Soviets’ Premier Pop Ambassador Arrives
With the arrival of Soviet pop star Alla Pugachova in the United States--she performs tonight at the Shrine Auditorium--the cultural thaw between the world’s superpowers reaches a summit level: The Soviet Union is now sending us its Premier of Pop.
Pugachova, a robust, red-haired woman who says she’s in her late 30s, is wildly popular in the Soviet Union, sort of a Barbra Streisand and a George Michael combined. All seven of the semi-hard pop/rock songs off of her latest Melodiya album have been the top-selling singles since the album’s release earlier this year, and crowds of 50,000 are commonplace whenever she performs in the Soviet Union.
Here in the United States, though, all of her Soviet success means little--the halls are smaller and audiences are unaware of her--and Pugachova is aware of that. Roused by her manager in true pop-star style from a mid-afternoon nap, Pugachova waxed philosophical about her expectations for her first American tour, which concludes Sept. 16 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
“Naturally, on the first tour, you serve as ambassador of sorts, helping to erase the negative stereotypes we still have about each other,” she said in Russian, lighting a cigarette. “That is not to say we do not represent our countries fully, or that compromises are made in the performance . . . but we must remember that music remains the best weapon (we have) against ignorance and fear.”
Pugachova admitted to some trepidation about performing in the United States, but quickly added that Americans should be interested to hear the Soviet response to American pop and rock--the music of overwhelming choice for young people in Warsaw Pact countries.
“In some ways, though, I wish there were a musical analogue to Esperanto,” Pugachova said. “Music is something easily transferred from country to country--but not lyrics, which are so important in pop music.”
In this, Pugachova aligned herself with the position taken by Soviet folk singer-poet Vladimir Visotsky (and in this country, by Bob Dylan): that the pop singer has no small responsibility to convey and comment on society.
“Before the present, more open times,” Pugachova said, “this was mostly describing feelings and attitudes we all share. Now there are some ways to talk about the way things are really going on, and there are groups that are doing this a lot . . . but, in a way, people going to a pop music concert don’t want to hear about politics. They want to escape the world.”
But she doesn’t dismiss the current wave of “metallists,” or teen-aged protest rockers, that is now enjoying vogue in the Soviet Union’s urban centers.
“They are answering a need among young people,” she said. “At some point, disaffection among young people occurs, and in that sense, metallists were bound to appear--and they did. And this draws a line too between music lovers of all ages.
“But this is part of the problem, all these categories and denominations,” Pugachova went on. “What’s needed now is some musical figure who can make bridges between all sorts of different music fans, linking them all by their love for music, another like your Leonard Bernstein. That would be a force to think about.”
Until the musical messiah comes, however, Pugachova is quite content singing her songs and being a pop star.
“You are going to think I don’t mean this, but I do,” she said coquettishly. “I am really like a bird, singing on a tree somewhere. It doesn’t matter whether I am singing for a million people or for only myself. What matters is the song itself, and the connection it makes between your soul and mine.
“And we are not as different as birds and people, Russians and Americans. A song means the same thing to both of us.”