St. Petersburg, Russia

There’s a man in St. Petersburg, Kolya Vasin, and his claim to fame is being the biggest Beatles fan in the world. Born in 1945, he was eighteen when Beatlemania hit the West. Behind the Iron Curtain, rock and roll was deemed a dangerous and corrupting influence on Soviet youth. Vasin started collecting bootleg records when they first appeared—imported to the USSR illegally, wrapped in underwear. He now owns more than a thousand records, hundreds of books and movies, paintings of the Beatles by St. Petersburg artists, and posters. His bootlegs circulated all over the city during the Soviet era, and when the Beatles were first heard on the radio in the last years of the Soviet Union, the records came from Vasin’s collection. My school was in the center of the city next to a movie theater converted from a Lutheran church, and I remember how in 1995 Vasin organized a public screening of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! in that theater. The entire school assembled there to see these movies, some of us skipping classes to do so.

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