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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Graveside Gathering for the Bard

Kneeling on the damp ground, the man in black opened a fresh bottle of vodka, poured himself a glass and drank, sprinkling the last few drops on the sea of flowers laid before the last resting place of Vladimir Vysotsky.

"That's traditional Russian style," said Galina Alexeyeva, pointing to the man in black as he stood up, crossed himself and walked away, leaving the bottle behind. "We come from all over the Soviet Union to remember Vysotsky."

Alexeyeva was one of hundreds of people gathered at the Vagankovskoe cemetery Tuesday to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Vysotsky, the legendary poet, actor and singer whose irreverent style was not always tolerated by the authorities. Many of his fans moved from the grave to Petrovsky Bulvar later in the day, where Mayor Yury Luzhkov opened a monument honoring Vysotsky.

"I've been coming here for 15 years and I will continue to come," said Lyuba Gavrilova, who traveled all the way from Perm with her two daughters to pay her respects to "the genius." As one mourner said, Vysotsky was not just a poet or artist, but a man who united all of Russia.

"People travel all this way not only on their own money, but on their own blood," said Viktor Grinyov, who came from Bryansk in Central Russia. Until recently, anyone who donated 250 grams of blood automatically received two days of sick leave -- a method Grinyov and many others used more than once to get the time off to travel to Moscow.

"Vysotsky was and is a breath of fresh air. He wanted to wake us so we would get up off of our knees," said Ivan Kvot, a retired worker who regularly visits the bard's grave. "I remember being on the barricades of the White House in August of 1991. We had been up all night and we were exhausted, but then someone played a Vysotsky tape and we found the strength to go on."

While some Vysotsky fans shed the occasional tear, the mood at the cemetery Tuesday was, for the most part, joyous. Vysotsky sound-alikes brought their guitars to serenade the masses, and his poetry was recited from every corner. Those less musically inclined recited his poetry, reserving their most guttural voices to try to mimic the artist.

Ironically, the scene at the cemetery was considerably more lively than it was across town at Vysotsky's House near Taganskaya Ploshchad. Tucked away in a crumbling building behind the Taganka Theater, the museum is little more than a room with rotating exhibits. Aside from Vysotsky's death mask, which is on permanent display, the exhibit, which is scheduled for expansion later this year, features the singer's guitar, the film star's Don Juan costume and a glove he wore during his legendary portrayal of Hamlet.

"Walking into that museum is like walking into a toilet," said Vyacheslav Peskovoi, giving his voice a rest between recitations of Vysotsky's poetry.

"Any fan of Vysotsky's has more material than that museum has, but we are afraid to donate them," Peskovoi added.

Like many fans, Peskovoi, a Muscovite, made yearly visits to Vysotsky's grave -- even when the authorities tried to keep people away. In 1981, the year after Vysotsky's death, Peskovoi was thrown in jail for 15 days for showing up at the cemetery with a guitar.

Vysotsky enthusiasts no longer have such difficulties keeping his memory and music alive.

"Look at all these flowers. These are simple Russian people -- for them this is no small expense," said Alexeyeva. "But that shows you how people love Vysotsky. It is straight from the heart."