From Kavarna to Havana rock stars of varying magnitude adorn sometimes unlikely public spaces
You went to LA, okay. You think you've seen it all – and walked over it: the pinkish stars on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard with names of actors, musicians and celebrities, many of whom long forgotten, but immortalised in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You vied with the Chinese and the Koreans for a better selfie spot, and yes – you've stumped on Donald Trump's star from the days he was only a reality show performer.
This journal will now take you on a completely different jaunt spanning several oceans and continents. Welcome to Vagabond's very own International Walk of Rock Star Fame.
Let's start in Kavarna. Until the 2000s it was a rather nondescript small town at the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast (not to be confused with the much bigger and a lot more exciting Varna 50 miles to the south). There isn't much to say about what in essence was a typical Bulgarian backwater. But once you pull over by the park off the main road and go past the obligatory Communist-era much larger-than-life statue of a Second World War partizanin holding a gun you will be in for a completely different kind of treat. From a rock you will see the rising figure of someone who apparently has nothing to do with class struggle, a man with long hair holding a mike. Who on earth might that be, you will find asking yourself? And then you will see the inscription, in English: Holy Diver. If you are the right age you might remember that Holy Diver was the title of the debut studio album of the American heavy metal band Dio, and you are now looking at an image of its vocalist Ronnie James Dio, previously of Black Sabbath fame.
Rony James Dio aka Holy Diver, of Black Sabbath fame, is immortalised in Kavarna, Bulgaria
In the 2000s Kavarna got its chance to grab a piece of the international rock music cake through its mayor, Tsonko Tsonev, a diehard hard rock aficionado. Tsonev started a rock festival called Kavarna Rock Fest. The sort of individual musicians and bands who attended largely reflected both Tsonev's personal taste (1970s and 1980s) and the sort of cash he could cough up. None of the current big names came, but Bulgarians and at the time a growing number of expats had fun shouting out "There I was on a July morning" along the real John Lawton, formerly of the Uriah Heep.
Kavarna Rock Fest is now discontinued as the successor to Tsonko Tsonev, citing financial reasons, proposed holding "evenings to popularise Russian folklore" instead.
Kavarna may be one of a kind in Bulgaria but it is certainly one of many in Eastern Europe where people who had been denied access to Western rock music under Communism have woken up to the modern world – and have decided to set their musical sentiments in stone or metal.
Bob Dylan in Durres, Albania
Take Durres in Albania, a port town at the Adriatic Sea in what until the 1990s was a hermetically sealed country, the closest you could get in Europe to... North Korea. By the Durres seaside promenade you get not one by three monuments to musicians that you could hardly ever imagine standing side by side. There is Mick Jagger in his trademark step-forward posture, there is Tina Turner, the good old Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, and you get... Bob Dylan! Welcome to Durres, Albania. The times – yes – they have changed.
One man who caused significant controversy throughout his career and was sometimes banned from US radio stations because of obscenity concerns got his cut of sculptural notoriety in Vilnius, Lithuania. You've guessed it right. Frank Zappa, who died in 1993, is still remembered warmly in Eastern Europe, possibly over his infamous adage trying to explain why Communism would never work: "People will always want to own things." No matter what you think about Sheikh Yerbouti or The Illinois Enema Bandit, Zappa, without any doubt, was a freethinker. He went to Czechoslovakia as soon as the Velvet Revolution brought down Communism, and Vaclav Havel was so happy he proposed to have Zappa appointed American ambassador to Prague. Perhaps sanely for the US State Department, he wasn't. The Vilnius memorial is totally counter-counterculture. It is set against the backdrop of some drooping ivy in a peaceful square near the centre of the Lithuanian capital and it suggest in absolutely no way the man it depicts once wanted to have a cast of his own penis on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Frank Zappa, who is depicted with a larger-than-life monument in Vilnius, Lithuania, parodied Bob Dylan in the 1979 Sheikh Yerbouti
The Beatles, of course, and especially John Lennon are widely celebrated internationally with memorials dedicated to them from the Canal Link in their native Liverpool to the Red Light District in Hamburg and Central Park in New York City. One place in Eastern Europe that keeps fond memories of John Lennon and what he stood for is Prague. The John Lennon Wall is a graffiti covered wall near the French Embassy in Mala Strana. In the runup to the Velvet Revolution it played quite a practical role: angry citizens fed up with Communism gathered around it before they took to the streets and exchanged subversive information in the form of graffiti. No iMessages in those days. The Prague John Lennon Wall remains to this day. It is now a tourist attraction.
The former John Lennon Wall in Sofia
In the 1990s and 2000s there used to be a John Lennon wall in Sofia as well: just behind the statue of Patriarch Evtimiy, lovingly called "Popa" by Sofianites. Nothing remains of it as the City Council decided it defaced what was already a defaced ruin of a building that during the Second World War was the German Reich Embassy.
Our favourite monument to John Lennon, however, is across the pond, in sunny Cuba. The still Communist nation in the Caribbean has had a chequered history when it comes to the Fab Four. Their music was banned as they were seen as agents of decadence and imperialism. Apparently, neither John Lennon nor Paul, George or Ringo ever set foot in Cuba. Yet, in 2000, on the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, a monument to Lennon was erected in a Vedado park in Havana. Lennon can be seen sitting on a bench, but usually wears no glasses. Originally, he was equipped with a pair of telltale round spectacles but those have been stolen and/or vandalised on numerous occasions.
A caretaker woman will equip with glasses the John Lennon statue in Havana, Cuba – if you ask nicely
Yet not all is lost if you really want to take a selfie with the man. The Cuban government employs a security guard who usually lingers around the monument. She can put on a pair glasses on Lennon's nose and then quickly fold them and put them back in her bag. You have to ask politely.