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The True Story Of My Life Written By Myself In Bad English

I was born as Anna Gerasimova in Moscow, 19 April 1961, a week after Gagarin's flight; the heroes of my childhood were Gagarin, Fidel Castro, The Three Musketeers and Winnie the Pooh. I loved books and dreamed to become a great writer. I loved singing, too, and attended a children's choir. Playing piano was not my strongest point; several years of training caused a severe allergy for classical music. At the age of 13 I got my first guitar, the cheapest acoustic monster made in USSR, and taught myself some chords. To be honest, my skill hasn't improved a lot since then. Combining good pitch with laziness, I was able to accompany my singing, and that was enough. My first songs were very few and funny; what I used to sing was mostly Vyssotsky, Okudjava and something from "Jesus Christ Superstar"; being an average Soviet girl, I knew very little about rock'n'roll.
At school, I never worked really hard, but everything came easy to me, and I always had some time for reading and writing (be sure that my first opuses were quite awful). In 1978, I graduated as the best pupil and entered Moscow Literature Institute, Dept. of Translation. I translated some poetry from German, English and French, but mostly from Lithuanian, my second language since my childhood: my parents, Bella Zalesskaya and Georgy Gerasimov, worked many years translating Lithuanian literature and promoting it in Russia and other republics. In the Institute, I was also one of the best students, even with less effort than at school; I've already found some bad company and was at last introduced to drinking, smoking, hitchhiking, and of course rock'n'roll. Some of my new pals wore long hair and torn jeans, being excitingly and dangerously beautiful, and I wanted to be one of them. Soon, though, I had to stop for a brief student marriage, resulting in two broken hearts and a nice little boy, my son Alex, who grew up to be my best mate in hiking, talking and thinking. He is still one of my closest friends.
After graduation in 1983, I was left in the Institute to write a dissertation. My goal was to entertain myself rather than to become a Ph.D., so I chose for my studies a group of avant-garde writers of the 1930s. They had lived in Leningrad, calling themselves OBERIU (The Real Art Foundation), almost never coming overground, and had been killed, almost all of them, by Stalin regime. When I began studying the archives, the group was still generally unknown and almost forbidden. Studying it was for me another proof to be a real bad girl, which I needed desperately after so many years of being the best pupil and all. Combining it with hitchhiking, drinks, smokes and other stuff, I seemed to succeed at last. After finishing my opus, I didn't go for my Ph.D., just leaving the heap of papers alone under my desk, Instead, I began writing songs and sing them everywhere, mostly in the streets, near campfires and at my friends' pads. I lived nowhere and everywhere and was very happy. It was '86, our own "'68 ass backwards", the year of strange, late Soviet hippy revival, rather rebellious under the pressure of moral and political restrictions, still strong in these first years of Perestroyka (and partly still alive today). With a little help from my friends, I recorded some early songs, without any professional attitude, in the people's kitchens and home studios. You can find them on a virtual CD "Oldies Butt-Goldies" ( At his very time I've got my hippy name, Umka, from one of the friends (actually it was the man I really loved, but he used to say he loved everybody). Umka is the name of the little white bear from an old cartoon, and "um" means "wit" in Russian. So "Umka" may mean "a smart girl who's like a little bear". The nickname couldn't be better.
I felt real freedom, and after some time it became too big for me. I couldn't stand it any more; the ideals of self-destruction being very far from me, I had to retreat for a while. Woman is a weak creature, indeed. My second marriage, in 1988, was longer but even worse than the first one. The guy, who seemed to be much of the same views and values when I first met him, turned out to hate everything I liked. He was really afraid of me singing. I spent the next few years finishing my studies, getting the Ph.D., writing articles and traveling abroad - the new kicks that became possible for us in Gorbachev times. I also traveled a lot with my son, living in the woods, climbing mountains, meeting new friends and finding new ways of my seemingly lost freedom. Also, it was a great fun to switch from Russian avant-garde to the Beats, whom I began studying and translating in the early 90s. I even wanted to write a "Big Beat Biography Book", in Russian, and almost got a grant to go to the USA to complete my studies. But I was foolish enough to tell the jury that in America I was going to follow Kerouac's hitchhiking routes, climb the peaks he had climbed, and meet his surviving friends. (Why didn't I say, to impress them finally, that I was going to try all beatnik drugs?). Of course, I got no grant. But my translations of Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums" and "Big Sur" has been published, and not once. I got almost no money, but understood something very useful for my life. I learned to think for myself, to do my own thing. By 1995, my marriage came fortunately to an end. I left home and burst into wild singing for everybody, everywhere.
Soon, a bunch of musicians gathered around me. They were mostly younger guys who had known my songs before they met me personally. (The old homemade tapes turned out to have spread rather widely during my silent years. It seemed that my semi-deliberate exile turned me from an unknown newcomer into kind of underground rock legend, which I found very entertaining.) With this constantly changing proto-band, I began playing free shows in the most wild places, on occasional and improper gear, gathering a growing crowd of hippies, students and people my age longing for some old-time fun. I feel I should name some of the guys I played with: Pavel Pichugin, keyboards, bass; Vladimir Kozhekin, harp; Ivan Zhuk, guitar, keyboards; Igor "Stalker" Vdovchenko, guitar, bass; Vladimir "Volos" Gerasimenko, bass; Vladimir "Bourbon" Burmistrov, drums; Fyodor Mashendzhinov, drums: and many others.
(Here I must say, specially for "foreign friends", a few words about rock music in my country. In the 70s, it was more or less anti-Soviet and West-oriented - we don't speak here, of course, about the quasi-rock bands following the rules suggested be the power. In the 80s, some underground bands became rather well-known; you can find plenty of information about them on the Internet. It was in Perestroyka years when the strange brand "Russian rock" was born: it meant something more "Russian" in lyrics and harmonies, though not genuinely folk. (I've always thought of rock as an international thing, musically based on the black blues roots. Being a professional translator I fully understand that one can sing properly only in one's native language. I know and love Russian poetry, though I don't consider myself a real poet; I know professionally what poetry is, and this is the answer to the common question: why I don't sing in English, even abroad. In the notes for each CD, I try to tell something about the original lyrics; but I'm sure that what you listen to in a song is not the plain sense of the words, but the intonation, which needs no translation.) On the other hand, many new bands in today's Russia are oriented on contemporary Western music trends. Being neither this nor that, we try to keep the tradition of the 60s - 70s music, - which seem to remain the highest point of rock'n'roll, from the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead, from Iggy Pop to Bob Dylan, - combining it with the traditions of Russian poetry, namely my favorite 20s - 30s.)
The following years turned into a constant history of making new songs, jamming, recording, releasing new CDs, and playing countless shows all over the country and abroad. The line-up has completely changed, and I'm fully satisfied with the band we've got today. In 1997, it was named "Bronevichok", "a small armored vehicle" (after some common jokes about Lenin). From the beginning, the name's been a joke; I had no better ideas and accepted it by chance, and later we had no time to change it. (Let it be some parallel to "Jefferson Airplane"). When I write these words (June 2005), we've just changed it, at last, to "Bronevik", which is a normal-sized armored vehicle. No diminutives any more, we are big boys now. Sometimes, especially abroad, we shorten it to "Bro", which is more convenient to a non-Russian ear.
Up to this day, we've got more than 400 songs, recorded and released near 20 CDs (I never know the exact number), not counting dozens of audio and video bootlegs and self-bootlegs, played hundreds of shows in more than 80 places all over the world, from Irkutsk (Siberia) to Portland (Oregon), and are ready for more. Once, mocking hippy-rock mentality, Frank Zappa said sarcastically: "If we cannot be free, we can at least be cheap". Taken literally, this is exactly our financial policy. In most towns of the post-Soviet space, people going in for rock music can hardly afford guest shows of the major Russian rock bands. We are ready to play for as much as we earn, and the ticket prices must be low enough just for all our friends (you may call them Broneheads, the term coined by Furman), being surprisingly many, to come in. We print our CDs under the friendly indie label "Otdelenie Vykhod", pay for 900 copies and sell or give them away at the shows for a minimal price. We also have huge guest lists and play free shows regularly. (I write this just for you to know exactly how good we are!) We've got no managers, no promoters, no producers, no press agents, no radio play, just plenty of friends all over the world, who are eager to help.
I love my band; sometimes I stop singing and just sit onstage or jump down into the audience to listen to them jamming. Here they are:
Boris Kanunnikov, lead guitar. Born 1972 in Sevastopol. We first met in '95, in a strange, very crowded place in Moscow. It was one of my first shows, rather wild and spontaneous. After it, Boris approached me with a question, if I needed a guitarist. - "Yes I do!" - "When do you rehearse?" - "We don't", I said, and it was the truth. After jamming with us a couple of times, he headed back to Sevastopol (it's in Crimea, near the Black Sea). Two years later, hitchhiking from Moscow to Ural through Crimea (look at the map and laugh), I found him there. We played some more, and I asked him to come to Moscow and join the band, which he did. Since then, we've been together. (Now, even officially married). To be honest, Boris educated me, musically, more than all my previous life, and it's mainly him who is in charge for what we've done in rock'n'roll.
Mikhail Trofimenko, bass guitar, born 1966 in Nalchik, Northern Caucasus, and Boris Markov, drums, born 1962 in Moscow suburb: My favorite rhythm section. Both have had long musical stories of their own and much more musical experience than me, with different bands. When we met in the early '90s, they were playing with Olga Arefieva's group, "Kovcheg" (The Ark"). We were all friends then, and in '95, Olga let me "borrow" her musicians to record and jam. For some time they were trying to combine both, but in the end (circa 2000) "Kovcheg" split. Olga found her a new band, and the rhythm section, which we (me and Boris) have been dreaming about, finally became completely ours. We've been through thick and thin together, and now onstage we feel as one. We don't rehearse much, just because we've no time; we're mostly on the road. Initially, I'm the only one who writes songs, but the music is always a common effort, and constantly changing. Each song is growing like a free tree, no stable arrangements. I like it a lot; to sound like a record would be the last thing I'd wanted.
The fifth guy is Igor Oistrakh, our harpist, born 1972 in Moscow. First I saw him in "95 or earlier, at some "Kovcheg"'s show. He used to attend our shows, too. Soon we made friends; once he gave us a ride with his car and, just for fun, played his harp a bit. After this, he took place of our first harpist, Kozhekin, who'd been rather hard to deal with. To my opinion, Oistrakh is much brighter and fits into the band much better. Sometimes, he travels with us, sometimes not - he is the only one of us to have a "real job".
More Bronepeople are:
Roman Furman, who is making most of the artwork for us; in some sense, "guilty of everything". B.K.'s old friend, he still lives in Sevastopol. He draws not only our covers and posters, but also a lot of other stuff, unfortunately unknown for the public. He's in charge for all the Grateful Dead in our heads; he was the first to introduce GD (and a lot of other great music, mostly American), then very rare in this country, to Boris, and subsequently to me.
Alexey "Disaster" Zinoviev is the sound master of all our home shows; most of the self-bootlegs that we spread were recorded by him. Golden ears. He is not eager to travel, and, being on the road, playing in strange places equipped with strange gear, we miss him a lot.
Ian Survillo, the sound master of MYM Records. Another guy who's ears we can trust. Almost all of our records, since the end of 1997, were mixed and partly recorded by this guy. MYM (Make Your Music) Records is very small and consists of Ian and his only assistant.
Oleg Kovriga, one of my oldest friends (since '84 or '83), of the "Otdelenie Vykhod" (The Way Out Department). He was there when I was recording my first homemade tapes, and later the first to talk me into some "proper" recording. Almost all our CDs and cassettes were released under his label, which is three people: him and his assistant Alex, always carrying heavy backpacks of music, mostly Russian indie rock, and Evgenii Gapeev, the sound man.
Marina Ashkinazi, a young but smart girl who helps me a lot in advertising and managing the home shows.
Alexander Kalagov, Andrey "J." Manuhin, Mikhail Bykov and Tim "Shadow Wizard" Tuchin were consequently the people who made and still maintain my Russian website, Yuri Pragin, now living in California, is managing this one, and Vladimir Skosyrev of Saratov (a town on Volga river) is helping him from here; most of the live video tapes were made by him.
Dmitry Baidrakov, Pavel "Polovinych" Haritonov, Olga Habarova, Dmitry Ivanov and some others were, at different times, our main photographers; you can see their work on the website and in the sleevenotes.
It's hard to name everyone who helped us, during all these years, to keep alive, giving us their love, smiles, words, time, space, records, books, money, gear, instruments, clothes, car rides, drugs, food and drinks. Thank you, dear friends! We really need you.
Dear English-speaking Russians, or Russian-speaking foreigners! As it is generally known, I am extremely lazy after all these years of fumbling with letters and words. I found the nerve to do what I did here because my beautiful friends from Salem, OR, told me they used an automatic translation program to know more about my life, and you know how these awful programs are. I did what I did, but I cannot do more: I want my time for traveling, singing, recording and being as lazy as I am. So if someone wants to contribute - you are welcome to translate my interviews, lyrics or articles (but please not my translations from English, ha ha) from into any foreign language, and if it passes our strict quality control, we'll put them here. You are also welcome to write anything you like about our stuff, and we'll publish it, too. Send them to my email, [email protected], and I'll answer; I also can send you some CDs as a present, if you like it.