Western music may have been changing the world in the 1950s, but if you happened to be in Russia you were out of luck. State censorship was in full effect in the Soviet Union, and sneaking in, say, an American rock record was close to impossible. But a few industrious music fans managed to find another way.
Stephen Coates, the leader of a British band called The Real Tuesday Weld, happened on this secret history by accident. Several years ago on a tour stop in St. Petersburg, he was strolling through a flea market when a strange item caught his eye.
“I thought, ‘Is that a record? Or is it an X-ray?’ I picked it up, and it seemed to be both,” he recounts. “They guy whose stall it was was a bit dismissive — I think he wanted me to buy something else. But I brought it back to London, and I was fascinated by it. So I started to dig, and that has led me on a very strange journey.”
Coates is now an obsessive of what is nicknamed “bone music” — makeshift LPs etched into used X-rays, which were playable on a turntable and provided a fitting disguise for their contraband contents. He’s collected his findings in a new book called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone, and he joined NPR’s Michel Martin to talk about it. READ MORE