LET FREEDOM RING
Article by Jon Bon Jovi
It took a solid year of negotiations before we even got to Newark Airport.
Prior to the release of New Jersey, we met with Dennis Berardi, president of Kramer Guitars, Stas Namin, a Russian underground hero and musician, and Gorky Park, a Russian band Richie Sambora and I have written and recorded with. Stas wanted to get Gorky Park an American record deal, and the reason he approached Dennis (and a big part of Russia doing business internationally) was trust.They're a little inexperienced in the international music business--the industry's just beeen born there. In essence, it's like "Back to the Future"--you can walk right into Russia and teach the people the future. A few years before, Dennis had given Stas some guitars and didn't ask for anything in return. He just said "Here, take them back to Russia. Go ahead." So Stas, who's sold 40 million records but never had any monetary success in the West, trusted Dennis and developed a friendship with him.
I met Stas last summer in New Jersey at Berardi's house, and I wanted to meet this band Gorky Park. I had just taken a bunch of promo shots for New Jersey wearing a Russian T-shirt. I didn't think anything of it, to me it was just a clean shirt. But Stas thought it was a big deal that he could take these picture back to Russia and help us, as an American band, gain popularity there. So we said, "Sure, go ahead, yeah, great," thinking nothing would ever come of it. But it did.
Through Kramer, through our mange Doc McGhee, through Polygram, and through that trust, Gorky Park got a record deal. Richie and I had agreed to write and produce something for them, wich we did, and they invited us to play Russia. As it happened, we were planning to do a show for the Make a Difference Foundation somewhere in the world. So we said, "Why don't we go
there? Why not?" Our attitude has always been to do more than the expected. Moscow was the unexpected.
Last winter, while on our European tour, we flew to Russia to introduce ourselves to a country that doesn't have the press or the radio or MTV or magazines or record stores or anything that we in the West are accoustomed to. It was really just a three-day press junket that Stas set up, finding anyone who would talk to us. For newspaper interviews, the guy doesn't come to your hotel, you go to the newspaper office, where about 20 staff members stand around. You sip tea, shoot the shit. But their questions are like,
"How much money do you make? Do you own a car? Do you have a house?" I was sitting at a long table with all these reporters, and I reached over to shake hands with a music critic. I knocked over my glass and broke it. Everyone started clapping while I was apologizing, because to them breaking a glass means good luck.
We went to a TV show that looked like the cheapest cable TV show. There's only one channel there; the other one seems to always play test patterns. On the show we talked about the idea of doing the concert, and Stas got our "Living On a Prayer" and "You Give Love a Bad Name" videos played. We got a lot of attention; Stas and Doc got their game plan. Stas is wery powerful; his grandfather was the head of the Politburo. So they talked to the Minister of Peace, the Minister of Culture and Gos Concerts and got them all involved. They'd never ever done anything like this before.
Stas is a heavy cat. One night in Red Square, at 3:00 in the morning, he pointed up to a window in the Kremlin and said "Right up there, that's where I was as a kid. I was born in the Kremlin." You just go, "Wow, that's a very, very heavy."
In essence, Stas runs Gorky Park, wich is an actual park. It has an
amphitheater, a minor-league recording and rehearsal studio, and what they consider a nightclub. It's acres and acres and acres of beautiful land right on the water, big gates and soldiers. No wonder he doesn't use that big D word and defect. He's got it pretty good. He's sort of like their Dick Clark or Alan Freed. Now it was his time to help the kids, to bring rock'n'roll to the Soviet kids.
Stas took us to Lenin Stadium in the 1980 Olympic Village, wich is on the outskirts of Moscow. It was covered in snow; we were the only ones there; it was a really pretty picture that will always be etched in my mind. Stas said he could make the festival happen. And he and Doc convinced the goverment how worthwhile it would be. For two reasons. In America, people aren't as impressed by cause concerts anymore, because of the Live Aid and Amnesty.
It's like "Oh yeah, Another big event." In Russia, the impact would be greater. Throughout our lives we've been told that we can't go to the Soviet Union, that the bad guys live there. So in Russia, a show like this would bypass all the seemingly insurmountable political and cultural differences. And the proceeds would go to combat drug and alcohol abuse, wich is atleast one thing the two superpowers have in common.
I wanted to take my father with us. I tried to take anyone who wanted to experience this, because the Festival seemed pretty historic to me. But my old man, who's a serious American, said "No way, I don't want to go there. I have no intention of seeing the place." In their minds, people stil believe the Russians are the bad guys. But it's getting better every day.
"Our Interpreter, who writes for a magazine, told me that Russian villagers said, 'We're not interested in the music business, we're not even interested in the news. Show us some sausage. We forgot how it looks like, let alone get it, let alone eat it.'"
When we arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, August 9, there was a huge press corps waiting for us. They've only let that many journalists from around the world on the tarmac at one time twice before: for Prince Charles and Reagan. And now for us. It was pretty amazing, but I don't know how it made me fee. For the last five years of my life, I've been hearing things about our band
that sound like fiction. I can't belive half the things that we've been lucky enough to experience, so it's all a blur. I don't think that anything in my career is going to really sink in untill it's over. Then I'll look back on it and say, "Yeah we did that:"
We didn't have to go through customs but they did take our passports. Our luggage went straight onto the buses. Nobody questioned anything. In order to do a press conference, we went into this little nothing room, about the size of a living room. And they said, "Nobody comes in here, nobody's allowed to come in here and use these rooms. Only our politicians use these rooms." I was pretty nervous because I didn't want to say the erong thing,
and the first question they asked was, "With your Italian heritage, did the Mafia in the past or in the present or does it in the future play a role in the band?" That broke the ice. I said, "No, no, you don't understand." I thought , "This guy has seen 'The Godfather' once and he belives that Sinatra is connected." That's what I get for calling the tour the Jersey Syndicate.
I guess the Russian impression of America must be pretty disturbed, too, because my impression of Russia was just tanks running down the street, and bad guys selling steroids on every corner, giving the kids milk and steroids in the morning so they can be Olymic athlets. But I thought, "Hey, they're a super military power, they're super athlets. So they've got to have good running water and McDonald's. Almost everyone else in the world does." But by isolating themselves and sheltering themselves, they've lost 70 years of progress in the world. In the last 70 years, everyone knows the world has changed drastically. It seems like they missed it.
After the press conference, we went to our hotel, the Ukraina. It was a Russian four-star hotel, but in America, it would be a no-star motel. But it was a bed, or so they said, and I was fading. I was one of the lucky ones; my room had hot water and a shower curtain and only four cockroaches. But the dent in my mattress would be considered a pothole in New York City. After eating burgers and pig sandwiches at a makeshift Hard Rock Cafe in
Gorky Park, I went back to the Ukraina to sleep.
On Friday, the fourth day, I decided to check out the stage at Lenin Stadium. It was huge, as big as a football field, and every inch of it was flown in from the West. There was a television screen bigger than a small house--a huge fucking screen--on a field a hundred yards wide. The sound system was three stories tall. The stage spun, and Peter Max painted the scrims. It was a full blown Western decadence in Downtown Moscow.
I anticipated 100,000 people at the hotel; I don't know why that didn't happen. Maybe they were afraid to come. Maybe. I don't know. Last winter, the first time we were there, we tried to sneak kids in the hotel; common Soviet citizens aren't permitted to enter the hotels. The authorities found out and grabbed them, put them in this room. If Wayne Isham, our video director, didn't go and scream up a storm, I hate to think what would have happened to those couple of girls that we tried to say were crew, just walking in with cases and stuff. But Wayne screamed and yelled and panicked and got Stas, and Stas got htem out of there.
This time, eight months later, I brought this guy wearing a Guns'n'Roses T-shirt up to my room. He had sneakers on. He was 26 or 27. And he was ready to cry. I was just blown away by this. I just said, "Here. Whatever you want, man, take it. Whatever I got, you can have." And he was just trying to ask me questions. "Do you know Guns'n'Roses? Will you ever come back here?" His eyes started to well up with tears. He didn't ask me about my
life, he only wanted to know music. And he didn't stay long; I gues he knew he didn't belong there.
Saturday, the day of the first show, there was another kid, Oleg. This kid--couldn't have been 18 years old--should come to America, because he would be one of those success stories waiting to happen. He would own New York.
He wanted to trade things: Soviet military watches for American cassettes, Russian caviar for T-shirts and film, Soviet Army caps and berets for waist packs and jeans. He said he bought his way out going into the army, he learned how to speak English in six months, and he gives a little something to the cops in Red Square so when all the tourists are there, he can trade stuff with them. He looked like Michael J. Fox: cleancut, button down shirt (wich is a serious American giveaway because it's really hard to get button
down shirts in Russia), wore a camera around his neck, sneakers, things that he'd traded for. He reads copies of Time magazine. That's the kind of things he wants to trade for, Western literature, especially current media stuff. So he'd read about Bejing, and wanted to know more about the West. Apparantly, the official Russian story was: There was a student uprising against the goverment. Not why, not that people were killed, just that these
rowdy kids got crazy. He hung out a lot with my wife and with Obie, our recording engineer. Obie's a pretty funny guy. You know the record clubs they advertise in magazines? Buy 10 records for a penny? He said, "Here Oleg, send this in. Hey, if you don't buy any more records, what are they gonna do? Chase you down?" Obie gave Oleg his phone number. "Here's my phone number, If you're ever in Philadelphia, look me up."
We hadn't been home for three days when the phone rang. It was Oleg calling from downtown Moscow. He told us what it takes to leave Russia (you can't leave Russia unless you have a sponsor, money in a bank account and a job in the country you're going to). He said, "I have only a mother, I don't have a father. Bring me to America. I'll do anything." Immediately my wife wanted to adopt him. She said "We have to bring him to America." I said "You gotta
be kidding me. You're wild, how can you do this?`" Obie said, "Don't worry about it. I'm bringing him to America." I don't know where that stands right now. But they'd absolutely fallen in love with this kid, wanted to bring him home in a suitcase. He made a serious lasting impression on them.
Our interpreter, Alek, was a real intelligent guy who writes for a
newspaper, sort of like an independent magazine. He went on a publicity tour, a promotional tour for this magazine, to places like Siberia and all the little Russian villages. He told me that people said, "We're not interested in the music business, we're not even interested in the news. Show us some sausage. We forgot how it looks like, let alone get it, let alone eat it. We forgot what it fucking looks like. Talk to us about food." Hearing these stories I was completely aghast.
We slipped out of the hotel with Alek. Eight months ago, I know I couldn't have done that because guys would have been all over me like a cheap coat. We went to the black market, where they buy and trade records, wich is set up like a flea market on weekends. They call it a black market, but they don't go to jail for having it anymore. Three years ago, they weren't allowed to organize. They'd meet up secretly. They'd hold lists in the palms
of their hands. They'd say, "At 12:00 I'll meet you on the corner. Here's what I've got to trade, here's what I wanna get." Then they'd eat the list and be gone. If you were caught with the list--jail. If you were caught buying one of these records--jail.
Now the black market is set up in a round room that's used as a nightclub where local bands play all night. They have about 15 records displayed on each table, 90 percent of them from the West, current, very current. They had our record in there imported from Yugoslavia. Now, Melodia, the Soviet label, is releasing New Jersey. It's the first Western record ever to be
officially released in Russia. So it's in stores and the kids can afford it--three or four rubles--because it's an official release. I got a copy of McCartney's Back in the USSR (wich is worth about $200 in the States becuse it's only avaliable through Melodia). They had Elvis's greatest hits, wich is sort of like a bootleg that Melodia put together. They call it That's Allright Mama. It didn't seem like a lot of people where buying records. People go there to buy and trade and just get together and talk about music--because the prices are so high ($80 to $100 for an album), they just look and listen.
I tried to pick up a record just to see what country it was from and the guy behind the table lost his mind. "Don't touch the merchandise!" It's like picking up gold there.
Alek goes there just to look because it's so expensive. Sometimes he trades his father's old standards for some Western rock'n'roll. He's getting access to a radio program, wants to get records played on the radio. He had a CD player, wich is unheard of, that he brought in from somewhere in Europe. I had about 10 CD's with me; I gave them all to him. The Atlantic Blues collection, Sign O' the Times, some Queen, Don Henley's the "Batman" soundtrack. These people open your heart up so much you'd give them anything.
At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 12, the Soviets got their first taste of New Jersey. Skid Row opened the show. Every band was there at 1:00 in the afternoon--we weren't even going on till 10:00 that night--because of the anticipation. The head of the Soviet Peace Committee, a gray-haired guy in a sky-blue suitm, made the opening announcements and lit the torch for the first time since the 1980's Olympics. Here's this very heavy guy telling the kids in Russian, "Have a good time, enjoy this. You are the future." Even he had opened up to the idea of exposing the kids to the West.
The Skidscame out: the first think Sebastian Back said was, "Check this out, motherfuckers." And I thought, "Oh no. They give us charte blanche and we give them Sebastian." But no one did anything, there was absolutely no cencorship. They played a good set and were fairly well-received for a band that had never ever been heard of. But when they went off stage, the entire stadium started this chant, "Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!" And it kept building.
We were saying, "Fuck, Ozzy's gonna steal this fucking show. This is wild, this is great." Ozzy was right behind the stage, and I saw him perk up like a fucking 2-year old. He was so excited. And I was so happy for him--this guy who's been in the business 20 years, about to do the last show of his tour. He was going to go home for a while, going to take it easy.
So Oz had his hands up in the air, knowing that it was his day. But he went on to a pretty lukewarm reception.And he didn't play bad, he played very well. Immediately, I had the whole event in perspective. I understood. For 20 years, they'd seen his picture, for 20 years they'd heard his music--from Black Sabbath to his last solo album. But he wasn't a real peson to them. He was imaginary. And in their imagination, he could have been blue and 30 feet
tall. But on that stage he was just a man. He'd been reduced to a mortal. At that moment, I understood. We weren't just doing a rock show, we had to make an impression, one that would last. We had to make friends with these people even with the terrible language barrier and all the preconceptions.
I was in the recording truck watching the Scorpions, the only ones who had the advantage of having played in Russia before. For me, there was a nervous anticipation, knowing I had to close the show after such a killer live band. The first tour I ever did was opening for the Scorpions. But I was always real dangerous if I was your opening act, because if I found a hole I knew how to utilize it.
So there it was, right down the center of the stadium, hundreds of Soviet Soldiers, arm in arm, formed a human barricade to seperate the seas of people. And I saw the hole. So after the Scorpions, when the hammered out "Lay Your Hands On Me," I did Rocky Balboa in a full military outfit right down the middle of Lenin Stadium. Right down the center of those soldiers, in front of 90,000 kids. They were smiling, trying to reach at me, and the Olympic torch burned brightly over their heads. Going right down the center in a Russian uniform, that was all it took. I felt like one of them then.
I definetly think the Moscow Music Peace Festival did something for peace. The American ambassador attended and he had nothing to do with the show. Absolutely nothing. He showed up and said, "This is something tha we couldn't have done, politicians could have never done. I can't belive you guys pulled this off." Because we didn't understand where the red tape was, we just pretended it didn't exist. "Trust us, trust us, it'll work." When the ambassador to America is there, you think that maybe somehow he relayed
the message back to the President of the United States. And all of a sudden, in a roundabout way, the President's aware of who Bon Jovi is. You think, Check that out. Of course, I'm pulling my own strings, because if he knew anything, he knew of this event. But you have to build it up in your own mind: Yeah, man, and I bet he's got the last two albums, too. But it was an amazing feeling.
The trip, the event, really made me think about the freedom in my life. I learned all the words to "God Bless America." You bet I did. There's a lot of problems in America, mind you. But I've been just about everywhere and if I haven't been there yet, I'm on the way this tour. And there's nothing that even comes close to America. Some guys wrote a constitution 200 years ago and it still stands up today. That's some insight, foresight. That's pretty amazing. There's the opportunity to do anything. Christ, that's the basis of my entire life. You can do anything.
I'll never forget being onstage in Lenin Stadium, that guy from the Peace Committee to my left in the front row and a girl sitting on a guy's shoulders waving a huge American flag, the politicians, the soldiers tapping their feet along with the music, and then over to my right was the fucking Olympic torch. I felt like an athlete and I felt like a politician and I felt like we were the focal point of something pretty historic. Of course, we won't remember that the sound sucked or things like that. You try to forget all that and you make your mind belive that it was the most beautiful thing in the world. I hope it did good. And I think maybe it did.