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Moscow Music Peace Festival: How Glam Metal Helped End the Cold War

Punch-outs, drunken antics and revolution at the 1989 festival where Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne and others rocked for peace and freedom.

In the Communist Seventies and Eighties, popular music was repressed in the Soviet Union, and the hunger for it – particularly Western rock & roll – led Russian fans to extreme measures. Black-market records, bootlegs etched into X-rays and even the opportunity to dub cassettes could easily cost fans a hefty chunk of their monthly salaries. And the opportunity to see Western performers in person? Practically nonexistent.

That is at least until the dawn of perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev in the middle of the 1980s. Gorbachev’s policy of openness meant that, for the very first time Soviet fans could attend concerts by prominent American and British artists. Soon artists like Bonnie Tyler, Billy Joel and Elton John made the trip, but hard rock and heavy metal went underrepresented.

Organised by American rock manager Doc McGhee and Soviet musician Stas Namin (who was also the grandson of Anastas Mikoyan, U.S.S.R. head of state in the mid-Sixties), the Moscow Music Peace Festival was the Soviet Union’s first unfiltered experience of the freedom and abandon of rock & roll. At the height of the glam metal era, bands like Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe and Skid Row traveled behind the Iron Curtain with news of a different way of life – and a brand of pleasure and expression that had mostly been unavailable. The festival gave young Soviet fans a chance to see what life might be like for them – and gave those Americans, Brits and Germans playing a firsthand glimpse of the waning days of the Soviet Union.

Here is the story of the musical summit that helped end the Cold War, the weekend where thousands of Russians learned to rock from America’s big-haired ambassadors.

Doc McGhee, co-organiser, Moscow Music Peace Festival: We never had any permits or anything else to come do this. Between Stas and myself, we basically just did this. Gorbachev and his people never said, “Yes,” never said, “No.” Later on, it was told to me by people very close to him that that’s exactly what it was. He wanted it to happen, but he couldn’t condone it and he didn’t want to refuse it: “If you can do it, go do it.”

Stas Namin, co-organiser, Moscow Music Peace Festival: It was a diplomatic game: “How to trick [the] Soviet authorities” and not to let them understand that it was going to be a real rock festival. That’s why I called it Moscow Music Peace Festival, without using the word “rock.”

Scotti Hill, guitarist, Skid Row: Is it the best idea to send a bunch of heavy-metal musicians to represent clean living? I don’t think so! But it was all for the team.

Jon Bon Jovi, lead singer, Bon Jovi [from the pay-per-view special Moscow Music Peace Festival, directed by Wayne Isham]: Thinking that Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev are both going to be aware of who Ozzy is [is] going to be pretty historic in its own right.

Tommy Lee, drummer, Mötley Crüe: Did [Doc] tell you that I knocked him on his ass?

“A Russian Woodstock”

Stas Namin: My father was a military pilot during World War II. He loved rock & roll, and on his tape recorder he had Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and others. At the age of 10, my parents sent me to military school, where I spent seven years. There I heard for the first time the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I started to play guitar and at the age of 12, founded my first rock & roll band, the Magicians.

Doc McGhee: I was with Jon Bon Jovi and this guy who heads Kramer Guitars. They introduced me to this guy Stas Namin, and Stas Namin was the largest-selling artist of the Soviet Union for about 20 years.

Stas Namin: After being forbidden for 17 years, Soviet authorities let me out of the country [for the first time], when I was already 35. I was invited, with my rock band the Flowers, for a 45-day tour around United States. Then an idea came to my mind – to put together a rock festival in Moscow where rock bands from different countries, including Russia, will play together. I started to share this idea with my new friends I met during the U.S. tour. … One of my first rock & roll impressions was the Woodstock Festival in ’69, and I was dreaming to put together [a] Russian Woodstock sometime.

Doc McGhee: Stas was trying to get strings, guitars [and] musical instruments for his artists, and for kids in general to have in Russia, which was forbidden at the time. And Stas says, “I have this theatre. Why don’t we do a concert?”

Joe Cheshire, Doc McGhee’s attorney: The idea for the festival rose out of the Make-a-Difference Foundation, which I had been a part of creating, and served on the board in an advisory capacity. … Doc had been, as the record would reflect, and has reflected, had been charged with marijuana conspiracy charges in several jurisdictions. As his lawyer, of course, I was interested in trying to figure out a way that I could keep him from the serious punishment that was available to the federal courts for the charges that he had been indicted for in several federal jurisdictions. We had to suggest to the federal courts that it would be much more profitable for society that this nonprofit foundation exist and raise money and spend money for appropriate purposes than it would be to take one human being and put him in prison. So that’s what we did.

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(From Left) Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, Alexander Minkov of Gorky Park, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, Jon Bon Jovi, Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe and Alexander Janenkov of Gorky Park announcing the Moscow Music and Peace Festival in May 1989. Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage

Doc McGhee: I heard this back then, and I heard it for years afterwards: “I can’t believe all you have to do is a rock show and you get off.” Well, number one, I’m not sure that any court, no matter what you did, would put your probation [as], “If you go and change the world, stop the Cold War, you get off.” OK? I don’t think anybody should make that shit up. It had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It just happened to be the timing aspect. I was already way over all that shit before I did Moscow.

Ernie Hudson, guitar tech, Cinderella: Doc’s a very nice guy. Always straightforward, pretty much, except for one instance over there, which I’m sure you heard about.

Joe Cheshire: Our argument was my client was in a position to use his bands that he managed to make a positive impact on society. And in this particular unique period of time where rock & roll music was really, because of cable television, having an immense impact on young people, that at this unique period of time, with the unique client I had, and his ability and willingness to do that, it was an opportunity to help and also, of course, to ask the court not to incarcerate my client.

Bruce Kolbrenner, accountant, Moscow Music Peace Festival: Putting that festival together was a superhuman feat. I think the only person who could have done something like that was Doc McGhee.

Joe Cheshire: We came up with an idea to create a nonprofit foundation that would raise money for antidrug programs and Doc would ask the bands that he was managing to assist him in doing that. And there were other groups like the Teenage [Mutant] Ninja Turtles and various and sundry other entertainment acts. And there were people who were creating documentaries. There was a lot more work that the Make-a-Difference Foundation did than simply the Moscow Music Peace Festival, but that was kind of the ultimate work that came out of it.

Doc McGhee: I went 46 times to the Soviet Union. … When I went over there, we saw kids that were being treated like how they used to treat alcoholism in the United States in the Forties and Thirties. They treated it like a mental illness. They would use electroshock therapy.

Stas Namin: Mostly [McGhee] was in charge of the Western side, and I did everything on the Russian side.

Doc McGhee: The first one that was on board was Bon Jovi, from day one. Jonny [Bon Jovi] was the biggest artist in the world at the time, the rock world. Or one of them. He definitely wanted to do it. So did Mötley and Scorps and Skids. I talked to Sharon Osbourne, and Ozzy was down with it because he loves to do that stuff. It was just one of those moments. Probably couldn’t do it again.

Curt Marvis, producer, pay-per-view special: This was the heyday of metal. This was when metal dominated MTV. This was when metal ruled the sales chart. So you’re talking about a lot of artists, most of whom were headliners of stadium tours, let alone arena tours, in their own right.

Rachel Bolan, bassist, Skid Row: Everything was happening really fast for us. It was ’89, our first album came out in January, and here we are at the beginning of August in Communist Russia. And we’re like 25 years old.

Tom Keifer, lead singer, Cinderella: The actual thought of getting onto a plane and going to Russia? I don’t think any of us knew what to anticipate.

Doc McGhee: Everybody was very enthusiastic. Why wouldn’t you: If you get to go play Lenin Stadium, the biggest show ever in the history of the Soviet Union, and be broadcast in 59 countries? Live, and live on Soviet television for the first time in the history of the world.

“The Magic Bus”

McGhee christened the chartered Boeing 757 he hired “The Magic Bus,” and planned to fly all the festival’s acts over together, with a stop in London to pick up Ozzy Osbourne and the Scorpions.

Rob Affuso, drummer, Skid Row: We were told no alcohol, no drugs on the plane, and of course, as soon as the plane took off the ground, everybody’s opening bottles. So it was just a big party all the way to Russia.

Scotti Hill: Pretty much everybody was drinking. Although [the concert] was “rock against alcohol and drugs,” there was plenty of alcohol and drugs!

Tommy Lee: It was always a little dangerous there because [Mötley Crüe] were trying so desperately to be sober, so we didn’t really hang out a whole lot with the other guys.

Heather Locklear, actress: I thought [an antidrug show] was an oxymoron.

Ozzy Osbourne: My wife, an L.A. Times journalist and I were the only sober ones on the flight.

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Ozzy Osbourne and Jon Bon Jovi at Stansted Airport in England. Credit: Tony White/AP

Tommy Lee: Everyone but us was fuckin’ wasted. Sebastian Bach was wasted. Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath was wasted.

Klaus Meine, lead singer, Scorpions: I remember Ozzy going into the toilet and when he came out, it looked like he pissed on himself.

Rachel Bolan: You walk down an aisle, hang out, there’d be Nikki Sixx, and then there’d be someone that you knew better, like Tom Keifer and the Cinderella guys. It was cool and surreal at the same time.

Heather Locklear, actress and wife of Tommy Lee at the time: [Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach] is on 11. Kind of like Tommy is. Very hyper, all the time: “Dude! Hey!” So much that you’re like, “OK, sit down. Go sit down in your seat, take a seat, and try to sleep.”

Tom Keifer: Jon [Bon Jovi] and [Bon Jovi guitarist] Richie Sambora and I, we had some guitars out and we were strumming along and singing some songs and just kinda having a little bit of a jam.

Heather Locklear: I think that’s the first time I met Richie Sambora, and I had a big eye for him. Like, “Wow – that’s good. He’s delicious.” But I was with Tommy. So I kept it intact. [I spoke to him for] just a couple minutes on the plane. And I’m like, “Does he know who I am? Does he even remember talking to me?”

“Four Sprinklers in Every Room”

Doc McGhee: We were just flying in to Moscow on a private jet. I had already said, “OK, we’re probably going to get arrested when we land here.”

Rob Affuso: So we landed there and I look out the window and it’s just dawn. There’s all these black limousines as far as the eye could see. Because I think there were two hundred of us coming off the plane.

Jeff LaBar, guitarist, Cinderella: If anything had happened, as far as people being arrested, it would have been an international incident. So they kind of went through the motions [at customs] and then said, ‘OK, let’s go.’

Rob Affuso: We all got into our respective cars and we had this military escort through the streets of Russia until we got to the hotel. From that point on, any time we left the hotel, we were being followed. It was just your typical Russian spy movie. We had this black KGB car following us everywhere we went.

Joe Cheshire: I remember riding in from the airport. It started raining. I noticed that almost all the cars pulled over to the side of the road. And all the drivers jumped out and ran around to their trunks and the trunk would open, and the people would run back around and they’d get in the car. The reason for that was they didn’t have any rubber in the Soviet Union, so when you got a car, and a windshield wiper, you would chop it up into, like, eight pieces, and then you’d attach a tiny little piece where your eyes were when it rained, so you could see.

Tommy Lee: I remember seeing taxi drivers taking their windshield wipers off and putting them in the car and locking them up. I asked a guy, “Why are you doing that?” He was like, “Oh my God, Tommy, it takes four to five years to get windshield wipers.”

Jeff LaBar, guitarist, Cinderella: The hotel was a spectacular old building. Lots of marble and crystal, so it was real fancy-looking until you got to your room. They didn’t have things that I took for granted, like a king-size bed. I had a huge, suite-size room, but hardly anything in it. Hardly any furniture. And the bed, it was smaller than a twin. It was like you went to summer camp.

Rachel Bolan: It was called Hotel Ukraine back then. It’s a Radisson now, I believe.

David Bryan, keyboardist, Bon Jovi: I open up a door by accident. It looked like a closet, and there was a whole room of people eavesdropping, with all kinds of headphones on and equipment.

John Kalodner, A&R representative: You could see all the monitoring equipment, the listening equipment.

David Bryan: Every time we tried to do a deal, or Doc was talking about merchandising, everybody knew. We looked up at the ceiling and there were four sprinklers in every room.

Tom Keifer: There was a woman at a desk in the central area [on each floor], and you had to go to her. She didn’t speak great English, but you’d tell her, ‘I want to make a phone call,’ and you’d give her the number. The way it worked was the phone would ring in your room, anytime from that moment to maybe 12 hours later.

Tommy Lee: The hotel we stayed in was like the fucking Shining. I remember dark hallways and Olga the housekeeper banging on your door to get in to clean your room.

Heather Locklear: They were very strict, and I felt that you couldn’t get out of line.

Scotti Hill: Toilet paper was a hot commodity.

Rachel Bolan: I remember there being no shower curtain, and a wooden pallet on the bathroom floor. Turning on the lights when you got to the room, and a few friendly cockroaches scattering.

Scotti Hill: For a guy in his early twenties who lived off of pizza and hamburgers, [the hotel food] was very mysterious, gelatinous seafood mixtures.

Peter Max, artist, designer of the Peace Festival stage and logo: We don’t go down and look at what we didn’t want to eat for breakfast. You know, boiled eggs and mystery meat and tea.

Tommy Lee: You would not believe what was on the fucking room-service menu. I think it was pickled sturgeon.

Jeff LaBar: I don’t know what Russian cuisine is. I’m not sure that was it. I think I only tried that once. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m over that.’

Rachel Bolan: Before we left, they said bring stuff like toilet paper, bring stuff like women’s stockings. We were like, “Are we being punked?” They were like, “Well, the maids are probably going to help themselves to your stuff. Leave this stuff out and they’ll take it, and it’ll be cool.” And that’s exactly what happened. … I’m just really glad they didn’t check our bags, because why is this dude bringing so many pairs of stockings in his bag?

John Kalodner: I gave all of my clothes away to the kids and the staff at the hotel. All my jeans, all my jean jackets, all my shirts. I left with nothing.

Heather Locklear: We were told we were staying at a five-star hotel.I slept in my clothes instead of in my pajamas or naked because it didn’t feel five-star-ish to me.

“On the Moon With Very Old Shit”

Doc McGhee: We didn’t pay anything for the stadium. All our costs were in fixing things up.

Bruce Kolbrenner: We had to bring in our own water, from territory outside Russia, and we had to bring in our own food from outside of Russia. Everything that we had to do we had to bring in ourselves. All the broadcast equipment had to be brought in from other countries.

Curt Marvis: Our Dutch lighting guy brought over these little pills from the Netherlands with him called Adrenalina. I have no idea to this day what exactly Adrenalina was, but I know that it helped you work 24/7 for a week straight. It also has a result of making you go completely crazy.

Peter Max: Hard Rock brought the food over land, through Finland, on trucks.

Curt Marvis: It was like filming in a third-world country.

Doc McGhee: We had to bring ice. We couldn’t even get ice in the Soviet Union. We brought in ice from Sweden. We brought in stuff from all over the world: 64 tractor-trailers.

John Kalodner: They didn’t have Western food for the first day, so everybody ate cauliflower and ice cream.

Doc McGhee: You’re on the moon with very old shit, and you’ve got to make it work. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, from silverware to cups to water to transportation back and forth.

Curt Marvis: Just communication, getting problems solved, everything was more difficult. Getting messages to people back at hotels. So you end up with a lot of delays in communication, and people showing up to their set rehearsal and then find out that they’re at least two hours or three hours behind schedule, and they have to sit around, and they get pissed off, or start drinking. It was a high, high, high-stress environment for sure.

Ozzy Osbourne: We all congregated backstage and had brought Western food with us. There was a catering area supplying meals to all of the artists. Everyone hung out there.

Xenia Kuleshova, Soviet translator for Ozzy Osbourne and his band: Another thing that amazed me more than the show was the dining room for the organisers and the musicians. To know what I mean, you had to have grown up in the USSR, where there wasn’t any choice as to what you ate. There was always food, but it was all the same stuff all the time. There was nothing to make a shopper happy, nothing to attract them. I couldn’t go to restaurants – not because of the cost, but because only special people who were “allowed” to go could go.

And during the show, us, the Russian staff, saw a whole new world. It was like a celebration, there was so much to choose from! Everything, including the food, the dining hall itself, small stuff, like the trays, the utensils, everything amazed me – the form, the smells, the colour, the lack of lines, the lack of feeling that you had to grab what you could because it would run out.

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Ozzy Osbourne performs at the Moscow Music Peace Festival. Credit: AP

David Bryan: [There were] two security guys that were watching us, or we were watching them. One karate guy and one judo guy. We sat down to get some food, and they had enough on their plate for 20 dinners. I was like, “Don’t worry. It’s not going away.” They were like, “We’ve never seen this much food in one area.”

Yosef Sachs, translator: When I took my tray, I put some stuff on it, and I was looking for a place to sit down. There was a table, and there was a guy sitting at the table, and nobody in front of him. I sat down and I realised it was Ozzy Osbourne sitting right in front of me. We had a nice chat. I hid my chicken from him.

Joe Cheshire: We had brought truckloads of what I consider the best T-shirt ever, in the history of rock & roll, over to Lenin Stadium to sell. I was in bed in the Gothic-cathedral old-Stalinist hotel, and got a telephone call. Doc was panicked. We went over to Lenin Stadium, and the army general in charge of security told us that we couldn’t unload and sell our T-shirts because our T-shirts had the American eagle standing on top of the hammer-and-sickle. What that was was basically an extortion [attempt] for him to get T-shirts to sell himself, but that was the kind of thing we had to deal with.

Curt Marvis: I will never forget the Russian satellite truck. The truck looked like a 1960s-era milk delivery truck. With a little silver satellite on top of it. We all looked at it and said, ‘That’s what we’re relying on to get the signal, to beam our satellite all over the world?”

Joe Cheshire: The Russians decided they wanted to charge more money for the rent for Lenin Stadium. Now of course we’d already brought everything over there. Everybody was there. The bands were there. So we had this big meeting at which Doc McGhee just blew up at the Russians. My mother is Russian, so I was sitting in this meeting, and this big ol’ Russian guy is sitting next to me in a coat and tie, and he leans over to me and says [in Russian accent], “So I understand that your mother was Russian, and that her family lived in Vladivostok, and fought the revolution and escaped to America.” And I’m going, “Oh. My. God. I might never get home.”

Stas Namin: We also did a motorcycle show. At that time, we had almost-illegal motorcycle groups. I asked them to come to the Hotel Ukraine.

Rudolf Schenker, guitarist, Scorpions: I remember we had a party going on, and then somebody came up in the room: “Hey guys, come on! We have to see this! You have to come downstairs!” There was a whole motor club, the Russian Hells Angels, but with very, very old, and very, very ugly bikes, but the look was good.

Joe Cheshire: The Hells Angels showed up at two o’clock in the morning, riding their motorcycles up the stairs of this great big huge hotel and into the lobby.

Scotti Hill: It was mostly bikers lighting little bonfires and doing doughnuts and wheelies. Just a big party going on out there.

Scotti Hill: We didn’t want the hammer to fall on [McGhee]. Being our manager and our friend, everybody kept everything pretty hush-hush. We weren’t running around in front of cameras pounding beers and vodka. It was kept pretty private.

Tommy Lee: I think all of us jumped on a boat at some point, and went down some river. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you the name of it.

Klaus Meine: One night, which later, looking back, was, I think, the inspiration to write a song like “Wind of Change,” we went on a boat on the Moskva down to Gorky Park, where they had a barbecue. I think it was the night before the first show. Stas Namin was running a so-called Hard Rock Café. There were some banners in the trees in this place they picked in the park, and they put speakers in there with music from all the bands. The entire world, musicians from America, England, Russia, Germany, all joining together in this boat with Red Army soldiers, MTV, media people and everybody speaks the same language: music.

“They’re Still Waiting for Their Pizzas, You Know?”

Rob Affuso: Russia was this sort of make-believe place that we all heard about.

Rachel Bolan: If we strayed from the hotel too far, there was always militia or KGB keeping an eye on us. It was kind of cool in a way. Being from Toms River, New Jersey, then being in Moscow, with people keeping an eye on you, like you’re actually going to do something bad, it was kinda comical.

Scotti Hill: I remember it being gray. Where you would walk through New York on a rainy day and see neon signs and lots of colours, this was just gray. Everything was gray. Storefronts, gray. No signs, just people moping about. People standing on bread lines and things like that.

Rob Affuso: You go to the mall at Red Square, and the shirt store consisted of a table with about six shirts, all exactly the same kind. Collared shirts, button-down. One was blue; one was black; one was brown; one was gray; one was white; one was a shit-yellow colour. That was your shirt store.

Vince Neil, lead singer, Mötley Crüe [from pay-per-view special]: There’s a record store in [the mall], which pretty much sucks, but oh well.

Mary Gormley: Going to a local music shop, you had to bring your own cassette. And they had handwritten lists of what music they had there. And you would pay them to dub tapes for you. But you had to bring your own cassettes.

Alex Bank, Soviet music fan: Salary is 150 [rubles] per month, probably to make tape like this, maybe 15? Ten percent of your monthly salary. And believe me, the quality was shitty.

Xenia Kuleshova: I didn’t own a tape player, and you couldn’t buy rock records in stores. It was considered bourgeois and they wouldn’t even allow that type of music at school dances. The only records I had were the ones I was able to buy after standing in huge lines. It was mostly Italian pop singers. But I [had] heard of Jon Bon Jovi and the Scorpions.

Ernie Hudson: We see people standing in line, we’d say, “What are people standing in line for?” They’d say, “Oh, this is a line to get toilet paper.” Two blocks down, a mile, “What are these people standing in line for?” “Oh, they’re standing in line to get milk.” It was just really backwards, compared to anything we were used to, going to the grocery store and getting toilet paper and milk.

Ozzy Osbourne [from pay-per-view special]: They don’t have McDonald’s here. They don’t have pizza delivery. That’s a luxury. We always complain: “The guy said he would be here in 25 minutes, now it’s 35, he hasn’t arrived yet.” They’re still waiting for their pizzas, you know?

John Kalodner: When I grew up, I remember Khrushchev saying that the Soviet Union was going to bury us. Then, when I actually was there, I thought to myself, “What are they going to bury us in? Garbage?”

Scotti Hill: The media was everywhere. It wasn’t just the rock media. It was the mainstream media that was there. CNN was covering it, major networks were covering it. They were doing live broadcasts on all the morning shows.

Rachel Bolan: We were doing a piece with MTV, and we were just walking around. There were no storefronts, or anything like that. And everything was so dirty and gray. We walked down this alleyway to this courtyard. And there was a really long line that went up to this window, and we couldn’t figure out what it was. Somebody with MTV’s crew managed to speak to someone that spoke a little bit of English, and they said it was a line for alcohol and drugs. And we were like, “Whoa, maybe this isn’t the best place to be hanging out.”

David Bryan: You figure all the girls would have a moustache and a babushka, and you were like, “Wow, they’re tall and gorgeous! If this is the enemy, I think they’re pretty good-lookin!'”

Ernie Hudson: Me and [Cinderella crew member] J. Harmon ventured out a couple nights, away from everybody else, no security, no nothing, which we probably shouldn’t have done, but we did and got away with it. We hooked up with a couple of girls that were going to take us to a metal bar. And we get to this door that slides a little peephole open. They start to open the door, and the girls grab us, saying, “Come on, run right now!” We took off around the corner, like, “What the hell just happened?” “The KGB just walked around the corner, and if you guys would have been caught here, you’d probably never be seen again.”

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Moscow Music Peace Festival, August 12, 1989. Credit: Robert D. Tonsing/AP

Rachel Bolan: A few kids came up and said, “Do you have concert T-shirts?” I go, “Not on me, but I have some in the room, if you want to meet me out front.” I said. “We’re going back there, probably in about an hour.” So they met me out front, and they had their car parked in between the buses, and they flashed their headlights. It was so clandestine, it was funny.

I went out to the car. I had a few T-shirts, and I wanted to trade for a military hat, because I collected hats back then. He gave it to me. I stuck it under my jacket. A car pulled up behind us, and all their faces went white. They spoke a little English, so I go, “Are we in trouble?” And he goes, “Very.”

The militia pulled up behind us and opened the door, and started pointing at us and talking to the kids, and just taking the T-shirts off of my shoulder and putting them over their own shoulders. And I had this hat, and evidently it was highly illegal to take any military memorabilia out of the country. Then they point at me to get in the car. All I saw and heard in my head was [Doc McGhee saying], “Anyone gets arrested in Russia, you’re staying here.” … [One] kid starts getting in a shouting match with the two guys. And then all three kids start shouting at the guys. I took that as my opportunity to haul ass.

Ernie Hudson: Another night, we were riding with another girl, trying to get vodka, and it was like trying to make a drug deal. Very scary and sketchy. The taxi we’re in pulls behind another taxi, that guy gets out, goes to his trunk, looking around, runs over and hands us a bottle of vodka for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. You could get anything for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes.

“We Don’t Have Rock & Roll in Our Country”

Only hours before the show, Ozzy Osbourne threatened to drop out if he did not receive higher billing. McGhee agreed to elevate Osbourne on the bill, dropping down his clients Mötley Crüe. Bon Jovi remained the headliners. For many of the performers, the two shows, meant to be functionally identical, wound up bleeding into each other, with few able to remember what had happened at the first show, and what at the second.

Curt Marvis: The night before [the] show, we were in the hotel room with Sharon and Doc and Ozzy, and trying to convince him that everything was going to be OK, and [Ozzy] was going to refuse to go on.

Doc McGhee: Remember, there wasn’t any Facebook where everybody in the Soviet Union could talk to each other. We couldn’t tweet out to everybody. This was all word of mouth around the world. Literally word of mouth. But it was sold-out both days, and people [were] waiting in lines and lines and lines just to listen to the music.

Bruce Kolbrenner: I’m not a political person, but knowing that we were in Lenin Stadium, which [the United States] boycotted in the [1980] Olympics, was a pretty remarkable event.

Rob Affuso: My tour manager was banging on the door, and I just wasn’t waking up. So he went and got security, got a key, came in, dragged me out of bed by the ankles. My head cracked the floor, mind you, [it] was about eight inches off the floor. And then he picks me up and puts me in the bathtub and fills it with cold water. So that is how we started the day for the Moscow Music Peace Festival.

Tom Keifer: I came down with a stomach bug, which they thought was from the water. I was pretty sick both shows.

Ernie Hudson: I think it was the first day, it was raining. These military helicopters went up, so I’ve been told, they put some kind of chemical in the clouds, and they just disappeared. Totally gone. I don’t know what it was. … They sprayed something in the air. Sunshine.

Yosef Sachs: People were half-naked, because I remember it was pretty warm at the time. People were taking off their shirts. It was packed everywhere, really like sardines.

Xenia Kuleshova: I invited my parents to the concert. I didn’t have a boyfriend back then and I wanted to show my parents what the Western world was like. They were shocked, and I was happy to brag and impress them.

Klaus Meine: The mayor of Moscow, on the first day of the show, he went up on stage. There were a few officials, they had a speech, the Olympic fire was burning in this Olympic stadium. [Then] the show started, [and] Sebastian Bach ran out on stage screaming, “Let’s rock, motherfucker!”

Sebastian Bach, lead singer, Skid Row [from pay-per-view special]: “Check this out, motherfucker! I want to see some hands in the air!”

Scotti Hill: We thrive under pressure. And the underdog slot, we want to put a fire under everybody’s ass. I’d say we did good.

Peter Max: There was a no-man’s land between the stage and the crowd that was maybe 12 feet or 15 feet wide. The Russian soldiers were keeping the crowd back.

Mary Gormley, A&R representative, Geffen Records: Even the soldiers were so young.

Scotti Hill: To see armed soldiers patrolling the stadium, and soldiers lining three deep in front of the stage, it’s like, “Whoa! Is that necessary?”

Stas Namin: They couldn’t imagine that rock & roll wouldn’t hurt anybody.

Xenia Kuleshova: I think it was hard for them to remain serious. It’s so hard to act like you always do when everything around you is like nothing you’ve seen before!

Yosef Sachs: The police, they were also going crazy. They were participating in the show. They were also listening to music, and were really grooving with it.

John Kalodner: The Russian military was great. They let Richie Sambora and me ride on a Russian military helicopter.

Tom Keifer: The crowd was so warm and so responsive, and so familiar with the music. It was just an amazing two days at that stadium.

David Bryan: Everybody was so polite. They weren’t drunk and screaming and pushing each other. Everybody was very organised. It was like [posh English voice], “Oh, we’re watching a concert today.”

Joe Cheshire: [The audience] didn’t have any idea how to act at a rock & roll concert. They were all in there, but they had no idea how to act. And as the concert progressed, you could see them beginning to understand how to enjoy and participate in this concert. It was amazing watching them figure it out, and then watching them enjoy it. It was almost like you could palpably feel for the first time in their lives, they were in a place where they could have fun and feel free.

Xenia Kuleshova: I didn’t know what the “right” reaction to music was or how people in the West reacted to it. I remember feeling that this show was like a celebration, and that all the people around me were also celebrating.

David Bryan: They didn’t even know how to act yet. They were all eating pastries. They’d never seen a show before. They weren’t rushing the stage. I think everybody was in amazement that there was an actual rock band there.

Stas Namin: They came not just to enjoy rock & roll, but to enjoy rock & roll as a symbol of freedom, a symbol of something they were dreaming all their life.

Rob Affuso: It was rabid. It was as if you’re in a desert and you’re dying of thirst and you’re brought gallons and gallons of water. It was a feast. These people were just out of their minds, excited, just beyond. They had to behave, but their enthusiasm was just off the charts.

Peter Max: They were the most excited audience I’ve ever seen at a show.

Tom Keifer: They were all wearing jeans and holding up everybody’s albums.

John Kalodner: Pure ecstasy and loving the music.

Peter Max: A lot of screaming and yelling. Girls taking their shirts off and throwing it in the air.

Rachel Bolan: [There was] a big banner with a Kiss logo [that] said ‘Kiss Army.’ And I’m a Kiss fan. And I’m like, “Are they making a special appearance here?” That’s when I realised, it’s not really about the bands who are on stage, it’s about the spirit of music: “I love Kiss. I know they’re not playing, but I love Kiss.”

Ozzy Osbourne: The first few rows were these stern-looking soldiers, but behind them it was just a regular rock-show crowd.

Tom Keifer: Everybody had the same amount of time to play. There was one of those revolving stages. There was literally a clock. And they said, when you see your time running down, we’re going to start turning the stage.

Stas Namin: I don’t think [Soviet rock band Gorky Park] performed better than anybody. I think worse. Because [they were] not so experienced. I just made them. And they didn’t have so much experience with live concerts. But still, they were good, and they looked good.

Klaus Meine: One hundred thousand people came from all over Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries, including our fellow countrymen from the former DDR [East Germany], that never saw the Scorpions live in the DDR, because we never were allowed to play in the DDR. … For us it was something emotional that had a deeper meaning than just playing a rock show.

Ernie Hudson: I think the Scorpions probably stole the show. Just a personal opinion. They’d been there before, everybody knew who they were.

Rudolf Schenker: It was for us a very big dream, especially coming from Germany, showing the Russians that there is a new generation growing up in Germany who are not coming with tanks and making war, but coming with guitars and playing music and bringing love and peace.

Klaus Meine: I think we gave Bon Jovi a good run.

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Scorpions at the Moscow Music Peace Festival on August 13, 1989. Credit: AP

Doc McGhee: The Russian Air Force and Army that was there couldn’t have done anything but praise us and they were so gracious. It was insane. It was like we had liberated a camp in World War II.

Klaus Meine: The security, which was mostly Red Army soldiers, were throwing their caps in the air, their jackets, they were going totally nuts when we played. From doing their jobs, being security people, they turned around, they wanted to see the show. They became part of the audience, which was really amazing to see.

Joe Cheshire: My wife and I walked all the way to the other end of Lenin Stadium from where the stage was. If I remember right, the stage was the largest stage that had ever been built for a rock & roll concert. We walked all the way to the end of the stadium, which is a long way, and we walked all the way up the stairs. We had our lanyards identifying who we were, and all these people would see it and come up and hug us and thank us. It was just an absolutely indescribable feeling of freedom and joy.

Rachel Bolan: They were just enjoying themselves so much, I don’t think they cared about the bands, except for Ozzy.

Stas Namin: When Ozzy Osbourne appeared, the multi-thousand crowd of fans bum-rushed the stage, and somebody even threw a bottle on stage. The guarding troops were ready to start suppression, and the festival had to be stopped. I asked the general to let me talk to the crowd and came on stage. I said, “You are humans, not pigs. Look around and block those who don’t behave themselves properly. And now if you still want the festival to go on, back up three steps, sit down on the grass, and relax.” And they did. When I returned backstage, the KGB general asked: “Is it possible somehow to hire the guy who could control one hundred thousand people?” I just smiled.

Heather Locklear: There was not supposed to be a headlining band. I heard that from Mötley Crüe.

Klaus Meine: Everybody thought he should play last. And at the end of the day, it was, of course, Bon Jovi. Doc was Bon Jovi’s manager. … Everybody was arguing about it and fighting backstage.

Doc McGhee: We had all headliners, mostly. So yeah, there was some kibitzing about who did what.

Heather Locklear: I thought it was amazing that we did go to Moscow, and that it did make some peace. But there was no peace amongst the acts.

Tommy Lee: In true Mötley fashion, we actually like being the underdog, so we can go up there and just smash the hell out of the set, and good luck to anybody trying to follow that. I remember having some issues with [not being headliners], and we were like, ‘You know what? Fuck it. Let’s just go out there and kill it, and let them struggle to put on a better show.’

Scotti Hill: Out of all the bands, Mötley Crüe had the best set of everybody, by a mile. They were on fire. They were out there with something to prove, and they did.

As part of Mötley Crüe’s set, the band smashed one of their guitars.

Mikhail Olaf, Soviet music fan: [Quoted in Rolling Stone story, October 5, 1989] Such a guitar would be sold on the black market. … You Americans have so much rock & roll, you can afford to waste it. Here one guitar is a shrine. One rock concert is a counterrevolution.

Tommy Lee: You could tell that they didn’t get very many concerts, because they were going fuckin’ bananas. It wasn’t your typical reaction to playing a show in Boise, Idaho or Los Angeles. These are people that probably have been waiting for years to see you play. This is the one shot.

Peter Max: I remember Bon Jovi popping up in the middle of the stage. It was like a Michael Jackson move. He popped up in a big cloud of smoke.

Heather Locklear: I remember Jon Bon Jovi coming out in a Russian outfit, like a Russian soldier, in the middle of the crowd, and having the crowd spread like Jesus was coming down.

David Bryan: [He asked] a military guy, ‘Give me your hat and coat.’ Jon always likes to pull good tricks when there’s a whole bunch of other bands playing.

Tommy Lee: Jonny’s got the Russian police to split the crowd and walk down the center, and all of a sudden he goes back to the stage, and then boom! These huge explosions! And I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ … Mötley’s a very pyro-heavy visual kind of performer, so we were told that there wasn’t pyro available. OK, well, that’s understandable. We’re all the way in Russia, I guess they don’t have pyro here. And then I remember walking out to the front of house and watching Bon Jovi start the show.

Heather Locklear: I was a little bit like, “Well, you guys, it seems like there’s special attention here. You guys didn’t really know what was going on.”

Doc McGhee: I man up for everything. I take full responsibility for what happened. It was just a crazy time.

Curt Marvis: It seems very funny and petty looking back on it now, but at the time it was a big deal.

Doc McGhee: Mötley got pissed off about the fireworks. I think it was just the pressure on Tommy thinking that Bon Jovi one-upped them with some fireworks that went off. It was like a popcorn fart. It wasn’t like they set off a lot of pyro. It was just one that went off and Tommy freaked out. That was it.

Tommy Lee: I immediately ran back, backstage, and found my manager, and I remember shoving him. Like a big chest push, just ‘boom.’ And I pushed him on the ground, like “Fuck you, you fuckin’ lied to us. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be working for the fucking Chipmunks.”

Heather Locklear: I saw my ex-husband hit Doc McGhee. It felt sucker-punch-ish.

Rob Affuso: Later in the evening, I went up to watch Bon Jovi from the stands, way up in the back. I was sitting there, and this group of soldiers approached me. Obviously, I got really nervous. I didn’t know what was about to happen. And they came up to me and put their guns down. They sat next to me and they said, “We want to thank you so much for coming to our country to bring us rock & roll. We don’t have rock & roll in our country. Thank you, thank you.” And they were crying. It was a really incredibly emotional moment.

Scotti Hill: [For the second-day encore], we played “Rock and Roll” by [Led] Zeppelin. Everybody came out. Guys were swapping back and forth on the drums, some guys had guitars, some guys didn’t. Everybody was there.

Sebastian Bach: [in film] “You guys ever hear of Led Zeppelin?”

Doc McGhee: Motley didn’t participate. Sometimes you just have to leave your shit at home and go and do stuff for other reasons than your own shit. Some people can’t get past it.

“That Was Rock & Roll, Wasn’t It?”

Curt Marvis: We got back to the Hotel Ukraine, and there was this huge fountain in the lobby of the hotel, and myself and a few others ended up swimming in the fountain in the hotel lobby when we got back in delirious triumph. I do remember the sense of relief when the show was finally over for everyone was massive. Everyone was just completely burned out.

Heather Locklear: We ended up going on an earlier flight home. On the bus to go out, a kid [came] up to Tommy and [said] “Will you sign the back of my jean jacket? I think you’re great.” As Tommy was about to sign it, he said, “I’m Jon Bon Jovi’s brother,” and I think Tommy wrote something bad on the jean jacket, like “fuck him” or something, and later regretted it, because the brother had nothing to do with what Jon was doing. They were pretty angry. They were sold a bill of goods.

Tommy Lee: Personally, it’s like another notch in the belt. Now we’ve crushed Russia.

Ernie Hudson: Coming back was wild and crazy. Ozzy was on [the airplane] and he was looking for booze the whole time. Sharon was telling everyone, “Nobody give him anything,” and finally he got on her nerves, he got some kind of bottle.

Doc McGhee: The mayor of Moscow had a big party for me with Stas. Stas and I and my wife spent three days in Moscow. We got to visit his family’s gravesite and understand a lot more about his family, and how important his family was to the Soviet Union.

Rob Affuso: Shortly thereafter, we were at the Berlin Wall when that came down. We were in Berlin when that whole thing happened. So we really got to experience two amazing world moments that year. I remember seeing people crying. It was tears of joy.

Rudolf Schenker: Klaus was sitting across from me at the round table [at a bar in Paris], and was pointing on the TV behind me on the bar: “Hey look! It’s the Wall!” And I looked around and I said, “Yes! It’s the Berlin Wall!” There’s people standing on the wall and breaking the wall. We couldn’t hold [back] the tears, of course. We said to our record company, “Hey, guys! Champagne! Champagne!”

Klaus Meine: There was so much hope in the air. … That was the feeling when I went home, and started writing [“Wind of Change”]. It was just reflecting what we went through between Leningrad and Moscow.

Stas Namin: [The concert] showed me that even impossible things are possible.

Xenia Kuleshova: I learned a lot from the musicians, from their relaxed attitude to life. I understood that I didn’t just want to “work” in life. I wanted to do something I love.

Joe Cheshire: I think that it has been, in many ways, one of the most forgotten important rock & roll moments.

Scotti Hill: It’s one of the toppers on that cake of all the shit that I’ve done in my life. I still have my leather jacket hanging in my closet.

Heather Locklear: My highlight was Richie Sambora. Isn’t that terrible? And I was married.

Rob Affuso: After 20 years or so, you go back, and then you say, “Holy shit, this was huge and I was a part of it.” Then it feels special. I can’t imagine what these guys who played Woodstock feel. I would suspect maybe the same thing.

Klaus Meine: In 1991 we had this invitation to see Mikhail Gorbachev at the Kremlin. That was something. It was like the Beatles meeting the queen. … He spent quite some time with us, an hour or so, talking about glasnost and perestroika. We had a little jam session on “Wind of Change,” of course. So I said to him, “Now we are at the Kremlin. When I was a kid, I remember Nikita Khrushchev taking his shoes out at the United Nations and he hit the table with his shoe. We were all shocked, the whole world was shocked. Thinking about the next big war.” Gorbachev said, “That was rock & roll, wasn’t it?”

Rudolf Schenker: He said that the music was a very important part [of] the Russians be[ing] open [to] this kind of new life. The young people wanted to be a part of the rock & roll family. Because this music was somehow a key for the free world.

Main photo: Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe performs at the Moscow Music Peace Festival on August 12th, 1989. Credit: Robert D. Tonsing/AP.