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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LOVE AND DEATH: Na-Na Heartens Yugoslavs




There is no better time to write about Na-Na. They have been on my mind for years, more specifically since April 1, when Itar-Tass announced their intentions to be the first Russian band to perform in Belgrade since NATO airstrikes began nearly two weeks ago. This not only emphasizes the sorry reality that my compatriots, KISS, have once again shirked their moral obligation as goodwill ambassadors in backing out of the Russia gig. It also casts Na-Na in a whole new light. Mature. Thoughtful. Global.


According to a report in The Moscow Times, the trip was a success. Their 40-minute open-air concert was a hit, and a visit to a local bomb shelter brought courage and inspiration to those they anointed with kisses and hugs. There was even a suggestion that the Kosovo conflict might cool in the wake of their visit. Similar magic had apparently been worked, after all, in East Germany, Georgia and Chechnya - other troubled regions where these brave entertainers had looked danger in the face and taken to the stage.


Then there was that night at Radio City Music Hall, when I personally witnessed my video idols in the flesh. Part of a star-studded lineup of Russian estrada, Na-Na came out as one of the first acts, a strategy obviously meant to break down the inhibitions of the cool New York crowd and whip everyone into a frenzy of musical ecstasy that would last the entire evening. Indeed, several people in the audience of thousands were eventually moved to stand up and applaud Na-Na's efforts. Dressed with trademark flair, the boys performed a grueling dance routine and lip-synced with the kind of precision acquired only through years of experience. They smiled their indelible smiles throughout. It was a masterful performance.


Having beat a retreat halfway through Masha Rasputina's routine - tears and a heaving bosom not for the faint of heart - I was thrilled to see the nanaitsi lounging outside the theater, enjoying the cool nighttime air and preparing for what would no doubt be a triumphant post-performance outing in the most exciting city on earth. On closer inspection, however, it was clear that not all was the sweetness and light one had just enjoyed inside. Having changed out of their resplendent stagewear, the boys now wore slick leather jackets, their faces a grim portrait of world-weary ennui. The masks were off; underneath was an off-Broadway production of "Grease." The years had clearly taken their toll on these talented young lads. Everything they had, they gave to the crowd.


It is precisely a lack of professional altruism that has prevented U.S. congressional delegations from inviting KISS and groups like it to participate in missions of international diplomacy. Na-Na, on the other hand, deservedly travels to war-torn regions under the auspices of the State Duma, and earns the selfless admiration of teenagers like Darinka Lekovic, the 15-year-old Montenegrin who last week called upon 10 of her friends to paint posters heralding the band's arrival. Each of the friends was then meant to go on and recruit 10 more to do the same, and so on and so forth, as Itar-Tass reported, "amplifying the procedure in a geometric progression." When is the last time Gene Simmons enjoyed a similar exponential tribute?


Na-Na's next sociopolitical challenge appears to be St. Petersburg, the crime capital of Russia, where within a matter of days they will stage their "New Generation for Safe Sex" musical epic. It's hard to imagine in these wanton times, but perhaps the sight of these bare-chested careerists giving their all under the hot lights will be enough to make the city's young people concentrate on loftier aspirations than imprudent pleasures of the flesh. One can only hope so.


Meanwhile, several other Russian bands are following Na-Na's trail of glory to Belgrade, with Chaif and DDT both planning performances over the next week. DDT, like Na-Na, lays claim to a tradition of offering succor to the besieged. "DDT's place is where people suffer," the band's director was quoted as saying. (I will risk enormous unpopularity by suggesting that some people who have attended their concerts might be inclined to agree.)


But still, the bands traveling to troubled Belgrade should be commended for the political spirit of their musical tours. It was courageous of Na-Na to perform in Yugoslavia, moreover in toreador pants. Even Alisa, which backed out, KISS-fashion, from a U.S. tour, at least did it in a bold way - in protest! Like men! All KISS could come up with was a weaselly protest that their own wrinkly necks might become the innocent target of "impetuous anti-American hysteria." Yankee, stay home. Give me Na-Na.