You know, sometimes I get tired of the sound of my own voice. It should come as no secret to anyone who has ever attempted to write to an audience -- especially if you are a journalist -- that the idea is to grab people's attention. And what better way -- aside from giving blood-curdling descriptions (fortified by graphic photos) of decapitated heads and dismembered bodies -- than to raise a howl of complaint about this or that, a shriek of outrage about that or this, or, if nothing else, just bitch about the gloomy Moscow weather.
In other words, nobody ever got rich by writing novels about successful marriages. So the idea is to sing soliloquies to the utter hellishness of life.
I am on holiday in Bulgaria now: the great dogs have been walked over hill and dale in the early hours, the delicious breakfast devoured, birds are tweeting and the gift of light from the sun is radiating the autumn fields that towards evening will be crisp with mid-October chill. I sit at my desk and understand: This is perfection. Thus, it is easy to be happy today. (I have just checked the weather in Moscow and apparently, it is 9 degrees C. and raining. Business as usual). Yet 'perfection' will prove temporary, for I must fly back to Russia in a little over a week -- there to resume the long, cold tramp through the black slush and cold pools of the streets of The Capitol. There, to come home alone to a 'bardak'' apartment' socks and underwear the flavor of mildewed sweat, a sink of crusty dishes, and a stove splashed with dead, scabby grease. Alas, the fate of the chaotic workaholic in the mega-city in need of a cleaning lady..(I've lost her number.)
And once again, weariness will set in; once more, a symphony of profanities will ricochet throughout the auditorium that is buried in my mind as I press and hack and weave through the gray hordes of people who resemble me completely in that our most sincere wish is that we could all make each other evaporate. This can occur both on the street and in the metro.
But there will also be smiles. Occasionally, laughter. You never know when something amusing or even poignant will happen. The train will start or stop suddenly and an arm will instinctively reach out to keep another person from falling. A child or a dog on-board the train will do something cute. People will offer those they deem in need of it their seats. It prompts us to remember that we are not always so bad after all.
And sometimes, there is music. I mean Real Music, as when some person or group of people jump on the train from out of nowhere and perform between stops. It's been going on for a long time, but lately, I have noticed something: These performers are getting better and better. Nowadays, whether it is a three-piece band consisting of a for-real vocalist, hip saxophonist, and very down bongo drum player, or two guys simply break-dancing rakishly, preposterously, and SUPERBLY -- the shit is suddenly going down GREAT and I am reaching into my pocket to reward it. The money is the best I spend all day, including the jack that pays for the beer at night after work.
Music helps us get through life, as it always has. By this I do NOT mean such god-forsaken piped-in rubbish (always in English) as we are subjected to in all the cafes and fast food joints. Maybe Russians actually like it or can simply tune it out because they don't understand the insipid/idiotic lyrics. I, on the other hand, despise it, having heard most of the same crap since as far back as the 1970s. To me, it is like Chinese water torture. Likewise, I get annoyed by seeing all the young zombies in the metro automatically plug their IPods into their Bugs Bunny ears as soon as they sit down, open up their smartphone screens and just blot the rest of the real world out. Maybe they are enjoying the hell out of themselves, but to me they are retreating into a kind of psychologically cybernetic Ice Age. Often they don't really seem human anymore. They are beyond my reach. I feel that even waving my arms frantically in case of fire wouldn't get their attention. I have more in common with the plants in my kitchen window and the trees in the forest.
But there is an exception to this, and -- as on the metro trains -- I have noticed it increasingly all over Moscow. This is the absolutely wonderful live music that is being played inside the stations themselves and along the subways and connecting walk-throughs almost everywhere you go in the Center. One hears it in Bibliotheca Lenina, Komsomolskaya, Mayokovskaya, and Teatralnya, to name but a few -- such a splendid level of instrumental expertise and rich vocals -- encompassing everything from the purely classical to the stunningly innovative -- that one is left wondering just who is behind it all.
For sure, someone must be "behind it all." It didn't just happen. No doubt, documents had to be produced and approved, licenses granted, and the talent procured -- but whoever came up with this idea and saw it into effect -- he, she, or they deserve a Big Prize. I truly find myself in the embrace of top flight entertainment everywhere I go in the Center -- all of it for free !! -- and I refuse to be cynical about it. Of course, no matter what happens, somebody is sure to throw a wet blanket over the idea that it is there merely to produce joy, tranquility, and immense stimulation -- or else come pissing forth with some kind conspiracy theory. The usual "Ït's all being done to divert our attention from the grim realities...,", etc.
In that case, I don't care who or how or why. I love the sparkling talent that I see and hear everywhere, the glorious gift of creative Russian people young and old (if you walk around outside the green line metro in Novukuznetskaya, you will hear older folks who sing about as well as Frank Sinatra ever did), and, in summer, you can hang out in Kuznetsky Most and listen to magic up and down the crowded street from all kinds of sources both traditional and deliciously off-the-wall. (I guess I am starting to gush like a brochure!).. Some of the musical instruments which they play so expertly, I didn't even know existed... In fact, these individuals and groups do more to promote -- at least in my fossilized old mind -- a respect for 'modern art' than the inscrutable modern artists themselves do. Given what I see in the stations and on the trains, I can only guess at what must be shakin' in the great parks of the city, and I wish I had more time to spend there...
Once in a while, as the Sound of Music spreads enchantment into my ears, I even forget that I am in a hurry. Imagine that!! Just saying the hell with everything else and listening to some gifted young person.
But let me close with a couple of the more striking images that come to mind. In Kuznetsky Most, there is an old woman who sits on a bench while everything and everybody rushes around her -- in summer and early autumn that is; otherwise, the weather defeats her -- and plays the same melody over and over on her violin. It is balefully beautiful, but it's all she has in her repertoire, and I have heard it a thousand times. I often pay her a few rubles. Not always, but often enough that she appears to recognize me (maybe she doesn't).. I know nothing about her except that: she is old, she is there fiddling the same song again and again, and, finally, she seems impervious to the quiet tragedy that all of it implies. An old woman on a summer evening. What is her past? Who did she love? Where is that lover now?
Too, I remember my rides back to Moscow from Mitischi after I teaching evening classes there. In winter, there was a middle-aged, average-looking blond woman with pigtails who was a singer of Russian ballads... She would enter the car, knowing exactly how long she had between stops, and accompanied by a guy -- maybe her husband -- who played the guitar. The first time, having guzzled a beer or two before getting on the train, I greeted her appearance with all the dull acclaim of one espying, well... a pig-tailed middle-aged woman on a train somewhere in Russia singing for a handful of change. It could have been Finland or Argentina. And she could have been a refugee from some shop where rotting fruit is sold... Then she opened her mouth and started singing. Into my pocket again flew my hand, and when she went by me, I wanted to grab her and cry out ""Please-take-me-with-you-wherever you go!" -- and threw at her a love-smitten grin that she must have seen again and again up and down those tracks... And she smiled back at me.
I have heard Laura Fabian. I have heard Alla Pugacheva. I have heard Barbra Streisand. And I have heard that woman on the train from Mitischi to the Moscow station in Komsomolskaya.
===Eric Richard Leroy===