Rockin' the Kremlin: My Incredible True Story of Gangsters, Oligarchs, and Pop Stars in Putin's Russia

Image of Rockin' the Kremlin: My Incredible True Story of Gangsters, Oligarchs, and Pop Stars in Putin's Russia
Release Date: 
July 2, 2024
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Reviewed by: 

Music industry executive and cultural ambassador David Junk, and veteran music journalist Fred Bronson, have combined their talents to write a fast-moving, information-rich narrative about the intersections between politics and pop culture behind the Iron Curtain.

Their book will probably appeal to readers who want a behind the scenes look at the music industry in Putin’s Russia and a rare view of the powerful forces that spawn and prohibit the birth and proliferation of singers, songwriters, and their fans in a nation where freedom of expression and the First Amendment are not taken for granted.

At times, Rockin’ the Kremlin can be shocking. Indeed, it’s alarming to read about the control that the criminal underworld and power brokers have exercise over the music scene in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and beyond in the 21st century.

As an American in Russia for seven years, Junk had the unique opportunity to bring western music to a world in which western music was often deemed degenerate and immoral.

At the same time, he discovered and promoted talented Russian performers, some of them dissidents who openly confronted and denounced the government, the Russian Orthodox Church, bureaucrats, and even Vladimir Putin himself. 

Rockin’ the Kremlin is timely and up-to-date with valuable information about the war in Ukraine, terrorism, Chechnya, Russian-style repression, and the underground resistance to a kleptocracy where kleptocracts steal from the people. Junk’s and Bronfman’s book also shows the extent to which Russian oligarchs were willing to co-opt and control pop music, promote their own family members and line their pockets with rubles. So while Junk and his friend and allies in the music biz rocked the Kremlin, the Kremlin also rocked the music biz. A culture war raged for decades. It still goes on.

It’s unlikely that Rockin’ the Kremlin will be translated into Russian and published in Russia, though one would like that to happen. 

Junk worked as a music promoter so it’s not surprising to hear him promote himself. “I became the first American to run a record label in Russia,” he says. “I led the modernization of their music industry and fought with gangsters, oligarchs, and pirates for its survival.”

His life story would make for a dramatic Hollywood feature with music by stars such as Sting, Mariah Carey, and Marilyn Manson, as well as performers little known in the US such as Rammstein, the German punk rock group.

Plus t.A.T.u, the Russia anti-war pop duo consisting of Lena Katina and Julia Volkova who pushed the envelope when they kissed one another in public and implied that they were lovers. They were banned from Jimmy Kimmel Live!

For a time, Junk made his mark on the music scene in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia. He also married a Russian woman and lived a comfortable life with her in her native land, and with their children.

Junk’s family members left when it was no longer safe to live here. He followed them and returned to the US.

He describes a journey by train from Ukraine to Poland when armed guards entered his compartment and asked him to show them his passport. “After a few probing questions,” he writes, “the border guards let me continue to the final destination, Warsaw.”

That journey would work well as the end of a movie about Junk’s life.

Was he as powerful a force for change as he thinks he was? That remains to be seen.

He ends his book with the “hope” that by bringing “Western pop culture to the former Soviet Union,” he was “able to plant the seeds that will lead Russian youth to rise up, stop the war, and take their country back from the Kremlin.”