superstar back home, his participation in “Peace Child” is roughly equivalent to Bruce Springsteen offering to tour behind some small, nonprofit theatrical venture here--and the pay is on the same scale.
“It is non-commercial,” acknowledged Namin, losing an occasional verb or adjective but still getting his point across in serviceable English. “However, I think that the first visit of a Soviet rock group to the United States is more important than money.”
But he’s also hoping that the exposure here will lead to his returning with his full show.
“What we’re doing here is not something close to rock,” he explained. “We’re not here with (a) big program, with our equipment, pyrotechnics, lasers, everything. But it doesn’t matter because now we just want to meet good American musicians, to play with them--to play jam, maybe.”
Namin and hundreds of other students found an important ‘60s generational bond in Western rock ‘n’ roll.
Smuggled tapes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Who were passed from hand to hand, and students spent their leisure hours wailing away in amateur groups, including one named Flowers, which Namin formed.
In 1972, Flowers, a trio, won top honors at an annual festival of student bands in Moscow and was given permission to record its first single. The record reportedly sold 7 million copies. The band later expanded to seven members and changed its name. It has since sold 25 million records throughout the Eastern European bloc, he estimated.
Namin aims some of his records at the commercial dance market (“We have even break dancers in our discos,” he said), but also spices his tunes with lyrics by Russian poets.
“Because my opinion of rock comes from (the) time of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, when rock and roll was (an) expression from (the) soul, I think it’s necessary to have serious music and serious lyrics, too,” he said. “Then (in the ‘60s) rock was a message. Now it’s become a profession.”
Make no mistake, however: Being a rock musician inside the Soviet Union bears no resemblance to the image of the Western rock ‘n’ roll fast lane. For one thing, it’s not as profitable. The state puts a limit on earnings.
Still, working within the system as an “official” band has its rewards. Namin and his wife, Ludmilla Senchina, who is an equally successful ballad singer and is appearing in “Peace Child,” enjoy a large (by Moscow standards) apartment, their own car, a TV and VCR and are allowed to travel outside the country to work.
Besides touring here again, Namin hopes eventually to see his records sold in the United States. He said discussions are already under way with some U.S. labels. “I think that will be the first step, and the second step will be, vice versa, to have more recordings of American groups in our country.”