Notes from Moscow: Will the Michael Jackson Concert Take Place?
Issue #12, March 1994
Moscow. The middle of September. It's been raining incessantly for a whole week now, perhaps two. Despairingly, grey clouds have pressed the sky down to the ground. It looks as if the sun had never even heard of these places.
It's cold even by Russian standards. People have already taken out their warm things. Azerbaijans and Chechens from the South — filling and crowding Moscow and, in reality, occupying the city's economy — have donned fur hats. Soaked with rain, the hats turn into formless skins, reminding you of prehistoric times.
Meanwhile, the whole city was living with one thought only: will the Michael Jackson concert take place in the evening at the Olympic stadium? Or, will they be able to chase the thunderclouds away with aviation help? After all, tickets cost from 10 to 100 dollars apiece (my wages come up to only 40 dollars a month — similar to that of my colleagues at Moscow University — before the taxes are taken out). And yet, the tickets were sold out long ago.
The prices on bread were raised almost double a few days back. The other prices stretched out after them. Our refrigerator at home is completely empty ever more often.
True, they're selling bananas, the fruit of kiwi, coconuts and chocolate bar 'Snickers' everywhere in the streets. There's so much of it all, literally on every street corner, that at times it seems to me that the bananas and kiwi have begun to grow in the environing Moscow forests. As for 'Snickers', every American has a good idea about the quality of this junk food. But a professor of the University here cannot even think of buying these fruits of 'tropical' progress — they're too expensive. They're for someone else.
The prices on gasoline have risen too, and you still can't get it — the shortage is critical. In order to fill a tank you've got to rush all night long from one gas station to another — who knows, maybe you'll be lucky? But that doesn't worry anyone either. It's not the first time. We're used to it. We're used to everything.
But what will be with the Michael Jackson concert? Everybody talks about that.
The evening news on TV recalls the period of the Second World War (true, there wasn't any television then). Endless scenes of bloody battles, and hundreds of victims in Tajikistan, Georgia, Karabakh, in Northern Caucasia. They're shooting again in Moldavia, in Lithuania an anti-government guerrilla movement has sprung up in the woods. Refugees from all regions... But the people have long since lost interest in all that. With the exception of those who are being shot at, and those who are being killed. Though, the latter are also not interested in anything any longer.
But, for God's sake, will the Michael Jackson concert be held? It is said that he had some problems in Bangkok...
In order to lighten the load of mournful news, the screen shows some pictures of the live lines that had formed at the 'Rolls-Royce — Bentley' store just opened in Moscow. Here too, there's a shortage. The first party of cars did not last even for the opening day. An additional 124 cars of the latest modification, the most expensive, have been ordered.
The evening news commentator of the Russian TV channel announced at the end with pronounced severity: 'Despite the provocative announcements of the opposition, the rumors of Yeltsin's preparations for a regime of presidential rule have not been confirmed. The chief of the President's security service stated that the President has not changed the order of his day and at present was resting at one of his out-of-town residences.' This was followed with endless arguments in support of the surmise of why a constitutional coup cannot arise. The arguments were to such a degree detailed and convincing that, really, you get exactly the opposite impression.
But, in the end, who's worried about that now? Will the Michael Jackson concert be held? That is the question!
After the end of the news, my mother said quietly: 'Go down and have a look at the mailbox. Perhaps they've brought the evening papers...'
'Are you worried about Jackson, too?' I asked. She was silent.
When I entered the elevator I found myself in a big puddle of a most definite character spread over the entire floor of the cabin. An empty 'Rothmans' cigarette packet floated in the middle. You could see that the 'event' had just taken place. On the ground floor 'fresh' prints led from the elevator to the outside door. I dashed wildly out into the street in what I was wearing — if I could only see who it was... To get a full picture and to understand this phenomenon.
It was windy outside. Streams of cold rain met me. No one around. For hundreds of meters...
Only from the parking lot right by our house a brand new 'Mercedes-600' — one of the many parked here — took off quietly and smoothly, winking its red tail lights. Behind the thick shaded glass the profile of a self-assured, shaggy- haired 30-year old young man, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, was illuminated by the panel. Our house has long since been selected by the 'new Russians' from the number of businessmen who now energetically call upon each other in the evenings. I returned.
At 11 o'clock that evening a series of mighty artillery volleys rang out from the direction of the Ministry of Defense on Frunze Embankment, right opposite the Gorky Park.
The first terrible thought seared my heart: 'It's begun!'
The whole family was glued to the blind windows. You couldn't see anything — only the night and the downpour.
The windows rattled. The porcelain dishes in the cupboard quivered, tinkling. Our dog, barking madly, rushed about the apartment, overturning chairs. Finally she hid under the sofa and calmed down.
We ran out onto the landing.
The doors of our neighbors banged. Sleepy-headed people, having dressed hastily, rushed out. Someone asked: 'Who's got the keys to the bomb shelter?' No one, it seems, knew anything — not only about the keys but also about the bomb shelter. Where was it? How does one get there?
At the height of the panic, the riff-raffish son of our neighbor who engaged in speculation in one of the commercial kiosks, appeared from the street, soaked to the skin.
'Where've you been, you so-and-so?' Our neighbor flew at him and, as always, was not sparing with her idiomatic expressions.
'What's that to you? I'm no longer a kid. I was at the stadium. At Michael Jackson's concert. D'you hear that shooting? That was in his honor. I didn't stay till the end. It's not so much fun sitting there under the rain.'
We all went back to our apartments.
And so, I want to inform my foreign friends: MICHAEL JACKSON'S CONCERT IN MOSCOW WAS A HUGE SUCCESS.
September 17, 1993
P.S. Tonight I again heard heavy gunfire near my house and the building of the Russian Parliament — could Michael Jackson have come back again? No, I don't think so...
October 4-5, 1993
Nikita E. Pokrovsky is a professor of sociology and social philosophy at Moscow State University. Prof. Pokrovsky is the recipient of several scholarly awards including the National Lenin Komsomol Prize in the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC. He can be reached at the following Internet address: firstname.lastname@example.org