Saturday, March 22, 2014

Russian Cathedrals and Rock & Roll


When Pussy Riot "scandalously" and "blasphemously" performed in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral a few years ago, I recall making the following offhand remark: "There's something very rock n' roll about Russian Orthodox cathedrals."

The person I made this remark to didn't quite understand what I meant. Well, for a few years now I have collected photos on the internet of rock and pop stars who all have one thing in common: they all find Russian Orthodox cathedrals, especially St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square, to be very rock and roll. Perhaps its the architecture, the coloring, the onion domes, the history, the association with Ivan the Terrible, or whatever it is, many rock stars have chosen it as background for publicity photos perhaps more than any other sacred landmark in the world.

When rock groups from the West began to be invited to perform in the U.S.S.R in the 1970's, it seemed as if the air of freedom that rock and roll represents was a sign that the Cold War and dictatorial regimes were coming to an end in the Soviet Union. Some would even say that Rock n' Roll, especially the Beatles, helped bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. To "conquer" the Kremlin with music was perhaps the highest achievement at the time for any rock star to attain. So besides all the aesthetics, it may be for this reason that there is something very rock n' roll about Russian Orthodox cathedrals, especially magnificent St. Basil's, which is a spectacular human achievement.

Below are a few examples:

In 1977 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was the first American group allowed by the Soviet Union to tour Russia, playing concerts and a televised appearance that is estimated to have been watched by 145 million people.

On May 21, 1979, in Leningrad, Elton John opened a series of concerts in the Soviet Union, becoming one of the first Western rock stars ever to perform in the Soviet Union.

Elton John with his mother

David Bowie

David Bowie and Iggy Pop

David Bowie and Iggy Pop

Brinsley Ford, David Byrne (Talking Heads), David Evans (U2), Peter Gabriel at Greenpeace International in 1989


The Rolling Stones

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

Billy Joel

Brian May (Queen)

Joe Perry (Aerosmith)

Joey Kramer (Aerosmith)

Joey Kramer (Aerosmith)

George Michael

Reginald Arvizu (Korn)

Marilyn Manson

Andrew W.K.

Todd Kerns

System of a Down

Lady Gaga