“Don’t move,” I think; “don’t breathe”. Silence. I’m lying face-down in garbage; food scraps, medical waste, the stench of rotting bile; a needle’s pricked my arm. I could feel smooth cellophane squares, my prize!, at my fingertips, but “don’t move.”
I heard Fedya shout out, as soon as I jumped into the dumpster; I heard him running away, and the guards running after, shouting, “ Vnimaniye! Stoy!“
I waited breathless for hours, or seconds, I don’t know. Finally I heard a slight tapping on the dumpster wall, our signal, “tat, tat…tat; tipper tap”. I raised to a kneel, reached in and grabbed a good armful of reward – discarded x-ray films. I raised the lid and climbed out. Quiet. Still not breathing.
Alexei mouth-whispers, “Let’s go. Fedya’s nabbed by the guards.”
In the Soviet Union, when Western music was illegal, record bootlegging was a creative and perilous endeavor. During the 1950’s, people learned to etch recordings into discarded x-ray material. Hospital dumpster diving was an actual thing, and I tried to imagine what that was like. The bootleg records were called roentgenizdat – X-ray publishing – or “bone music”.
This year, I celebrated record store day in Boise, Idaho, at the beginning of a road trip. Coincidentally, I had been reading about Rostropovich and his relationship with Shostakovich, and when I saw this picture disc, I had to buy it, but I had no idea what I was getting. Returning home from my road trip, I listened to it, and then I needed to know why there was an x-ray image on the picture disc. (It’s a beautiful piece; listen to it here Cello Concerto No.2. I’m particularly drawn in at the 20:18 mark, with Rostropovich sawing away on a cello solo, and the conductor takes a rest to wipe his own brow.)
The recording is Mstislav Rostropovich and his world premiere performance of the Cello Concerto No. 2, composed by friend and mentor Dmitri Shostakovich, recorded live in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. This is its first release on vinyl. Ever. What a wonderfully cherishable thing!
Upon reading about this record and about roentgenizdat generally, I was reminded of Red Wave, a double-vinyl record that I have from my college days. It’s another example of bravery in the face of oppression, this time by American Joanna Stingray in the 1980s, who smuggled out cassette tapes of bands playing in Leningrad and arranged for the production and release of the album through indie label Big Time Records. It’s all well documented on Wikipedia. Here’s a taste of Aquarium.
Lastly, also on Record Store Day, I bought a 10-inch vinyl record from Vanishing Twin, called “Dream by Numbers”. Again, I didn’t know anything about this, but the packaging was cool and I loved the visual description, ‘dream by numbers’. I dream in color, don’t you? I couldn’t go wrong for $9! It’s pretty cool stuff. Take a listen here with “Million Dollar Mermaid” . (I’d never heard of the vanishing twin syndrome; freaky and fascinating, I invite the reader to look it up and read about it.)
After a long day of driving, and a foray into record shopping, the iced coffee was delicious. My Record Store Day was fabulous. I’m interested in hearing from others how they spent the day, and what they bought.