On Tuesday, May 19, hundreds of people lined up in front of the Webster Hall concert venue in Manhattan’s East Village, and most of them were speaking Russian. Expats, first generation immigrants and tourists, they all came to catch Boris Grebenshchikov on a rare American tour. He’s the man who essentially invented rock music in Russia, and has been one of the most respected and influential singer-songwriters in the country for several decades.
Grebenshchikov, 61, who started making music in the early 1970’s with his band Aquarium, is often described as the Russian counterpart to Bob Dylan. Though this label greatly oversimplifies both musicians’ legacies, certain aspects of the comparison make sense. A fan both of British and American rock (from Dylan to Marc Bolan, Lou Reed to Talking Heads) and the Russian literary tradition, Grebenshchikov – usually referred to as BG – synthesized contemporary Western culture with his native Russian one, interpreting the foreign sounds in his own way and creating a unique sub-genre with his brand of highly sophisticated and metaphoric lyricism. Essentially, since the mid-1980’s BG has assumed the role of the Russian Poet, an artist who put the nation’s spirit into song. Many of his lines have become their own kinds of proverbs in Russian, and hardly anyone who tries to write a song with a guitar there can escape his influence.
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