Lenin On Tour: What Is To Be Done?

April 26, 1992|By CHRISTOPHER CORBETT

"President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia is expected to decide soon whether to send the body of Lenin on a world tour."

Agence France-Presse

*

Look, with absolutely no disrespect to Vladimir Illyich, but as I told Yeltsin's people, the guy's a has-been. I'm sorry, but it has to be said.

I can't take him into New York and guarantee any kind of house. The fans, excuse me, the workers are just not out there. Trust me on this. I mean there was a time in this country. You had your Wobblies. Industrial Workers of the World. You had the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. You had your Joe Hill groupies. And the nuts and twigs crowd. You had Cesar Chavez. The Berrigan brothers. You could have done some business. Now. . . . I just don't know.

Pete Seeger is not well. I think he's now reduced to yodeling. I see in the paper that Jane Fonda is staying home. Is Burl Ives alive?

You see what I mean? I just don't know. I'm trying to be upfront about this. The kind of people you'd need to put a package together on this just aren't there. It would be a has-beens tour. You're looking at Legion halls.

And what about the unions? Unions! So who belongs to a union? A bunch of fat guys down in Florida. No, those people are not going to show up for the workers' friend. No siree, pal. Ed McMahon would be a much bigger draw for the AFL-CIO. Maybe Wayne Newton. Certainly Joan Rivers. But Lenin? These people would have no idea who the hell you were talking about.

So what we got here is a specialty act. Remember the late Roy Orbison? God rest his soul. Roy Orbison had a very similar experience. He was IN. He was BIG. He was OUT. He was NOT BIG. Now I myself did not handle the late, great Roy Orbison. But I knew his people. We went back together. And I know, and I say this with complete sincerity. That Roy Orbison was always a true showman. A performer. An artist. Roy Orbison was not afraid to do state fairs. No, indeed. Or conventions. Or boat shows.

This, my friend, may not be the case with V.I. Lenin. I mean I do not personally see this guy as willing to do access cable. You know what I mean? What we got here is pride. Big ego. Attitude, as the young people say.

If there is one thing I have learned in this business, and this is on the grave of my mother, who knew a few things about the trade, too: You gotta listen. Be a listener. Hear someone out. Am I right? Listen.

When these Yeltsin people called me I was all ears. Okay, so the guy is a has-been. Communism is like the hula hoop. It was a fad. So we know that now. The guy is also deceased. But deceased don't mean a thing in this business. Look at Elvis. Look at Buddy Holly. What about La Bamba? Deceased is one thing. Dead is another.

Still, I had my doubts about this Lenin tour. College campuses are out. You got your cultural literacy thing. The kids have no idea who the guy is. John Lennon, maybe. This Lenin. No way. I mean even John Lennon, I couldn't be sure. And he's dead, too.

State fairs? Always a staple. Porter Wagoner? Why not. Buck Owens? Sure. V.I. Lenin? Not a snowball's chance. No way. Folks out there in the heartland still have some old fashioned views about the evil empire. They are not going to show up for this guy. My hand to God on this.

Shopping malls? Of course not. Retail would never go for this. Car shows? Boat shows? Never. For car shows and boat shows I can get Miss February. You want a has-been for car shows and boat shows. Get me your Barbi Benton. Get me your Vanessa Williams. Lenin at the boat show? Take a pass.

So then I was thinking maybe we could pull a little Willie Nelson with this guy. Sympathy tour. Bail me out. Like when Willie was in Chapter 11. So what are we looking at? The concept? "Lenin: He's Fallen And He Can't Get Up."

But there's no way. Lenin does not have Willie Nelson's smile. And I doubt very much that Waylon Jennings would have any interest in this.

So you can see, this is not an easy thing. Yeltsin's people don't understand this. They've got the mummified body of Lenin. They need money. They figure this has gotta be worth something. So they want me to fix up a tour. Slap the whole thing on the back of an 18-wheeler and drag it around these here United States.

I'm telling you, I was up against it. I even tried Atlantic City. Trump's people were interested. But they wanted to buy the body. And put it in the lobby of the Trump Taj Mahal. The Russians would not go for that. These are a proud people.

Well, then I hit upon it. I figured we'd make the great man part of a double bill. Are you with me? A singer's always good. And a little nostalgia. Am I right?

So I get back to the Russians. You won't believe this. Here I've been killing myself trying to come up with something.

So I called them back. And get a load of this. They said they'd never heard of Roger Whittaker.

Christopher Corbett is the author of the novel "Vacationland"

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