In April 2021 the newspaper “Uchitelskaya Gazeta” published a review on Svetlana Surganova’s autobiographic book “Vse Snachala!” (“All Over Again!”). By Denis Stupnikov.
Svetlana Surganova’s inner core
Svetlana Surganova is a visible personification of genuine aristocracy of Saint Petersburg. In the times of “Nochnye Snaipery” band she seemed destined to be in the shadow of the bright and impulsive Diana Arbenina. Life decided otherwise. Surganova proved that for all her modesty and delicacy, she had an indestructible inner core.
We could observe this core in the way she was working on her biography. In the era of a real boom in various kinds of narratives about bands, Surganova did not resort to the services of a hired chronicler, but took up her memoirs herself. Frankly speaking but a few of her colleagues ever dare to do this. Even Arbenina entrusted the writing of a book about herself to the professional rock biographer Mikhail Margolis, in spite of her literary gift and an impressive collection of her own works. “The Ghosts of the Crematorium” by Armen Grigoryan is the only close “relative” of Surganova’s book that comes to mind.
Both musicians did not write about themselves from scratch, they used earlier scattered diary notes. Grigoryan organically implanted those isolated stories into a monolithic narrative. Surganova’s memories are more mosaic. She does not hesitate to interrupt the series of events with lyrical and philosophical reflections, not forgetting to indicate their ancient dating. It reduces the readability of the book, to some extent, as you constantly have “to roll back”. This is probably the effect Surganova was trying to achieve.
It looks like the title of the book “All Over Again!” implies such a thoughtful and slow reading with occasional returns to the beginnings of the narrative. Within the context of the book it has at least two meanings. First, Svetlana Surganova begins from afar, slowly recounting the history of her ancestors. Secondly, she gives a detailed description of the moment of her leaving “Nochnye Snaipery”, when she really had to start everything literally from scratch. It’s curious to observe how these two lines coexist in the book.
The first half of the book is more like a family chronicle. There are biographies of Surganova’s relatives who survived the dashing 20-30s and they are quite typical for those hard times. The singer’s grandmother gave all the family jewels to the investigator and thus she saved her dispossessed parents from the arrest. The fate of Surganova’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother was hanging by a thread, but thanks to the risky action of their determined daughter they were released.
Almost the hardest part of the book is about the survival of Surganova’s grandmother and mother in besieged Leningrad. The center of the city, where they lived, turned into an ominous trap, very similar to the one that was shown in “The Blockade Diary”, the recent film by Andrei Zaitsev. The film was at once accused of whipping up passions and historical inaccuracy, yet the testimonies of Svetlana Surganova’s relatives, carefully preserved and talentedly presented in the book, suggest that this is how it was.
Hardly less dramatic events touched the author herself. Svetlana Surganova is an adopted daughter, and she never hesitates to say it in public, we pay our respects for that. From the book we learn about titanic efforts her mother and grandmother made to establish a contact with her, as she was a real savage, who did not know how to communicate and could not bear any physical contact. She was adopted quite early, so she could not remember it and considered herself a full-fledged member of the family. Svetlana learned the truth being quite an adult in the period of complicated relations with her mother. Therefore, it was a real shock to her.
Yet that was a tip of an iceberg compared to what Svetlana Surganova had to endure in the late 90s and early 2000s. She was diagnosed with cancer. After several operations she was never able to fully restore all the functions of her body. The drama was that she kept in secret the true situation and went on the tours with “Nochnye Snaipery” on the same terms as the others. One shudders involuntarily reading about the naturalistic details of these trips.
At some point the family chronicle gradually begins to give way to a full-fledged musical biography of “Nochnye Snaipery”, when Surganova was the member of the band, and the birth of “Surganova and the Orchestra”. Here we cannot do without comparison with “The Rare Bird” by Mikhail Margolis, the biography of Diana Arbenina. The key members of the band give more or less similar versions of their acquaintance and their Magadan epic of the early 90s. Recalling that epic Diana Arbenina tells some curious stories like the one about a pot of chicken soup spilled in the difficult times, but Svetlana Surganova narrates how difficult it was to establish contact with Arbenina’s parents. In general, Surganova is much more open about her personal relationship with her former companion…
The singers fundamentally disagree in their assessment of the early art work of “Nochnye Snaipery”. Arbenina is beating it to smithereens. But Surganova highly estimates those songs. She describes the first studio recording with the meticulousness of a chronicler, sometimes at the expense of fascination of the narrative. “Rubezh” (“The Frontier”), the first electric album by “Nochnye Snaipery”, is exposed in “The Rare Bird” as some kind of Arbenina’s disgrace. Surganova considers the album as a real breakthrough. Arbenina perceives their last album “Tsunami” as a standard of sound, but her opponent in “Vse Snachala!” (“All over again!”) scrupulously criticizes it, sometimes bordering on petty quibbles.
We can see Svetlana Surganova’s point, especially if we take into account the details of the book concerning her displacement (you cannot put it in another wording) from “Nochnye Snaipery”. Diana Arbenina changed the social circle, began to set her aside during the recordings, and sometimes even “forgot” to tell her about the next concert. It seems to be a perfect place to feel sorry for Surganova, but remember the previously described drunken tours that were not strengthening her already broken health. So the creation of her own project “Surganova and the Orchestra” can be regarded as a real salvation. Against all expectations the project was met with a bang!