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The Moscow News №32 / 20 – 26 August 2013 community 19 Bowie causing a stir in Red Square in 1973 after traveling from Nakhodka to Moscow by train history Bowie in the USSR How Ziggy Stardust took the Trans-Siberian Railway and survived themoscownews It was a snowy April day just over 40 years ago at the small station of Yerofei Pavlovich in the Far East of Russia when the Trans-Siberian train stopped en route to Moscow. Soldiers stood on the small station’s platform, which was piled high with snow, and watched as the foreign passengers got off and started to throw snowballs at each other. Another group of soldiers bumped into the first, as they were distracted by the sight of a passenger disembarking from the train. Dressed in a yellow leather jacket with a matching fur collar and a large checked cap, the young man with bright red hair stepped down onto the platform, a visitor not just from another world, but another planet. David Bowie was in the Soviet Union. Scared of flying, Bowie had taken the Trans-Siberian Railway as part of his Ziggy Stardust world tour. He was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, and yet he was spending a week journeying across a land where his records could not be sold, and his songs never played on the radio. *** Forty years later, that trip is almost forgotten, but luckily there were two other men in attendance: Geoffrey MacCormack, the bongo player on the tour, and Robert Muesul, a veteran UPI correspondent who wrote a brilliant report on the trip. MacCormack was one of Bowie’s oldest friends. The two met when Bowie was then simply David Jones at primary school in Bromley, just outside London. In 1972, MacCormack got a call out of the blue just as Bowie was about to go on tour. Would he fancy quitting his job at trade journal Construction News to come and play bongos on the tour with him? MacCormack, not surprisingly, jumped at the chance. He would later create the 2007 photo book “From Station to Station,” about his life on that tour. The world tour began in Britain and continued in the U.S. before heading to Japan, where Bowie fever was at its height. But Bowie’s deep fear of flying – he had travelled by ship to the U.S. and on to Japan – meant that he took the train back across Russia. First, he had to get to Russia from Japan. He and MacCormack boarded a Soviet cruise ship called the “Felix Dzerzhinsky” (after the secret police founder) to the port of Nakhodka. Tourists were likely directed through Nakhodka as Vladivostok, where the Trans- Siberian finishes, was a closed military city at the time. Bowie walked onto the ship carrying an acoustic guitar. He and MacCormack headed straight for the bar, where they were instantly approached by two men who were dressed smartly, spoke with strong American accents, tried to make friends and asked lots of questions. “When they inquired as to our political leanings, we excused ourselves and walked away,” wrote MacCormack, who was convinced they weren’t real Americans but KGB agents. It was simple deduction, he told Bowie: “They didn’t have a clue who you were.” That night, the crew changed out of their sailor’s uniforms into traditional costumes to play a concert for the mainly European and Japanese tourists on board the boat. They sang, danced and played balalaikas. At some point during the concert, Bowie disappeared, returning with his guitar and MacCormack’s bongos for an impromptu show. The crew gave up the stage. Somewhere between Japan and the Soviet Union, Bowie sang “Space Oddity,” the 1969 hit that made him famous and befitted the train journey he was about to take. “For here am I sitting in a tin can far from the world Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do” The Bowie sing-a-long went down a storm with the tourists, but MacCormack thinks it was the second song that conquered the Russians. “Amsterdam” is a cover of the Jacques Brel sailor’s song, which is loosely sung to the melody of the English folk song “Greensleeves.” At the time, the lyrics would never have made it on British radio, let alone Soviet. “In the port of Amsterdam There’s a sailor who drinks And he drinks and he drinks And he drinks once again He’ll drink to the health Of the whores of Amsterdam” © GEOFF MACCORMACK Kevin O’Flynn Watching the May Day parade from the Intourist hotel The pair spent the rest of the night drinking with the Russian crew, who tapped Bowie for anything he could tell them about music and art in the West. “I left David with the prettiest of the Russian girls, whom he’d managed to completely captivate,” wrote MacCormack. 20-21

David bowie travels across the ussr

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