The people of Russia and the former Soviet Union have long had their access to Western art, culture and information suppressed and curated by the State. Just look at what’s going on in the country right now.
Consequently it’s always been hard to be a Beatle fan, especially when bans on Western popular music were actively policed and the consequences for flouting the laws could be devastating. Just take a look at this post from earlier this year. As we said then: there was a time when you had to be tough and take risks as an individual to be a fan in public. The KGB (a.k.a. the Soviet secret service and other authorities) came down very hard on anyone who dared to say they “….loved Lennon more than Lenin”.
Witness also the lengths that Beatle fans went to in order to listen to their favourite band’s music, right down to covertly cutting tracks onto old x-ray film. This became known as “music on bones” and you can check out our article on that here.
Subsequent to the fall of the Soviet Union things have become a little easier but it’s still been a relatively rocky road for Russian fans compared to those of us in the West.
Now comes a book that tries to sum up what it was like to be a Beatle fan across those years and into the solo Beatle years as well. It’s not about the Beatles themselves, but about how they were loved in the USSR. The English translation of the book’s title says it all really: How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR.
By the way, the author Dmitry Karasyuk is a totally blind man.
You should know that How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR is in Russian, and at 760 pages it is quite some undertaking. It contains many memoirs (funny and tragic) of both famous and very ordinary people. There are also many personal memories, and many, many photographs from fan archives. Almost every page has images or memorabilia related to the times. Here are just two random samples:
At the end of the book there is a short description in English. This is worth reading as its an excellent overview of the sort of information this book contains and what it is trying to achieve (click on image to see a larger version):
We mentioned how tough it was being a Beatle fan in the USSR. Here’s just one story from the book to help illustrate that – a story with a real twist in the tail:
In the early 1970s a young man buying Beatle records was detained at a flea market and taken to the local police station. There one of the police officers (police in the USSR were called militsiya) had an “educational conversation” with him (i.e. he gave him a slap on the wrist) saying that it was not good for a young builder of communism to listen to such enemy capitalist music. Later the young man happened to meet that same militsiya on the street. And the policeman asked: “If I give you a tape could you please record some Beatles music on it for me?”
Another very interesting section of How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR contains chapters about the Melodiya and Antrop companies which eventually released Beatle and solo records in the USSR – both officially, and not so officially.
The author spoke with former employees of Melodiya. They talk about how Beatle tracks finally came to appear on records in the 1970s, how Beatle and solo records were officially released in the 1980s, and where the sources for these releases came from.
The author also found Andrey Tropillo, the founder of Antrop Records, and in a long interview with him Tropillo tells how he created/launched the company, how and where he pressed vinyl, how they made alternative sleeves, and much more. And how, in the end, Antrop turned into Santa.
It’s not known whether the publisher will eventually translate the entire book into English. This, we’re told, is quite a challenge because there’s a lot of original Soviet youth slang which can’t be translated into other languages “in all its beauty”.
This love of all things Beatles endures. This young woman (whose name is Jane Enenko) is in the book. She hails from remote Siberia, and was invited on stage during a 2015 Paul McCartney tour:
We realise How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR is aimed at a very special market. The fact that it is written in Russian dictates that. But it is such a labour of love, and so comprehensive in it’s scope, we thought it very worthy of a mention here.
Russian-speaking fans of The Beatles living outside of Russia can buy the book from the German online store Esterum: Russian books worldwide, which is located in Frankfurt. It is also available from this online book store in the EU – in Riga, Latvia.
FYI here’s the rear cover. (Click on the link to see a larger version and to read the text – if you understand Russian!)