Cher Public

Symbolic weight

Evgeny Nikitin‘s controversial tattoos have left many people puzzled and given rise to a good deal of speculation. In June 2008, Nikitin wrote an autobiographical essay for the St. Petersburg magazine “Dog” (Sobaka) which sheds further light on the Russian singer’s body art and world-view. I’ve provided a rough translation below and will let readers draw their own conclusions.

(As a side-note: the swastika tattoo formerly on Nikitin’s right breast is still clearly visible in the photo associated with the article.)

Murmansk – the city of my childhood. The rowan trees, very late summer,  the great joy in everything coming up through the first grass, the smell of lingonberries, the cries of seagulls, and of course very good friends, my beloved little yard in which we made mischief.  I haven’t been there for seven years.  I don’t have any family there anymore – we all came here to St. Petersburg.    Nothing to do there – go,  get stuck, turn around and come home.

I’d like to say thanks to my father, who introduced me to music and thanks to whom I became a musician.  He taught at the Murmansk School of Music and he said to me: “Son, you don’t seem to have made a go of anything.   Come with me to the chorus.  I also grew up without education.”    So I went with him, for the first time I opened my mouth, learned notes.  And where else should I have gone?   Either into the army or to the naval school, because I wasn’t going to get past the first year of mathematics.

I not only sang, but I also started to compose music (alone in my study), I played musical instruments, I do all this quite seriously, but I never showed it to anyone.   I try to keep myself as busy as possible because otherwise I’d hit the bottle.

My body is covered with tattoos.  Mostly they are old tattoos, not very well done.  Childish pranks, the result of a huge amount of free time.  But there are a few which carry symbolic weight:  for example, there are old Scandinavian runes, because I’m really fascinated with medieval history.

In France I am a member of club of medieval warriors.  We have real battles, not staged ones, using genuine cold metal, weapons forged according to medieval fashion.  I’ve got  a spear, axe, one-handed and two-handed swords.  The best ones, by the way, come now from the Czech Republic.

Perhaps my favorite historical figure is Harald the Stern [King Harald III of Norway],  there is a great book about him by Mikhail Veller.  He was the King of Norway who tried to conquer England, and who fell in battle at Stamford Bridge.  He worked his way up from a lowly seamen to a ruler, and his fate – an example of a real warrior.

I read a lot of historical literature, because you cannot escape your roots.  Many of us have forgotten who we really are.  We have forgotten than a man should be a man, not snot.  Today were are alcoholics and drug addicts, we pound down beer and sniff speed.

I am not a Christian and have never professed this faith, because for the past thousand years the Orthodox faith has not fulfilled its task.  It has not made people good.  Do not kill, do not steal – where has that gone?  At every chance, we try to cheat.  We were heathens once, we should remain heathens.   If someone hits you in the face, you have to break some eggs – that is paganism, that’s what we should live for.  Turn the other cheek?  That’s not my style.

I might forgive once, or not forgive at all.  I am like a cat: I remember, I turn everything around in my head for years, and then when everything has settled down, I take serious revenge.

I’ve never been one to pick a fight, but I rarely forgive one who does.  I’ve put a lot of bastards in their place, but I never started anything because that would be wrong.  If you don’t disturb anybody, don’t attack  anybody – the everything will be fine.

I don’t like Moscow.  If tomorrow someone invited me to go to Moscow, I wouldn’t go.  My inner rhythm doesn’t fit at all with Moscow’s.  I can’t sniff that cocaine.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Stephen Gould’s arms and torso were painted with tatts and runes in the recent webcast of GoetterD from Munich.

  • manou
  • Your daily Nikitin update. I’d like to emphasize up front that nothing here is dispositive, or that I am putting them here to argue the case one way or another. People can make up their own minds. Some journalists might find the information useful.

    Ekaterina Novoselova , Russian journalist for Deutsche Welle interviews German tattoo artist Dieter Hahn, who says that the tattoo which appeared on Russian television in 2008 was undoubtedly a swastika. Hahn also says that the “Aghiz” Lebensrune on Nikitin’s left chest is also a Nazi symbol and that he is surprised more people did not pick up on it. Hahn briefly discusses the state of the German law regarding forbidden symbols and his responsibilities under the law.

    Did Evgeny Nikitin break bass Mikhail Petrenko’s nose? That’s the story that was circulating on a Russian classical-music bulletin board back in the years 2009-2011. According to poster “mikhail sf”, writing on May 25, 2011: “There was nothing that led up to the fisticuffs. Just a really drunk dude with fascist tattoos broke the nose and damaged the looks of a younger comrade on the scene. Don’t look for anything romantic, just a bastard who was plain jealous of a more talented singer who was clearly younger and physically weaker. And more noble, because he didn’t turn this into a scandal and did not complain to anybody. This is all the more despicable since, as everyone knows, the nose is involved in the formation of a good sound and expensive surgery was necessary to get everything back to normal. Moreover, can you imagine “Predlogoff”, what looks mean to a world-class actor? Really, don’t go looking for something romantic when it’s a simple matter of criminality. Everybody was on the verge of leaving the profession.”

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Soon people will be talking about James Levine toilet-papering the dorms at Interlochen in his student days.

    • Liz.S

      Nikitin broke Misha Petrenko’s nose? -- that’s a funny episode. Thank you -- I’m enjoying your daily Nikitin updates :-)

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I’m assuming that “Misha” is Mikhail Petrenko, whose nose can be seen at 1:07 here:

        • Liz.S

          Yes, QPF. I thought Misha is like “Mikey” to “Michael (Mikhail)” -- but I could be wrong…

          • Krunoslav

            “Misha” is like “Mike”-- a *very* standard nickname even for adults. Indeed, for colleagues in the arts to call someone else just “Mikhail” would be linguistically *marked*- perhaps gently ironic, or distancing. “Mikhail + patronymic (Ivanovich, Sergeevich, etc)” would be formal address, like saying, “Mr. Jordan”-- not uncommon at all for business colleagues in Russia but at this point maybe a bit passé for fellow members of the same hard-partying opera troupe.

            Whereas “Mikey” would be “Mishka” (“very young” and/or fond) or “Mishechka”(distinctly less fond, unless, again, being ironic).

            Naming is a very complicated issue in spoken Russian! Hope I haven’t obfuscated more than Ive illuminated…

          • Liz.S

            Ah, thank you, Krunoslav!
            I kind of like Mikahil Petrenko -- so I’m going to call him “Mishka” now on ;-)

          • Krunoslav

            Sure, Liz S.!

            Alas, the backstage crew, chorus, conductor and several colleagues at a major opera house found Petrenko’s attitude very, very tough to deal with in a production not so long ago…

  • Liz.S

    Ouch! So, who are the good boys from Gergiev/Mariinsky gang then…?… I wonder…

    • oedipe

      Well, that’s the point, Liz! Maybe there are NO good boys, only more-or-less bad ones. In which case, presenting Nikitin as Satan personified is, to say the least, a gross oversimplification.