DDT in St Petersburg, 1995

by Christina E. Petrides

There was lots of beer, Mexican-style chips, Orange Crush, cigarette smoke, and Orthodox church candles. Near the stage the crowd surged and fell back under the clubs of militiamen. Elsewhere, an unconscious boy lay prone (with only the whites of his eyes visible through half-opened lids), a professional prostitute plied her trade, respectable middle-class families with children sat picnicking on the grass, and wide-mouthed loud teenaged girls sat on their boyfriends’ shoulders and blocked the view of us shorter folk. 

M and I left home for the DDT concert around 4:30 yesterday afternoon. I wore my hair down, heavy dark blue eyeshadow, red lipstick, my purple Harley Davidson T-shirt, dirty black jeans, and hiking boots. I lent my young hostess my tennis shoes, because I figured her usual flats wouldn’t be practical. She said that I had transformed–not one of my friends would recognize me. I carried a sack of bread while M toted my camera. Our attire got yells from some neighborhood boys on the walk to the Prospect Bolshevikov Metro Station: “Hey girls!” This was unusual for both of us, and we both started giggling about it—dress silly, get silly reactions, and act uncharacteristically silly.

We belied our attire and remained quiet in transit. A woman who asked M for directions to Alexander Nevsky Monastery called her a “sweet girl,” which I am sure punks such as we were pretending to be don’t get called often. Fifteen minutes early to our rendezvous, we bought gum at a kiosk and mingled with other concert-goers. I fit right in—only I was cleaner than most.

Everyone walked about a mile to the stadium-island. We went through security two hours before showtime (my pepper-spray and pocket-knife buried deep in my fanny-pack), and spent the remaining time standing near a booth which was selling music and shirts—I bought a tape of DDT music called “That’s All” for a dollar. We listened to the opening bands play on a platform underneath one of the 4 big light-towers, and watched the people. M’s friends, who had smuggled in a bottle of Russian beer in a backpack, busied themselves with drinking an “official” can they bought of American beer and refilling it from their bootleg supply. Not entirely successful with this delicate operation, the girls departed for the restrooms (no toilets or stall doors, but clean) to finish off the bottle. 

We sat down on some steps under the bleachers because clouds had come up and we thought it might rain. A man at the gate said that we would have to go elsewhere when the concert finally started—our lower-priced tickets were for the field only. The boy in our group overheard this, but said we should stay put, and M gave in, saying “He’s the boy.” 

 M would not ordinarily mix with the “low life” which pressed around us on the infield at the concert. She told me that four levels of speech classify Russians into the intelligentsia, colloquialism-users, smaller groups which have their own dialects or jargon, and the lowest of the low, people who communicate in language peppered heavily with expletives. M ranks herself in the first class: she speaks in a highly literary way, and does not use the abbreviated street-conversational colloquialism of the average Petersburger, nor the slang of the third, and never, ever, the foul words of the fourth. There was a lot of drinking and a lot of swearing among the concert attendees.

One minute, a tall shapely prostitute was standing with another girl (her tight black velveteen dress was too short to sit down in) next to us, and not five minutes later, she was wearing a sailor’s hat (one of the many enlisted guys from the nearby Kronstadt Naval Base) and sitting on his shoulders. Soon they were kissing. The boy, who was several inches shorter, had a fatuous expression on his face. The couple left to do their business and came back looking like a pair of stray dogs, companionable and mangy. 

The general appearance of the audience and the content of the DDT songs didn’t match. The lead singer spent some three years reading philosophy and the Russian “Great Books” so that he could write illuminating lyrics to his rock/alternative tunes. One refers to Pushkin by first name and patronymic, a long-hand for the poet that every educated Russian knows. His intellectually weighty songs were about God—M and her friends sat silent on the plastic grass-cover soaking up the words. However, many people were dancing and shouting and laughing, which distressed my companion enormously—the teenagers were just listening to the music, and not what the man on stage was singing.

Compared to American metal concerts I’d seen on TV, the crowds were still as mice. The general liveliness did increase over the 3-hour performance and the closer we went to the stage—traveling through both time and space, we migrated from dead waters to raging seas. M, shorter than I, couldn’t see well, so we tagged along in one boy’s wake, then another, as they cut a path through the jungles of slightly inebriated people weaving and jerking, though clouds of cigarette smoke and beer fumes. It was fairly easy for us 2 small girls to move front and center, under the camera boom to just a few feet from the unhappy militia-men keeping the stage clear of the exuberant (the DDT leader stopped the music several times to tell the crowd to calm down and quit being so loud). One young person was pulled by a militia-man from a floodlight’s top platform. 

The concert hadn’t actually started until 9 pm, an hour late. The helicopter from the Peter and Paul Fortress dropped leaflets into the stadium—sprinkling down multi-colored papers with the name of the show. Parachutists floated in to land behind the midfield light booth, where we were sitting. A couple of planes flew salutes low overhead, another twisted and flipped, and two ultralights buzzed the arena. Much dry-ice smoke poured from the stage and the lights flashed before finally the musicians appeared. We left at midnight—the group was on its last song, but the Metro closed between 12:30 and one, and I had class early today. We missed the fireworks. While we were waiting for one of the last subway trains, an older man came up to M and gave her a flowered branch of white laurel, telling her “Thank you for being beautiful,” before turning away.

BIO: Christina E. Petrides teaches English on Jeju Island, ROK. She writes poetry and children’s books, and also translates histories from Russian. Her website is: http://www.christinaepetrides.com

Photo: By floridaguyjoe


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