The first one will be unknown to most Western readers. I was ten. We were in a hotel — on vacation in Estonia, then still part of the USSR — when the evening news showed details of a car crash killing Victor Tsoi, the leader of Kino, Russia’s most prominent rock band. The band’s reach was huge. Tsoi’s music had a social message, but he was not about politics. It was — and is still — beautiful modern rock. The music connected with candor and boldness, and the singer himself was an enigma — asocial and unorthodox in his Asian appearance.
Upon returning to Moscow, I found a moment of privacy and, in tears, I kneeled and prayed. I promised to always remember Tsoi. The feeling of love and sorrow was so strong that I had to share it with God. Kino’s music is on my playlist now, three decades later, and I’m writing this story so I guess I kept my sacred promise.
Freddie Mercury. The Soviet Union had collapsed a few months earlier, but I’d known Queen even as a kid growing up in Soviet Moscow. My Dad’s love of Western music had a profound influence on me. He could never be contained by the Iron Curtain. On Arbat, the pedestrian street in the center of Moscow, we bought tapes in small kiosks in narrow passageways. We came home and played them on our magnetofon in the living room. It was a Soviet-brand tape recorder and not bad at all. It had a digital screen with green lines moving, in an oscillating rhythm, with the music. Dad didn’t realize how much I loved and absorbed music until I started stunning him with my erudition. I’d hear the opening sounds of a song and comment: that’s Dire Straits, that’s Pink Floyd, and that’s Queen.
I was having breakfast and getting ready for school when the radio in our kitchen announced the news about Mercury’s death. I was never a fan of Queen, though I have a few of their songs on my playlist. But the news came as a shock to me.
Steve Jobs. I respect business mandates, but I don’t worship them. I was emotional about Steve Jobs’s death. The reason is simple — it’s about music again. I’m an avid lover of pop and rock music and Apple’s devices forever changed the way I listen to music. I still miss my Ipod Nano by the way. I wish there was a small player that wasn't a phone. I’d happily clip to my shorts when I go for my runs.
In February 2015 one of Russia’s most prominent opposition leaders, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in the center of Moscow. Nemtsov had been the face of the 1990s, and his political influence…